Kristine Steenbergh
“Teaching, reading books together with students and experiencing what perspectives they have on things, is what I enjoy most.”

Kristine Steenbergh

Associate professor and researcher in English Literature (Faculty of Humanities)

“The current system of recognition and rewards creates an atmosphere of winners and losers.”

Kristine Steenbergh began her career at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam after getting a phone call from a VU employee. Would she be able to give a Shakespeare course on short notice? That one temporary assignment eventually led to an appointment as associate professor and researcher in English Literature (Faculty of Humanities). Thirteen years later, she still enjoys working here, but she also feels the work pressure within the university. What opportunities for improvement does she see? Why is a new system of recognition and rewards needed for academic staff? And how will this affect her work?

“Right from the start, I wanted to teach English literature along with theatre at a university. I was specifically interested in the cultural history of emotions. I wrote my dissertation on revenge and vengefulness, and after that I studied the somewhat milder emotions, such as compassion, in depth. As an associate professor and a researcher, it’s very nice to be involved in all these different roles—education, research and management. Teaching, reading books together with students and experiencing what perspectives they have on things, is what I enjoy most. I like to see them grow, and develop their own voice and way of thinking. When it comes to research, my heart lies with Environmental Humanities—bringing together interdisciplinary analyses of the relationships between humans and nature. I love dedicating myself to this, and my work has also taken up a great deal of my free time all these years. Within my faculty, there is a lot of investment in education, and the bar is particularly high in that area.”

“My job contract consists of 60% education, 30% research and 10% administration and management duties. This distribution applies to most of my colleagues at our faculty. The percentages are only allowed to shift when an academic is awarded a grant, which makes it possible to spend more time on research. Not everyone is able to achieve this. As a result, many do the research on the weekends or in their free time because most hours in the workday are dedicated to teaching. For me, too, this sometimes means having to work like the devil. I think that the faculty—or more broadly the university—recognizes the fact that we put our heart and soul into work. This, however, is not always appreciated or rewarded in the form of a promotion because there is often little room for it financially.”

“My work has also taken up a great deal of my free time.”

Recognition and rewards

“I helped to formulate a new vision of recognition and rewards in recent months because I find this movement towards a new system—which today involves every Dutch university—very nice and necessary. The current way of recognizing and rewarding is heavily based on competition. Every academic has his or her own research project and tries to achieve as much as possible. This goes hand in hand with the idea that you are one another’s competitors and therefore also creates an atmosphere of winners and losers. For example, people who perform well and have excellent educational achievements and do interesting research, but just don’t acquire a grant, can feel like they’re missing the boat. I have heard this often in recent years. And that’s a pity.”

Diverse talents

“The new model of recognition and rewards is much more based on cooperation and the rewarding of a diverse range of personal talents. It’s not just the talent for acquiring research funding or having publications to your name that counts, but also providing and developing good education and transferring knowledge to society. I think that’s also what a university is for. By extension, it would also be very good if the university were to examine the current financial models and base them more on cooperation rather than competition.”

“The new model is based much more on cooperation and the rewarding of a diverse range of talents.”

“As a member of The Young Academy, I recently worked on a project in which we showed that rewarding diverse talents clearly pays off. At the end of November, we published our paper for which we interviewed a scholar who excelled in education. He also published but didn’t receive any major grants, which caused enormous stress. After looking at his talents with his supervisor, he began to profile himself in education with a Senior Teaching Qualification (SKO). Now, he is flourishing as an education specialist and, because he is appreciated for his contributions to education, his research is going even better than when it was the primary basis on which he was evaluated.”

Teamwork

“I hope that a new system of recognition and rewards—in addition to a greater focus on quality and diversity of talent—will also lead to better teamwork. I’m really looking forward to working more closely with my colleagues, especially when it comes to research. So far, there has been relatively little exchange because we are mainly working on our own projects. In the new situation, we can look at who wants to specialize in research, education or scientific communication. This way, we can create teams in which all core aspects of a university are represented.”

“I’m really looking forward to working more closely with my colleagues, especially when it comes to research.”

“I would particularly like to encourage the academic supervisors within VU to read the vision, to talk about different roles and career paths, and to get a clear picture of where team members want to go. The vision has laid a foundation; in the end it is up to the teams and the faculties to build on it and put it into practice.”

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