Word from our scientific director

On January 1st 2020, professor Karin Schroën started her term as scientific director of VLAG.

VLAG brings the message of researchers home - 26 May 2020

In the times that we live in, traveling and giving presentations in just about every corner of the world is not what the VLAG community is doing. We as VLAG team thought that this should serve as an excellent opportunity to bring all these ground breaking ideas, cutting edge knowledge, and expertise of the VLAG community home. In a sense, it is very strange that we do not share our knowledge that much within WUR, and yes, I am also guilty as charged. As a matter of fact, I do (read: used to) run into researchers from Wageningen University in faraway places to find out that there is a common interest that should have made us work together for years. But somehow that simply did not happen often enough, and thus we missed out on an opportunity that should not have been missed in the first place.

As a first new step to bring the VLAG community closer together (yes, I said first, so you can expect more steps to follow), we will start with an on-line lecture series. The underlying idea is of course to share knowledge and get everyone more broadly interested in work done at WUR. Ideally this also acts as a nucleus for discussion, and maybe even collaborations. Since the PhD candidates have to cope with postponement or cancellation of courses, we came up with the idea to use the lecture series as a means to modestly supplement ECTS for the Training and Supervision Plan. Please keep in mind that actively participating in the lectures by reading a paper prior to the lecture, and sending in questions  before the lecture, is a prerequisite for this. Vesna has already sent out a message with all the details on how things will be organized to all VLAG PhDs and postdocs.

I hope that you are all enthusiastic about the initiative, and I look forward to giving the first lecture that will revolve around the use of microfluidic tools. I apply them to investigate ‘processes’ in great detail, and based on that design sustainable food processes and products. Furthermore, I will share my vision about how these devices can serve as a means to bring technical and nutritional functionality of food together, and how both researchers interested in fundamental and applied sciences can contribute to this.

It is a challenge to bring this message that I have presented at ICEF (a very large food conference) home to a community with a very diverse background in disciplines. At the same time, I feel that it is my duty (a very nice one) to share what I know, and make that information accessible since it is my very strong opinion that researchers should always be curious about what others do, and take inspiration from that for their own work. I love crazy ideas, so if that is what I create in your minds, I have done what I have set out to do, and would also like to help you further explore what is possible.

For now, stay safe and stay healthy.

Kind regards,

Prof Karin Schroën

 

VLAG PhD candidates in time of Covid - 25 April 2020

This time I would like to share my observations on how I see that VLAG PhD candidates cope with the current Covid-19 situation, and also offer to listen to you if you need it either now, or later.

We all live in a different world compared to half a year ago. Covid-19 has changed how we view and do things, most probably for quite a while, and maybe even forever. We were pushed to re-think things, also how we work, and do science within the projects that we work on. Given the fact that these are very drastic changes that needed to be made, it would have been logical to see many people detached from their work. What I see is quite the opposite.

Yes, the way we work needed to be re-thought, but I am under the impression that this imposed reflection on the way of working has also generated many positive things. There are on-line coffee breaks, and other activities to keep social aspects running, and there are many, many skype, team, zoom etc. meetings to keep each other updated on how things are going. Also the entire teaching has been transformed to on-line in just about no time, also with the help of many of us. If you would ask me whether this is my ideal way of working, I would tell you for sure not, but does it work, yes, wholeheartedly yes. And that is only possible if everyone is constructive and willing to work in this ‘new normalcy’. I want to applaud you all for coping so well with the situation at hand. When looking at my own research group, I would not be surprised that in terms of scientific output this could become a very fruitful time given all the outlines, and drafts that I discussed with my team recently.

Still, it is not that easy, and where some discover that they are very productive while working in ‘isolation’, that may not be the case for everyone, and also reshaping the project to allow for working from home as an effective alternative for working at the research group is also not that easy to implement for all of you. If you for example happen to be the PhD candidate carrying out a large human trial at the time of the outbreak in the Netherlands, there are serious issues if this happens to be one of the last things you need to do before completion of your work.

I would like to conclude by saying that I am very impressed by the way that PhD candidates manage to cope with the situation. So thank you all for all the things that you are doing, and please let me and the VLAG office team know if we can do something for you if you run into possible delays. I would be happy to help where needed.

For now, stay safe and stay healthy, and keep doing all these things that you are doing so well!

Kind regards,

Prof Karin Schroën

Introducing the scientific director of VLAG - January 2020

On January 1st 2020, professor Karin Schroën started her term as scientific director of VLAG, following prof. Renger Witkamp who has held this position for the last 4 years. During the 25-year jubilee meeting that was held on 12 December, the new director already lifted part of the veil that currently still hides the vision that she is developing for her term as scientific director. The main theme that she addressed was that she wants to ‘create interaction on many different levels’.

The first level that was addressed was, logically, that of the PhD candidates, who quite often are very focused on their thesis while not really connecting to other fields of research. Prof. Schroën pointed out that fundamental scientists would benefit greatly from interaction with applied scientists, and vice versa. As a matter of fact, many fields of science need to come together to face the challenges that we face as mankind, which can be ultimately realized in Wageningen. Starting this as early as possible is something that prof. Schroën would like to realize through ‘open science forums’, of which she will organize the first one around ‘Nanotechnology and food’, and that later would need to be picked up by the PhD community.

Besides the PhD candidates, also their primary caretakers that are mostly in tenure track were addressed during prof. Schroën’s speech. She indicated that mutual understanding of the stressful situations that occur during a PhD project would help in creating a common ground between candidate and supervisor, and thus make them work together in a more constructive way.

Prof. Schroën holds MSc and PhD degrees of Wageningen (Agricultural) University specializing in food process engineering. She did post-docs at University College London, and the biotechnology group of WU, after which she started as an assistant professor in food process engineering. As soon as it became available, she entered the tenure track and became a personal professor in 2012. Besides this she is a chair holder for one day a week at Twente University, specializing in membrane processes for food. She is also a member of one of the management teams of 4TU, the technology dean organization, the board of Nano4Society, and many more. Through these positions she puts interaction within various fields in science in practice!

Her door is always open; any suggestions that you may have are very welcome.