It’s not education, stupid!

Ah, La perfide Albion, wanting to be left alone by that pesky old continent again, will it ever be any different? Not in a while, I suppose. Of the innumerable opinion articles that were written in the wake of the actual Brexit vote, some I found a very good read. A discussion on Zuckerberg’s medium prompted me to do some writing of my own, so below a slightly modified version.

histoire se repète

An 1870 map depicting Brittain as an old woman, turning her back on ‘the continent’. Via 1843magazine.

As most probably have witnessed over the past days, the quite strong correlation between average education level and Brexit leanings of a region was often condescendingly used as an ‘Eurosceptics are (racist) morons’ statement by Bremainers/pro-Europeans. In my view, nothing is more nonconstructive, dangerous, and – frankly – stupid than that. If anything, this referendum should be a wake up call to the higher educated, pro-EU slice of the population (I am implying yours truly as well). Continue reading “It’s not education, stupid!”

On finding love 2.0

Let me start off by stating that I am a terrible pick up artist. Really. An example: recently, at a party somewhere far away, I decide that it might be a good occasion to experience the joys of being single again. There was no one whom I really knew for thousands of kilometers, so one could argue that I should not care about screwing up. But that is obviously not how it works. Walk around a bit. Beer in hand, my palms are sweatty […knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on my sweater already, mom’s spaghetti – oh wait, this is the Eminem in me speaking. Where was I? Oh right.] After a couple of beers I gather my courage, walk up to this girl and ask: “Are you Dutch?”

Well, what d’ya know: a slightly off-topic comic.

Really Bojk?! Is that the best you could come up with? Of the million funny/cool/nice/random/so-awkward-that-it’s-funny-again things to say, you choose this? You moron! Her boyfriend arriving at the scene moments later did not particularly make me feel less of a moron either. Besides this, she was not Dutch and an encounter with a fellow compatriot was actually the last thing I was looking for in the first place. What was I thinking, if at all?! Got out of there asap and another beer later I was pointing and laughing at myself in solitude. At this moment, a different girl walks up to me, gives me a witty, teasing stare and says: “What brings you here, blue eyes?” And I remember thinking: Now that’s how you do this Bojk!* Continue reading “On finding love 2.0”

Supporting conversations

During a recent conversation with a technician, let’s call him ‘Cherry Maker’ (CM, not to be confused with cherry picker), I wanted to know what being support staff meant to him. “Assimilation.” he answered, and after seeing my puzzled face, he added: “It’s becoming what you always dreaded as a researcher.” “Well”, I said, “isn’t that a bit dramatic?” CM: “No! I find it quite funny. When I was a young grad student a long time ago, I found the sight of a technician going home at 5, irrespective of the status of the experiment, horrifying. Same when a technician’s interest in a paper did not go beyond his/her own contribution.”

The distorted views of academia. This image is really spot on (@biomatushik – http://sotak.info/sci.jpg)

“Now” he said with an ironic smile, “I can just feel those looks from grad students as soon as I leave for home at around 5! Look Bojk,” CM said in his usual tongue-in-cheek manner, “you PhDs like to think it’s all about you and your research, but as a technician you have come to realize that hierarchy and continuity come first, then comes a whole lot of nothing and other stuff, and then come the PhDs…” Me: “So where’s the assimilation part in this and why is this funny?” CM: “Because I realize now that every researcher-turned-support unavoidably assimilates towards this other way of thinking, irrespective of the initial world view. It’s nurture pur sang!”

Continue reading “Supporting conversations”

Scientific lubricant

Remember me writing about how stressful life as a last-year grad student was? How many of us walk around sleep deprived, nervous and pale in the face? Forget about all that, life as a final year grad student rocks!

Climbing peaks in Aspen: single-molecule biophysicists in the Rockies. (Steve Block’s Single-Molecule Biophysics meeting, Aspen, CO)

Let me tell you why. For the better part of 3 years you have spent an innumerable amount of time trying to figure out why you are the right (wo)man for the job, messing up, experimenting with flexible working hours, procrastinating, doing useful and less useful experiments, isolating yourself from family/friends/daylight, feeling insecure about your future and ignoring important e-mails from department secretaries. You may even have contemplated quitting, or at least pondered what life would be like as a diving instructor, mountaineering guide or Buddhist monk. But now all of a sudden the mist that clouded you so hopelessly has cleared up as if being burnt away by the morning sun: now you have a story to tell. This means it’s conference time!

And some more in the Alps (Kavli institute Delft retreat, Courchevel, France). 

Those outside academia might now be wondering whether the clearing of the above-mentioned mist also took away my last bit of sanity, but those in science know better. For scientists may not earn six-figure salaries, they will not find themselves surrounded by groupies on a regular basis, and they may have to spend days on end measuring in a basement, but I have to say: they sure know how to treat themselves to a proper intellectual retreat.

Continue reading “Scientific lubricant”

Back to reality

And yet another academic year kicks off again. What year is this? 2014, check. Which year did I start? 2011, check. Whoa! Wait a minute – three years have gone by?! How did that happen? Why didn’t anybody tell me?! So my last year has started?? Oh boy [picture me becoming pale in the face], in a year’s time I’m expected to have written a book, drawn some very profound and groundbreaking conclusions and am expected to head off to the next step in my career? Oh boy!

“Ah”, I hear post-docs thinking, “the final year grad student – been there, done that. Feel so sorry for those guys (NOT!)…” Well, I guess last-year grads are easy to recognize: walking hastily through the corridor, a bit pale faced, sleep deprived, maybe a nervous twitch or two. You’ve got it, that’s us. To be honest, I actually don’t feel all of this (yet), but the what’s next? question has definitely been popping up in my mind more often these days. Three years ago, doing a Ph.D. to me was a form of safe and comfortable intellectual escapism, curiosity-driven but also having that delightful feeling of being allowed to not think about what next? for the following three years. But here I am again: what’s next?

Continue reading “Back to reality”

Stilte.

Waar ik anderhalve week geleden in een vliegtuig vol met vrolijke, pratende, lachende Nederlanders vanuit Amsterdam voor een congres richting Pisa vertrok, was de terugvlucht een ruime week later een aparte gewaarwording. Tijdens taxiën en opstijgen heerste een stilte die ik nog niet vaak heb meegemaakt. Mijn anders altijd zo luidruchtige landgenoten zaten er allen ingetogen bij. Er werd met geen woord over gerept, maar je kon zien dat velen met hun hoofd zaten waar ikzelf ook zat: bij de vlucht die de wereldpolitiek weer even op zijn grondvesten deed schudden, bij MH17.

Weg zijn ineens die wellicht ietwat naïeve veronderstellingen dan wel wensen van de lekker hoog en droog zittende westerling dat het wel goed komt met de Oost-Westverhoudingen, dat er achter die nationalistische machofaçade van Poetins Rusland toch nog afspraken te maken vallen zonder uitvoerig en ridicuul spierballenvertoon. Teleurstelling en terneergeslagenheid overheersen, op een manier niet eens zo gek veel anders dan op die septemberdag bijna 13 jaar geleden.

Net als toen bekropen mij toch ook sterke gevoelens van woede en vergeldingsdrang. Ditmaal toen ik – speurend naar elk brokje nieuws die mijn iphone via trage Italiaanse wifiverbindingen vinden kon – las dat er aan alle kanten eigendommen van overledenen geclaimd worden, er met bewijs gesjoemeld wordt en er naar goed Poetiniaans gebruik feiten verdraaid worden. Tekenen van een totaal gebrek aan respect, voor velen daar gewoon een ongelukkige samenloop van omstandigheden in een politiek machtsspel. Op 11 september kwam het al dichtbij, maar deze keer zat Nederland op de eerste rij.

Will work for food.

Like all nationalities, the Dutch have something with food. However, unlike quite a few other nationalities, for the Dutch ‘having something with food’ does not mean ‘having a sophisticated cuisine’. The Dutch approach to life – sober, functional, yet efficient – also holds for their eating habits. Though sliced bread is officially an American invention, the Dutch deserve a prize for so eagerly embracing this concept. Indeed, with their endless plain cheese or peanut butter sandwiches, the Dutch are often ridiculed as being prepared to eat anything. Having grown up in Belgium – the culinary buffer zone between France and The Netherlands – I definitely also sensed a gradient (a step function, actually) of culinary complexity when crossing the border.

From those new to The Netherlands, I have heard personal accounts of going through various stages of surprise, to astonishment, disbelief, disgust, rebellion, and finally to acceptance by sticking with home cooking. While home cooking might be a good alternative meaning for ‘going Dutch’, it is only then that people realize that the supermarkets do not offer what could be bought abroad.

Continue reading “Will work for food.”

Leaving, on a jet plane

Imagine the following: You’re a Ph.D. candidate (Well, that shouldn’t be too hard for many of you…), the project you have spent the past 12 months working on seems to produce some interesting results. At a national conference they have recognized and acknowledged this by letting you give a presentation. Then you sign up for a large international conference, THE yearly conference of the field so to speak, and even there you are selected to give a talk. That’s great news! Right?

The group picture taken to celebrate the 10th anneversary of the Delft Kavli Institute, aren’t we the lively bunch?

But wait, you also have a sister. She is a professional snowboarder. She has spent the past 12 years training her (pardon my French) ass off and seems to be getting some interesting results. She’s the straight-A student of the national competition so to speak. And she shows this by winning the national championship in her discipline for 5 years in a row. Then she signs up for international competitions, and this seems to run pretty well. So well indeed that they have selected her… – okay, this is where all resemblances stop I am afraid – to head for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Now that is what I would call great news!

Continue reading “Leaving, on a jet plane”

Gezocht: politici met sporterslef (m/v)

25 februari 2014. Terug uit de Russische Rivièra. Als trotse broer ga ik met mijn ik-durf-alles-op-een-snowboard-en-dat-zal-ik-de-wereld-laten-zien zusje mee naar de huldiging van de Nederlandse olympiërs in de Ridderzaal. De post-olympische dagen zijn voor alle sporters, niet alleen de medaillewinnaars, een aaneenschakeling van ererondes en andere blijken van waardering. Terecht ook. Jarenlang plannen, zwoegen, sponsoren overtuigen, afspraken met vrienden op de lange baan schuiven, enzovoorts, enzovoorts zijn uitgemond in het waarmaken van dé droom: deelname aan Het Sportevenement. Zoals ons allemaal niet ontgaan is, is daar voor bijna alle schaatsers ook nog de kers op de taart bijgekomen. Of een hele berg kersen eigenlijk. Zo’n 3 kilo. Wat een bizarre spelen.

Niet laf. Uw correspondent, tevens trotse broer van snowboardcrosser en olympiër Bell Berghuis.

Terug naar de Ridderzaal. Inmiddels zitten wij – vrienden, familie, sporters – te luisteren hoe eerst premier Mark Rutte en vervolgens minister van Sport Edith Schippers alle medaillewinnaars overgieten met lof. U heeft het thuis ook allemaal kunnen volgen: glunderend staan ze op het podium, het is een gerammel van schijven om de sportersnekken, degenen met goud krijgen een koninklijke onderscheiding en beantwoorden ietwat overrompeld door alle lofzang de goedgeluimde vragen van Humberto. Prachtig allemaal.

Continue reading “Gezocht: politici met sporterslef (m/v)”

Go, go, go!

The start of the new academic year always has something special to it. After the calm of summer, the air is suddenly filled with the buzz of new students on campus grounds. A fresh batch of slightly disoriented, ever younger-looking students once more roam the hallways of our Applied Physics building. The weather – after the short, reasonably-dry-and-not-too-cold period the Dutch call summer – characteristically turns sour as deluges become a daily recurring event (somehow always peaking when I am on my way to or from work, irrespective of the time-of-day). Then there is the yearly Kavli day; always a friendly reminder that we are all part of something bigger. The day that the exchange of awkward or wary glances between BN and QN grad students along the corridors actually becomes a careful exchange of words, or even experiences…

Continue reading “Go, go, go!”