Interviews with trainers

INTERVIEW WITH MARC VAN MIL - coordinator This Thing Called Science

Can you briefly introduce yourself? - I'm Marc van Mil, an Associate Professor specializing in biomedical education. My work is primarily centered on bridging the gap between science and society. I teach students at various levels, from undergrads to PhD candidates. Starting in January, I'll be taking on the role of coordinating the course "This Thing Called Science."

"This Thing Called Science" (TTCS) is distinct from the typical offerings at the PhD Course Centre, which mostly focus on practical skills. Why is a course like TTCS important, and why should a PhD candidate participate in this course? - The name, "This Thing Called Science," already suggests that we're delving into the essence of what science is, how it operates, and, crucially, its role in society. These are questions that don't often cross a researcher's mind in their daily routine. So, this course offers a chance to step back and contemplate what science truly means and what it entails to be a scientist. It's a valuable opportunity to broaden your perspective beyond the daily hustle and bustle.

Do you think researchers allow themselves enough time to reflect on their work? - I believe that, perhaps unconsciously, many researchers in the life sciences assume that science is an inherently neutral endeavor. There's a pervasive feeling among scientists that they are simply uncovering objective facts. We aim to challenge this notion, asserting that science is far from neutral. In my view, it's influenced by various values shaped by your background, traditions, and the systems in which you operate.

A course like TTCS can foster this kind of reflection, but are there other avenues for researchers to engage in such contemplation? - The impact of TTCS extends beyond the 30 or 40 participants in the course. They carry the discussions back to their workplaces, sparking conversations about the 'why' and 'how' of their research, what drives their work, and where their funding comes from. These questions are closely tied to their research, yet they are often left unexplored.

Are there any emerging developments or current issues that should be incorporated into the course or that deserve discussion? - Utrecht University is determined to lead the way in embracing open science, which means continually connecting with those outside academia and across different fields. The course will certainly address this theme. However, it's important to acknowledge that open science is not confined to one course. Science is evolving in various ways, and the practical aspects of open science are gradually finding their way into research groups. This will be a focal point in the course.

TTCS has a rich history. Do you have any thoughts on the course's structure or potential changes? - TTCS was established during the emergence of the "Science in Transition" movement, led by Frank Miedema and Frank Huisman. It was a bold call for change in the scientific realm. The course originally aimed to address the issues within science, but now, we are transitioning towards a more optimistic message. We're contemplating inviting speakers who represent the new generation, acting as role models for innovative approaches, such as embracing team science and moving away from solely counting publications to measure scientific quality. Their insights will infuse fresh energy into the course.

TTCS has traditionally encompassed certain pillars, including politics, ethics, and society. Do you foresee a fresh perspective on these pillars? - The core pillars of the course will largely remain unchanged. A solid grasp of the history of science, the philosophy of science, and ethics continues to be fundamental when contemplating science.

For me, science communication is of great importance. This aspect will take on a more prominent role. Science communication isn't just about simplifying complex ideas; it's about engaging in a dialogue, listening, and finding common ground. Teaching the skills of dialogue and active listening is just as crucial as the traditional aspects of science communication. This promotes mutual learning and collaboration with people from diverse fields.

Why should a PhD candidate consider enrolling in this course? - This course addresses a fundamental question: "What kind of scientist do you want to be?" To answer that, participants will broaden their perspective on science beyond the daily grind. This broader view is vital for charting your unique path in the world of science.

Who stands to gain the most from this course? - This course is relevant for PhD candidates at all stages of their research journey. A diverse representation enriches the discussions about the nature of science, how it operates, and the role of a scientist. These seemingly simple questions can lead to profound insights, especially when presented by speakers from various disciplines, leaving participants inspired and perhaps with more questions than when they started the course.


INTERVIEW WITH GERBEN TUIN - trainer Public Speaking

Can you briefly introduce yourself? - Since I was young I have been loving the stage, especially the theatre stage. So when I finished my Masters at the TUDelft in 2010 I decided to become a professional actor. Easy, I thought… It wasn’t. To still be able to earn a living, I started to teach public speaking skills at several universities and ‘accidentally’ fell in love with teaching and investigating the best way to speak in public. By combining the knowledge I gained in theatre with the world of presenting, I developed the 4 Focus technique and the Active Speech framework. Currently I teach, act, direct, write and make music.

What is the core or essence of the course? What is the course about? - This course hands you a toolbox of techniques that enable you to interact (or interact even better) with an audience during a presentation, whilst lowering your nerves and heightening your focus and that of your audience.

Why would a PhD candidate needs to follow this training? What's in it for them? - To me research is about the collaboration of minds to find new (or better) ideas (or solutions). Every live presentation can be a collaboration of minds and could therefore potentially increase the quantity and the quality of your ideas or solution, or those of others. Therefore it is very important that every PhD candidate learns how to benefit from each live presentation, to inspire and potentially become inspired. 

What do you want participants to take away from the training? - I want to show you how audience interactions can boost your oxytocin, a hormone that lowers your nerves, and help you to convey your message in the right way for that specific audience. Next tot that I would like to inspire you with the multiple ways you can stimulate your audience to think about your topic, and maybe even speak up.

In which stage of a PhD Track is this course most useful? - If you feel you need to become better at presenting in general, you can follow this course at any moment during your PhD. If you (also) want to practise with presenting your PhD research, it’s best to take this course after or at the end of the literature phase. 

If you can pitch this course in two sentences, what would that be? - This course will teach you how to make an audience work fór you, instead of against you. And if you already like to stand in front of an audience, and speak to or with them, this course will hand you the tools that will get you to the next level of presenting and beyond.



Can you briefly introduce yourself? - My name is Pepijn Lochtenberg and I’m a focus expert and has been working in sports, business and science to help people improve their focus. I have a background in Human Movement Sciences and completed a postmaster program to become an applied sport psychologist at Exposz / VU University. I’m co-owner of Focus like a Pro, a company that provides high-level and long term focus and performance services.

What is the core or essence of the course? What is the course about? - During this course you will learn what focus is. You will gain insight in how focus affects energy, performance and satisfaction. You will understand why continuous task interruptions are detrimental to delivering high quality of work and managing your energy and well-being. You will learn to manage focus and improve your concentration. These measures consist of managing your environment and taking care of your own energy level. In addition, you will learn how to manage your tasks and responsibilities to have a clear mind. And you will learn how to improve your focus muscle: the skill to regain focus when you are distracted.

Why would a PhD candidate need to follow this training? What's in it for them? - Notifications, colleagues, a busy head or feelings of stress and anxiety: focusing for a longer period of time on one task is pretty difficult with all these distractions. And that comes with a cost. Feeling more stress, less energy and less satisfaction are the result of continuous task interruptions.

Improving your focus is the key ingredient to better performance, less stress and more satisfaction. It requires a set of measures to get there: not just reducing external distractions, but also taking measures to have a quiet mind. This personal development course will help you improve focus for better performance, more energy and more satisfaction.

What do you want participants to take away from the training? - Participants learn to improve their focus and their ability to be concentrated on one task for a period of time. Consequently, they will be more effective, manage their time and energy better and deliver higher quality of work.

In which stage of a PhD Track is this course most useful? - PhD students will benefit most when they follow the course in the beginning of their PhD program. However, since improving focus contributes to personal effectiveness and professional development, following the course in any stage of their PhD will be beneficial.

If you can pitch this course in two sentences, what would that be? - Learn how to focus in a distracted world and distinguish yourself by your increased ability to reach depth in your work and to stay energized during busy periods.