20 December 2019

Naomi Ellemers brings science and practice together

Science and practice are two worlds that don't necessarily meet as often as they should. Distinguished Professor of Utrecht University and social and organisational psychologist Naomi Ellemers, whose activities include practising science as well as studying behaviour in organisations in practice, considers this a missed opportunity: 'This way, science has too little impact on practice, and doesn't always focus on relevant questions. And it's a pity for practice too, since it doesn't take advantage of available knowledge and wastes resources on solutions that demonstrably will not be successful.'

This year, the Utrecht University professor received various awards, both from the worlds of science and practice. Of course Ellemers is extremely honoured with the recognition, particularly since the awards go to show that you can be successful in both science and practice. 'You always hear people claiming that you can either only be good in science or good in practice. So that obviously isn't true. As Kurt Lewin, one of the founding fathers of our field, once famously said: "There is nothing so practical as a good theory".'

Poorly accessible

Until 2010, Ellemers had little to do with practice. 'Academics publish in academic journals and then hope it will be picked up by people working in practice. But this seldom happens, since academic journals are not easily accessible for anyone working in practice. This means that new scientific insights are hardly used in practice. This was the case for me as well.'

The partnerships we currently are engaged in with parties from practice actually came about as a consequence of public lectures, pieces written for newspapers and radio interviews.

Media appearances

In 2010, the Utrecht professor received the Merian Prize, awarded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The prize also included a media training course. Since then, Ellemers has been presenting her research more widely and has realised that the world outside academia is quite interested in her work. 'However, it is important to indicate more clearly what the practical value of the research is.' The attention she received from media organisations in turn led to new contacts related to research and collaboration with parties working in practice. 'The partnerships we currently are engaged in with parties from practice actually came about as a consequence of public lectures, pieces written for newspapers and radio interviews, which gave people a clearer picture of everything we are up to and why this could be interesting for them.' 


In recent years, Ellemers and her research group have worked together with various organisations and institutions, including addressing the 'psychology of supervision' together with the Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets and the Netherlands Authority for Consumers & Markets. She also set up a Dutch inclusivity monitor, the NIM (Nederlandse InclusiviteitsMonitor), an initiative with which Ellemers and her colleagues hope to support organisations that promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 'We are analysing the coherence of diversity policy and the experiences of those employed in Dutch organisations in various sectors, and are reviewing this in light of the academic literature. Organisations then receive a custom report that includes a benchmark, concrete recommendations for optimising policy and advice on further steps that can be taken. This is an initiative where practice and science set to work together.' 

2019 list of awards

The list of awards Ellemers received this year is a long one. In the United States she received a Senior Career Award from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, honouring her for the scientific work she has produced. She also received the ISA Medal for Science from the University of Bologna and the Aristotle Prize from the European Federation of Psychologists' Associations. In addition, the Australian University of Queensland appointed her Honorary Professor, while the Université Catholique Louvain La Neuve awarded her an honorary doctorate. It is little wonder that the Dutch magazine Opzij included the Utrecht University social psychologist in their list of the 100 most influential women in the Netherlands.