Saskia van Wees appointed Professor of Hormonal Regulation of Plant Resistance
“I’ve always done what I enjoy doing, without having a specific career path in mind”
Saskia van Wees was appointed as Professor of Hormonal Regulation of Plant Resistance at the Department of Biology on 1 March of this year. Her research focuses specifically on plants’ defensive signalling in their interaction with various types of microbes and insects. Studying plant resistance to plagues and diseases is essential to achieve sustainable global food production. Van Wees’ research contributes to the Future Food Hub and Utrecht University’s strategic research themes Pathways to Sustainability and Life Sciences.
“I never really had a strong urge to become a Professor”, Van Wees explains. “It had been on the agenda for a while, but when I received an NWO Aspasia Grant last year, the university accelerated the appointment procedure.” Van Wees had previously been awarded prestigious Veni and Vidi grants. “I’ve always done what I enjoy doing, without having a specific career path in mind. The Professor title gives me more opportunities to do what I love most: studying how ingenious plants are at arranging their resistance, training researchers and students, and working together with scientists, industry and society. But I’ve consciously chosen to limit my appointment to four days in the week, even though it’s still difficult to find room for other things in addition to my work.”
One of the themes of Van Wees’ research is collaboration: that between plants and beneficial or harmful microbes and insects, as well as that between different hormones in complex gene expression networks. She has received praise for her energetic and collaborative attitude, for example by working together with the agricultural industry in the field of sustainable crop protection, and her research has had a major impact. That scientific impact is also illustrated by the large number of publications that Van Wees has been involved in: in 2018 and 2019, she was recognised as a Highly Cited Researcher by Web of Science.
In addition to her research, Van Wees teaches courses on the full breadth of biology, especially in the fields of plant science and microbiology. She has also served as Director of the PhD programme Environmental Biology at the Graduate School of Life Sciences since 2015.