Academy President advocates diversity and connection in research

30 May 2016

During the Royal Academy’s annual Academy Afternoon, President José van Dijck gave her first annual address in which she underscored the importance and the value of diversity and connection in the academic community. 

Academy vice-president Ben Feringa presented his group’s research on molecular motors, while Ineke Sluiter (1959) discussed the topic of ‘Generations in Science’ with Janneke Gerards (1976) and Joan van der Waals (1920). Michiel Borstlap, pianist/composer and member of the Society of Arts, performed.

In her annual address (pdf, Dutch), José van Dijck illustrated the extent to which research is increasingly a matter of teamwork, including in the humanities and social sciences, with ‘diversity’ and ‘connection’ being the key words in that context.


Dijck-van-José-7836Van Dijck: ‘We are on the right track when it comes to the percentage of women in research, but we can do so much better. We also need a policy of diversity to ensure the representation of non-Western researchers at universities. University administrators and the heads of research groups are overwhelmingly white. The third facet of diversity is age. Teamwork in research will only thrive when gender and ethnic diversity are accompanied by a satisfactory combination of proven and up-and-coming talent. We must join the wisdom that comes with age to the impatience of youth.’


The second key word, ‘connection’, is mainly about bringing scientific and scholarly disciplines together. José van Dijck: ‘Innovations in our knowledge come about thanks to unexpected connections; chance encounters lead to discoveries. The scale and complexity of the issues challenging researchers today are forcing the disciplines to collaborate.’ Van Dijck concluded that the system of research awards and funding is not set up to reward interdisciplinary efforts and teamwork: ‘I think that those involved in selection procedures should realise that cross-disciplinary expertise and large-scale teams are growing advantages.’


José van Dijck ended her address with by sharing a fond wish: ‘My wish is that together, we can drive forward scientific quality, economic vigour, and social engagement. My wish is for our elected representatives and administrators to recognise and acknowledge that science is a question of teamwork, and to draw the necessary financial conclusions. My wish is that together, we in science can serve as an example of a diverse society that embraces many different talents, one in which the greatest common denominator is not our backgrounds but our collective future.’

The art of building small

Ben Feringa presented his group’s research on molecular motors, for which he recently received the Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize. Feringa created the first light-driven molecular motor capable of full rotation in 1999. Another fifty motors followed. Feringa’s group is also working on practical applications, such as a molecular switch that can activate and deactivate an antibiotic. Other group inventions include ‘molecular windmills’, i.e. a nanoscale, light-driven wind farm.