Working for science and scholarship

Hanno Brand (Fryske Akademy)

This time in Working for Science, Hanno Brand and Marit Bijlsma (read her interview) of the Fryske Akademy, where Hanno has been director until January 2018 and Marit is grant officer. The Fryske Akademy is dedicated to basic and applied research into the Frisian language, history and culture. 

Prof. Hanno Brand

Director of the Fryske Akademy until January 2018. Born in Gouda in 1959.

What’s so wonderful about working for the Fryske Akademy?
'We are a research institute where you can do long-term, basic research. A good community of specialists in language, history and social sciences. All of our research revolves around Frisian subjects. Our primary sources of funding are the national government and the provincial authorities. By its nature, our work puts you on the interface between theoretical research and practical application. We do linguistic research, but we also produce online dictionaries. And we have the same dynamic in history and the social sciences as well. That’s the research that gets applied in things like supporting provincial policy decisions.' 

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? And how did you end up at the Fryske Akademy?
'I wanted to be a historian. My history teacher in school, Mr Joris, played a big part in that. He was really good at inspiring the students with his own passion for the field. When I was doing my Master’s, I discovered archival research. I’ve had a pretty colourful career. I’ve worked in Leiden, Ghent, Paris and Groningen. In 2009 I became head of the History faculty at the Akademy. And now I’m director. Facilitating research is gratifying and exciting work, with a lot of variety.'

 The Akademy is in Leeuwarden, capital of Friesland, which is going to be European Capital of Culture in 2018. The core theme is going to be: Iepen Mienskip (open community). What are you going to see at the Fryske Akademy of this Iepen Mienskip?
'Iepen Mienskip is the slogan under which Leeuwarden won the bid for European Capital of Culture. The idea is that initiatives are built from the bottom up and the whole community can participate. For an academic institute, that’s like an open door. Our research is strongly international. We have a mix of Frisian and non-Frisian employees, including, of course, a number of employees from abroad. This gives us a very valuable perspective from the outside in.'

Can you tell us about any recent research or results that have surprised you?
'There are a lot of good examples, but if I have to choose one, what leaps to mind is Wetsus, the European Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Water Technology, right here in Leeuwarden. What I’m thinking of is their test setup on the IJsselmeer Dam (Afsluitdijk), where they successfully generated electricity from just fresh water and salt water separated by a membrane. Amazing!'

It’s becoming harder and harder to find funding for basic research. What do you think can be done better?
'The humanities are cheap compared to the exact sciences. But they still have a hard time finding funding, because the competition is so stiff. And of course, the time you put into applications is time away from research. European applications are terribly complicated – you actually have to hire agencies to handle your applications for you. Something really needs to be done about the bureaucracy. On the other hand, institutes could be doing more in knowledge sharing, and could be submitting more joint applications. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) could be doing a lot more to encourage this.'

If your institute got a million euros, what would be the first thing you would spend it on?
'On a ‘laboratory' where we could bring together linguistic research, historical research, social sciences and tech applications. Where we could invest in both people and tech. Something that would let us as Fryske Akademy collect our source material on Frisian language and culture and make it available worldwide.'

Can you name another Academy institute where you’d like to take a look around?
'I’ve never been to NIOO, the Netherlands Institute for Ecology. A few years ago they moved to a new building, and we’ve just done a major renovation with all kinds of the latest smart applications. It would be great to compare the two. What you really should do is go around to all the institutes to see what’s happening. It might be an idea to not always have our meetings in the Trippenhuis Building, but to rotate. It would also be great for the staff to go around and see how everybody else works. That’s why I’m very happy with the Academy’s Job Shadow Days. But we could be doing more, we could be having personnel exchanges, for example.'

The Academy is the voice of science in the Netherlands. And advocate of basic research. What would you like to see the Academy do, or do much more of?
'The Academy has an academic arm and an art arm. In my experience, these are still two different worlds. I think it would be worthwhile bridging the two much more than we do. For example, if you could make a connection with just one of the arts, you would be making the research much more accessible. That can have very inspiring effects in two different directions.'

Read the interview with Marit Bijlsma, grant officer at Fryske Akademy.