Working for science: NIOO-KNAW

In our Working for science column, we ask two generations of an Academy institute the same questions. Questions about their passions, the Academy, and the role of science. We begin with the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO). The NIOO has a staff of more than 300 people involved in basic and strategic ecological research.

Irene-de-Bruijn-picture-4943-1416214625-200px.jpgDr Irene de Bruijn

Post-doc and junior research group leader of the NWO-TTW (formerly STW) project ‘Deciphering the fish egg microbiome to mitigate diseases in aquaculture’.
Irene was born in Leiden on 27 April 1981 

What’s so wonderful about working for science?
‘For me, the joy lies mainly in discovering how nature works. I also find it important to produce useful research results. My research may contribute to fish farms reducing the amount of antibiotics and chemicals that they use.’ 

When did you find your vocation?
‘I wanted to be a vet. But when I spent a day observing a vet towards the end of secondary school, I discovered that it wasn’t much fun – it involved checking pets for fleas, sterilising and castrating pets, and so on. It didn’t rouse my curiosity. Biology was a better fit for me.’

Did you make a conscious decision to work for an Academy institute?
‘No. I was working at Wageningen University. My project coordinator was promoted to head of department at the NIOO and offered me a job. All I had to do was cross the road, in a manner of speaking.’  

What are the advantages of working for the NIOO as opposed to working at a university?
‘The biggest advantage is the small scale here. I really feel like part of a community, and not just one soul among many others. Everything is literally right around the corner. I can just drop by the financial affairs department, for example. And our building really is a fantastic place to work.’

What would you like to see the Academy do, or do much more of? 
‘It could be better at providing information. I’m on the Academy steering committee for PhD and post-doc career development. From that position, I can see that the Academy is organising a lot of events and activities, but the information isn’t always getting through to the target group. It’s also important for PhD students and post-docs to build their networks beyond the academic world. There just aren’t all that many career opportunities in academia. The Academy just organised a career day for post-docs and PhD students that focused on discovering their individual competencies. In the future, I think it would be a good idea to link an event of this kind to a business career fair.’

Can you name another Academy institute where you’d like to take a look around?
‘My first choice would be the Hubrecht Institute. Although our research overlaps quite a bit, on the whole I don’t really know all the things they do there. Maybe there’s potential for us to work together. And to learn from each other.’

The Academy is the voice of science in the Netherlands. What’s your battle cry?
‘Microbes rule! Microbes are everywhere and play a huge role in our everyday lives. Thanks to new technologies, we’re getting to understand them better. We know which ones there are, but we’re a long way from knowing precisely what they do and why. Or how we can use them. If we knew more about them, we could do so much.’

See also: Web page Irene de Bruijn


Interviews: Carel Jansen