BIOLOGY AND BURSTING THE BUBBLE

An interview with Bas Defize

The graduating class may still remember a time when we received an email from Bas Defize almost daily. Thanks to a new intranet page for internship our mailboxes have been allowed to rest, but Bas certainly has not. As teacher, Career Development Officer, Chair of the College Council and Coordinator of the UCU in Africa programme he is involved in much that goes on around campus. The Boomerang decided it was time to get to know this busy bee.

By Fleur Zantvoort & Judith Harmsen

What did you do before you came to work at UCU?

I was employed by the KNAW, the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences, here at the Uithof, where I also did my PHD. I specialised in developmental biology. Every now and then I taught these giant lectures for 300-400 anonymous students, but I never liked it. When in 2003 I was asked to organize a course for UCU I first said ‘No way, I don’t like teaching.’ I did end up trying it, and my first class here existed of about fifteen students. I actually really enjoyed it, and in 2007 there was a possibility to become fully employed by UCU. That meant giving up research, so it was a difficult decision, but in the end I decided: why not.

“When I was asked to organize a course for UCU I first said: ‘No Way, I don’t like teaching.’”

You are involved in many things at UCU, what do you like best?

I like teaching best because it makes you stay on top of science. I still read literature and follow what is going on and then talk about these things with students. What I like about UCU is that we also discuss societal implications. What does it all mean? What do you guys think about designer babies? We have very nice discussions.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I very much like to fix things. You can’t find any piece of machinery in our house that I haven’t fixed. I also still play baseball, I play chess – mostly on the internet – and I like to hike. Friday afternoons I hang out with colleagues at Jan Primus, and I like cooking.

Bas’ specialty is his famous Lasagne, and you will find the recipe for it in the Arts & Culture section of this issue.

What kind of student were you yourself?

Ha! That’s a good one. I was a lazy one in the beginning. I liked everything in the science field, but biology not that much actually. However, I was afraid that all other fields would be too difficult and too specialized, so I went for biology. I started in Utrecht as a 19-year-old hippie with hair until my shoulders. I actually got good grades, but perhaps I was a bit of an ‘obnoxious student’ sometimes. I only studied really hard for the biology things I really liked.

“I started in Utrecht as a 19-year-old hippy with hair until my shoulders”


And next to studying?

Partying, haha. Hanging out in bars and the Wooloomooloo. Besides that, my big hobby was, and still is, playing baseball. In the weekends it was back to Amersfoort where I grew up and where my baseball club was.

Have UCU students changed over the years that you’ve been here?

I don’t think the students have changed much. Maybe there is a change in their outlook on the world; they all communicate a lot via social media and this affects how deep their knowledge is about particular world issues. What I also notice, and don’t like all that much, is that there is a tendency to – when something is announced via facebook – say ‘yes I will come’ and then not come. This is awful for organizers! In the old days you could count more on people actually coming to events.

“We have this idea that all UCU students leave UCU speaking and writing flawless English, but it’s not true.”

How would you like to see UCU in ten years? What are changes that still have to be made?

I think one of the things that should be better is the interactions between the different departments. There are interdisciplinary courses, like the sustainability course, but there should be more. We should also focus more on developing writing and language skills. We have this idea that all UCU student leave UCU speaking and writing flawless English, but it’s not true.

And you? What will you be doing in ten years?

I will be retired, haha. In the meantime, I will be busy with a big project introducing digital labs here on campus. Our aim is not to replace lab courses completely, that is impossible. However, if you can practice your protocol on your computer and then go to a lab, it might work better. I hope to get this done in another three years. It will be my legacy.

If you could give one piece of advice to the current generation of UCU students: what would it be?

Every year I take part in the Pub Crawl for teachers and students, and I think it is a fantastic idea, but you always see only the older years doing that, ‘the usual suspects’. That shouldn’t be the case! What I also dislike is all the Dutch people going home on the weekend. If you really want to create a community, you shouldn’t go home every single weekend. I would advise students to think more of what there is to do outside the bubble. Go and do stuff, take people along!

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