Prof. Pablo Valdivia is co-director of the Arts in Society Research Centre, Chair of European Literature and Culture and President of the European Languages and Culture Programme Committee. He was appointed in Groningen in 2016.
When I decided to leave the University of Amsterdam, I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I could choose among different universities. However, I was easily convinced that the University of Groningen would be the best choice for me. First of all, in Groningen I had the chance to create a department for European Studies that would meet international standards. Secondly, I knew that I would not have to do it on my own, as teamwork is highly valued at the Faculty of Arts. I also had a more personal motive for wanting to work in Groningen. My wife used to have a job in Brussels, and for years I had been commuting between Brussels and different universities. The University of Groningen has a unique service called Dual-Career Support, aimed at assisting partners of new researchers in seeking employment or internships. This will allow my wife and me to live and work in the same place. Other universities do not have programmes like this.
A recipe for success
When I arrived in Groningen, I first took the time to get to know my staff. I saw a lot of potential, yet I also realized that they worked rather individually. My first goal was to create a team where each individual contributes in his or her own way to the collective success. United in diversity, that is our motto. Our department is a nice mixture of senior and more experienced scholars on the one hand and young enthusiastic researchers on the other. This guarantees a good balance between talent and wisdom and audacity and caution. That combination of skills is a recipe for success. I am really proud of my team.
Also, in European Languages and Cultures I work in a department with three chairs and that is a great concept. It is wonderful to work with colleagues who not only understand your views, but also wish to collaborate to a degree that you do not see very often in academia. My colleague Professor Lars Rensmann is a great inspiration. Together we are in the process of building distinct and genuinely interdisciplinary European Studies programmes, which are on their way to be leading among their peers in Europe. We feel the University and the Faculty recognize this. They have confidence in our success and are giving us the space to develop. Collegiality is our best asset. A good proof of this is the conference ‘Puzzling Europe’ (26-28 October 2016) that will have a major international impact and illustrates our outstanding teamwork.
Internationalization and quality: two key factors
The University of Groningen is very innovative and international. Internationalization is of vital importance for a university that wants to be successful. The University of Groningen understands this and is willing to invest in relationships with universities in, for example, Southern Europe or Latin America. In May, I went to Chile for the creation of a bilateral agreement between the University of Groningen and one of Chile’s top universities. I started new PhD programmes and recruited excellent PhD candidates from Chile for the University of Groningen. I love to scout new talent. Fortunately, the government of Chile attaches great importance to higher education and awards grants to candidates so they can do a PhD in Groningen.
I also visited Osaka (Japan) to revitalize our contacts in the field of Humanities, and we agreed on further academic collaboration. Furthermore, I created a new UG Winter School at the University of Granada, Spain.
Another key factor of course is quality. I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that people here really care about quality. Compared to other universities, the University of Groningen sets very high standards. We spend a lot of time discussing how we can improve things even further. If you want to contribute to the higher education of the future, Groningen is the place to be.
The human factor
At the same time, though, we do not overlook the human factor. In Groningen, it is not just your CV that counts. People are also genuinely interested in who you are. This made me feel that they really wanted me, and that of course made me feel very welcome. Another thing that strikes me is the ability to see the broader picture. When it comes to funding, we are not just filling the gaps in an Excel sheet. In Groningen, the administrators understand that sometimes you have to invest to get results.
Marie Curie RISE HORIZON 2020
An important project that we are working on is the Horizon 2020 Excellent Science Marie Curie RISE project ‘Cultural narratives of crisis and renewal’. It is an international project, awarded by the European Commission, that studies cultural manifestations from both sides of the Atlantic that have been produced at conjunctions of crisis since 1970. Marie Curie RISE grants are usually reserved for projects in the field of sciences. That makes it all the more special that a project in the field of humanities has succeeded in securing a grant.
In my opinion, a university is built on three pillars: teaching, research and administration. In research, funding is an important factor. We should stimulate researchers to apply for external funding.
When it comes to teaching, I believe that we should be highly selective when admitting students. We should focus on the quality of students, and not on the quantity.
And when it comes to administration, a professor must be friendly yet affirmative and seek compromises that benefit all.
I believe that in the case of the University of Groningen, all three conditions are met. That means the University has the potential to grow even further.
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