The 2022 campus columnists

What was it like to write about life on campus for DUB?

campuscolumnisten 2022
Leonie van Bruggen and Chandni Shyam, 2022 campuscolumnists. Photo Leonie van Bruggen: Ivar Pel. Photo Chandni Shyam: Tara van den Broek

Chandni Shyam recently graduated with a Master’s in Cultural Anthropology, which she followed completely online from India due to the pandemic. She came to Utrecht for the first time to collect her diploma and try to secure a job. She wrote primarily for DUB's English page.

Leonie van Bruggen wrote mainly for our Dutch page. She is a senior staff member of the Radiology department at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She has recently started a part-time PhD track investigating the role of diagnostic imaging in forensic veterinary medicine.

The two campus columnists started writing for DUB in January 2022, when Covid still had a grip on university life.

First of all, some considerations about your year as a campus columnist: how did you like it? Was it an enjoyable experience? Was it what you thought it would be?

Leonie: “It was truly a nice experience for me. I had written some pieces before being assigned as a campus columnist, so I knew that I liked to work with language and short stories, but being a dedicated writer every two or three weeks is definitely something different. I’m very happy with the opportunity.”

Chandni: “I had a very good time: I wrote more than I'd ever written before, especially in such a dedicated way, so that really helped me enjoy the experience. The only problem I faced was not being sure how to write something related to the university since I wasn’t in Utrecht for much of my studies, but that got easier towards the end.”

That was actually my next question: how was it to write from another country so far away from the Netherlands, with a completely different culture and even a different time zone?

Chandni: “One of the reasons why I decided to try for the campus columnist position was that I read DUB myself and didn’t find a lot of topics I could relate to, since I had never been to the Netherlands. So I thought: ‘why not just give this a shot and actually write something people from different backgrounds can relate to?’ I think it got easier over time, but I was very worried initially. I didn’t know how to write something that people from the Netherlands could visualise, but this fear made me want to write about very different things across very different fields, which was really positive.”

Leonie: “I thought your columns were really nice, Chandni, because they gave us such a different approach. They made me a bit more aware of the tunnel vision that we have, even in this academic setting. You would think that, within a group of educated people, everyone would know how to look at other perspectives, but sometimes we forget to do it and it’s good to be reminded of that. I also really liked the one you wrote about not being able to find a job here. I thought it was a very fresh point of view because in academia we are so focused on studying, assignments, papers, Master’s programmes, you name it, and you gave some insight into what happens after that, especially from someone who comes from outside the European Union.”

Campuscolumnist Leonie van Bruggen

Campuscolumnist Leonie van Bruggen

Have you ever experienced writer’s block or struggled with ideas for columns? If so, how did you find inspiration again?

Leonie: “In the beginning, I used to make a list of thoughts that came to my mind, things that would be interesting to write about. Life also happens, of course: I really wanted to react to things that happened around me, either in my working life or in my private life, and let that inspire me. Sometimes it wasn't easy to actually find the time to sit down and write the column, but I found that if I start with an idea and let it grow a little, I truly enjoy turning it into a story. I tried to prevent having to come up with something right before the deadline but having a list of ideas does not necessarily mean that, when the moment comes, you will be inspired by the topics you wrote down. I think inspiration can also happen at the moment, so I liked to scroll through DUB or take a look at the news to find something to write about.”  

Chandni: “I could never make a list work for me, so even if I had more ideas initially, it didn’t mean I used them when it was time to actually write something. I’ve since discovered that I write best when I talk about something that I personally experienced or that someone around me experienced, so my writing was led more by what happened in my life. The writer’s block that I'm currently experiencing is because I'm no longer in Utrecht.”

What about feedback? Did you ever receive any negative comments about your columns?

Leonie: “I didn’t see any on the website, but I know some of my friends, my colleagues and my bosses read my columns and though I did get some very good responses, not all of them liked it. I got negative feedback on a piece I wrote about how people worked hard in the clinics during the pandemic and how we didn’t feel very appreciated by or connected to the upper layers of the faculty hierarchy, especially during those times. I guess as a columnist you can (and perhaps should) always expect some reaction, but I did not expect that all hierarchical layers above me, up to the dean, wanted to talk to me about that column. It was an interesting experience for me. My column was meant to be about raising awareness of my colleagues’ hard work during Covid. Fortunately, all of the colleagues that approached me told me how much they appreciated what I wrote, and how much they felt seen and represented. That was reassuring. Apparently, the column touched a different string in different groups.”

Chandni: “I was quite surprised when Leonie and I talked about this incident because I didn’t really get any comments on my columns. I don’t even know how many people are actually reading them besides my family and close friends. I did get some really positive feedback from them, so I hope they reached people on campus as well.”

Campuscolumnist Chandni Shyam

Campuscolumnist Chandni Shyam

To conclude, what would you recommend to the new campus columnists? Do you have any tips, tricks or suggestions for them?

Leonie: “Write about what you want. I didn't expect to be the writer that I became while working for DUB. I noticed that most of my columns have more or less a philosophical perspective, which is surprising to look back at. You can try to inspire other people, and if that happens, that’s great, but the most important thing is for you to enjoy it!”

Chandni: “The only thing I want to add is to connect with your fellow campus columnist. I really wanted to write something with Leonie, and we never got the chance to do that, so I think that would be a great experience for the next campus columnists.”

Leonie: “We should still do that Chandni! It would be a fun crossover.”

Do you want to become the new campus columnist?
Then participate in this year’s contest! All you have to do is send two columns in either Dutch or English. They shouldn’t be longer than 500 words each. You might be chosen by a panel of experts to write bi-monthly columns for DUB, as well as receiving a 1,000-euro stipend. Learn more.