Caption: Isabel Arends in conversation with students and staff of the faculty after her speech. Photo DUB

New dean of the Faculty of Science: Sensible growth main objective

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The first hundred days. Thus her speech was announced. Isabel Arends has been dean of the Utrecht Faculty of Science since 1 July. Last Tuesday, she presented her findings to date and her ambitions for the coming years.

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Things can change. The previous dean of the Faculty of Science, Gerrit van Meer, had to make a difficult reorganization message for the faculty community in his first speech. Eight years later, Isabel Arends, who came over from Delft, saw the curbing of the faculty's strong growth as one of its biggest challenges.

After all, the social importance and prestige of the sciences is increasing, as is apparent from, among other things, the new research funds that the minister made available for national sector plans. And the popularity among students, national and international, is also increasing. Within the UU, a number of new educational initiatives, including an English taught Life Science bachelor, are planned.

This causes, among other things, concerns about housing and about the quality of education in some programs. Arends: “At the moment it looks like we will have grown by 20 percent in 2025, both in research resources and in student numbers. That is very good news, but how do we ensure sustainable growth? We have to make smart choices.”

A lot of committees
In a full Mezzanine of the Minnaert building, Isabel Arends reported on Tuesday afternoon what she had experienced and learned during the many introductory meetings with students and staff. The switch from "Delft blue" to the "Utrecht Sun" has been pleasant for her. During her time here, she has been impressed by the quality of the research, the research infrastructure, the educational system, the urge to innovate and the size of the faculty. “And certainly also the involvement of everyone.”

There were also some things which Arends still had to get used to. She had not gained a great deal of experience with student and employee representation as a professor in Delft, but she was pleased with her introduction to university representation. The Utrecht tendency to set up a committee for everything was new to her. “Sometimes it's smart, but it should not be the case that everyone is the chairman of a committee. I was used to a more hands-on approach.”

Round-table discussions
In addition to developing a vision for a sensible growth of the faculty, the dean formulated two other assignments for herself. In the first place, this concerns improving the faculty's relationships with the outside world. “The contacts with other researchers worldwide are very good, but what about the links with Utrecht, with alumni, with ministries, with NGOs. If we really want to help solve social issues then we will have to listen to those parties. I want to help with that.”

In addition, Arends wants to focus on further improving the relationships within the faculty, which includes by reviving the faculty day. Arends also believes that supporting young scientists and leveling the walls between the two graduate schools (life sciences and natural sciences) is important. Furthermore, she announced that she would like to invite all employees, scientists and supporters, in alphabetical order, to round-table discussions on themes such as open science, academic careers and diversity.

At the end of her speech, the dean came with a quotation from Darwin emphasizing that it is not about the fact that the Faculty of Science is the greatest or strongest in the Netherlands, but that it knows how to deal with the changing circumstances. And in order to achieve this, the involvement of all students and staff is necessary and desirable, Arends concluded.

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