Martijn Deenen

On 1 July 2018, Martijn Deenen started as head of the Earth Sciences and Astronomy department. He answers several questions about his career to date and his initial experiences with the “new” NWO.

How did you end up at NWO?

After studying Earth Sciences, I worked at Utrecht University for the past 12 years. I spent four years doing my doctoral research at the paleomagnetic lab in Fort Hoofddijk. Using various correlation techniques, I worked together with two biogeologists on an improved timescale for the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event, a period that occurred about 200 million years ago and during which a mass extinction of many life forms on Earth took place. For the first time, we were able to link various extinction events that are mainly documented in marine sections to pulses with extreme volcanic activity that are documented on land.

I subsequently worked at the Research Support Office of the Faculty of Geosciences, where I supported many NWO and EU grant applications, among other things. Our biggest success was the NWO Gravitation award to the Netherlands Earth System Science Center (NESSC) in 2014.

Over the past few years, I headed up the Research Support Office of the Faculty of Geosciences of Utrecht University and I further shaped and professionalised the work the office does. During this period, I was also involved in many research proposals, and the high point was once again a Gravitation award, but this time to SCOOP (Sustainable Cooperation).

Therefore, up until now, I have mainly experienced NWO from the “client’s perspective”. I have mostly been satisfied but sometimes critical as well. Consequently, my new position at NWO was a superb opportunity for me to come and work on the “other side”, and the fact I can return to my former field of study is the cherry on the cake.

You clearly have good knowledge of the Earth sciences. However, how familiar are you with astronomy?

To be honest, astronomy is a relatively new scientific field for me. Over the past few months, I have read up on the subject and have attended various lectures; for the time being, I have more than enough to learn about this fascinating field. With growing amazement, I observe how the astronomy community manages to realise very large, long-term and prestigious projects and how important the Dutch field has been in these developments. I am therefore looking forward to getting to know the astronomy community and its work better over the coming years.

You have now been working at NWO for slightly more than a month. What have you noticed? And what do you want to devote more attention to?

Up until now, I have mainly viewed NWO as the organisation that ranks the proposals submitted via well-run procedures and subsequently monitors whether the projects awarded funding are proceeding well. However, I was less aware of aspects such as the work and harmonisation that take place before the publication of a call and in which several parties are involved, but also the importance of involving a wide range of networks, fora, EU infrastructure boards, et cetera.

NWO has just emerged from a transition period, and the parallel organisation of the last “old calls” while the first new NWO Science-wide calls are being opened takes a lot of effort. I am confident that by the start of 2019, we will have more time for the ambitious nexus role that NWO seeks to fulfil. For example, in the area of climate, many fantastic things can be achieved across the NWO domains in dialogue with a wide range of research agendas of the government ministries. And this is a subject that people are already working hard on, by the way.

When I left Utrecht University, I promised myself that, at NWO, I would continue to give attention to “the client” and to being visible, that I would continue calling for effective measures in the area of application pressure and falling award rates, and that I would examine whether more synergy can take place between the increasingly important European sources of funding and the NWO programmes.