Open letter to NWO


NWO is the Dutch funding agency, comparable to the NSF in the US. One of their funding categories is the Innovational Research Incentives Scheme. This scheme consists of three grants for creative talented researchers, called veni, vidi and vici, for researchers 3, 5 and 10 years away from their getting their PhD.

These three grants are considered to be very important. The vidi and vici are counted heavily towards getting a full professorship, but often they are applied for by researchers that already have tenure (i.e. a contract for unlimited time). People applying for a veni, on the other hand, hardly ever have tenure, because they are so early in their career. Most are on one or two year contacts. Getting the grant is even more important then, as it means having a job for three years. So you can imagine the accompanying pressure.

The deadline for this veni grant is in early January. Last year (2013), it was even during the Christmas break. This year, it is the Tuesday right after the break January 7th. I think this is a strange and even irresponsible deadline and in the letter below I explain why.


Dear NWO,

Please reconsider the deadline of the veni grant for next year. By choosing a deadline right after the Christmas break, you are contributing to an unhealthy research culture, which ultimately might even lead to young researchers leaving the field.

Why is Christmas so important? You can just take any week off if you want a holiday.

Sure, but this break matters for two reasons:

1) Everyone has a holiday. The Christmas break is a universal one, everyone at the university will be off: students, colleagues and professors. That means that your inbox is truly quite silent during this two weeks and you can really unwind without worrying about work that is gathering while you are away.

2) There’s social pressure. During the Christmas holidays, your family and friends want to spent time with you at dinners and party’s, while you “want” to work on your proposal[2]. This creates a tension and shows young researchers that, to be a successful academic, you should choose work over family and friends and frankly, I don’t think this is a very nice lesson.

People are considering other options.

Young researchers are leaving academia at a scaring pace [1] and even senior researchers are chipping in by warning youngsters to stay out of grad school altogether. In my opinion, this is currently one of the biggest threats to academia. As Dutch national funding agency this should concern you. Reasons are, among others, the immense pressure to secure funding and the growing tension between work and private life. Both of these are represented by a very important grant deadline right after the Christmas break.

So if you are indeed looking for talented, creative people, it would help to create a welcoming system for them. While it is just a simple thing to do, moving the Veni deadline up would be a great first step.

Felienne Hermans, assistant professor at Delft University of Technology

[1] See this Google Doc for a more extensive list and these blog posts for an analysis of reasons why people leave
[2] This is, I presume, even more true for the many young researchers who moved to a different country and only have limited free days to spend with their family.

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1 Comment

  1. Gerwin de Haan

    I still consider Christmas 2012 (which I spent fine-tuning my Veni submission) as the most stressful one. In theory, I should’ve “wrapped up” everything in early December anyhow and only spend time on polishing up figures. Call it bad scheduling and timing. In practice, I learned that even those who were all done by that time still blew their Christmas holidays fine tuning and worrying. To add to item 1 on your list, I discovered the hard way that towards the ending of December it’s harder to rely on support from colleagues and other services ( proof-reading, checking financials, letters of support / recommendation).

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