Five good practices

With the Recognition & Rewards programme, we want to recognise and reward the work of academics more broadly by paying more attention to the various core domains in which academics are working. Many academics feel there is a one-sided emphasis on research performance, which means that work in other domains is often not given sufficient recognition. We believe it is important that academics, in addition to research, can also distinguish themselves within the domains of education, impact, leadership and patient care. This requires a modernisation of the system of recognition and rewards, in which we create more diversification and vitalisation in career paths. Below you can find some examples.

Adopting guidelines for narratives in the Performance & Development cycle

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) is actively working on the development and implementation of the national Recognition & Rewards programme. One step that is being taken relates to the shift from a strong quantitative perspective on academic activities towards a more qualitative perspective using substantiated narratives. In the first half of 2023, together with the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB) and HR, they worked on a pilot using narratives in the yearly Performance & Development (P&D) cycle of academic staff. The Recognition & Rewards programme team and the Evaluating Societal Impact team jointly developed guidelines on how to write and assess narratives, a template to write the narrative itself, and an evaluation of the pilot. They also provided webinars explaining the benefit and use of narratives and narrative guidelines.

‘The guidelines include information on reflexive starting questions, characteristics of strong narratives, pitfalls to avoid and a suggested colour-coded narrative structure.’

Guidelines and webinars

The guidelines were developed by reviewing existing (inter)national materials and policies, and consulting ESSB academic staff, and the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access Centre and the Open and Responsible Science team. The guidelines include information on reflexive starting questions, characteristics of strong narratives, pitfalls to avoid and a suggested colour-coded narrative structure. Separate guidelines were written for early-, mid- and late-career academics considering career stage-related examples. Three webinars were organised in which the participants gained insight into the aim and scope of narratives as well as how to write them for the P&D conversations. In total, 80 participants attended the webinars and afterwards the guidelines, templates and webinar materials were uploaded to the ESSB intranet. As part of the pilot’s evaluation, a survey was sent to ESSB’s academic staff asking them about their experience using the narratives during their P&D talks and about the usefulness of the materials.

Positive contribution

Overall, 61 respondents filled out the survey and 7 of them were later interviewed to gain a deeper understanding of their experience with the narratives. Most respondents used the narratives as a conversation starter in their P&D conversation and most of them found the materials provided useful. Some did mention that the narrative writing meant extra workload and stress for them. Nonetheless, the majority stated that writing a narrative as part of the P&D cycle contributed positively to the quality of the P&D conversation.

The ESSB narrative pilot provided valuable insights and takeaways, which can be translated into future actions and developments. Looking ahead, EUR is introducing narratives as part of the new development cycle (the performance part will be taken out) for both academic and professional staff in 2024. EUR also aims to expand the use of narrative writing guidelines to promotion- and career path differentiation procedures and the renewal of financial allocation models. Furthermore, it aims to develop narrative assessment guidelines and scoring forms too.

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The road to career profiles

Let’s start with a disclaimer. Together with a lot of colleagues, I put a fair bit of effort into developing and implementing the six academic career profiles at UMC Utrecht, but I am very much aware of the temporality and locality of our approach. In other words, I think they make sense only if you understand the UMC Utrecht context and recent debates and developments in biomedical research in the Netherlands.

To appreciate that, let’s first understand what a UMC is. University medical centres are the mergers of academic hospitals and medical faculties and, as such, are specific and unique organisations that have existed for approximately 25 years. They have a triple mission of healthcare, research and teaching but are, simply put, very strongly and hierarchically managed, like a hospital. It means management is increasingly about performance measurement and goal setting. Of course, similar trends are visible in universities, but I think in UMCs this management approach cuts deeper into the organisation – with consequences for research.

Measuring quality

I believe that, because of their strong, firm-like management approach, UMCs wholeheartedly embraced a very specific idea of scientific quality, namely a form of quality that you can measure, quantify and compare. This quality notion was built on bibliometric indicators: the number of publications, the number of citations, and all kinds of derived measures.

This very objective quality measure fitted superbly with organisations where activities and outputs are preferably measured, counted and made comparable. For example, many of the healthcare activities in UMCs (and other hospitals) are captured in a limited number of standardised descriptions which then link to prescribed amounts of funding. It is in this environment that reducing academic ‘output’ to a limited set of numbers makes sense. It gives academics hard numbers to show, and it enables supervisors and administrators to make ‘objective’ decisions when allocating scarce resources.

Changing what’s important

Fast forward 20 years and there is much debate about ‘research waste’, hyper competition and publication pressure. Career advancement seems reduced to having enough papers in the right journals, to the detriment of ‘academic community service’, team science, sharing data or engaging with society. In other words, all kinds of highly academic activities have gradually been pushed out of the limelight due to the narrowing effect of looking at scientific quality through the lens of bibliometric indicators.

That is why, at UMC Utrecht, we have been trying to de-emphasise the role of bibliometric indicators for several years now. We organised two institutional research evaluations (the so-called SEP) on the basis of narratives about societal impact and with stakeholder involvement. In 2016, we introduced a qualification portfolio for (associate) professors that includes teaching, valorisation, societal impact and leadership. In 2021, we reformulated our PhD guideline asking for a minimum of three ‘publishable’ chapters. And last year, we introduced six academic career profiles for academics.

Significant Six

The six profiles are the result of a lengthy process that started with numerous people at UMC Utrecht being asked the question: Which academics in your environment are very important for the organisation as a whole, but find it hard to make a career? As a result, we defined six different career profiles for UMC Utrecht. They could be summarised as: We need these six kinds of people to live up to our mission. Besides three fairly obvious profiles (academic educator, clinical researcher, exploratory researcher), we also brought in three new ones (implementation researcher, methodology & technology researcher and valorisation researcher). A more detailed description of the six profiles can be found here.

A visualisation of the six career profiles that UMC Utrecht has developed. Source: UMC Utrecht.

With the six profiles, UMC Utrecht tries to formalise the diversity in ‘rewardable’ academic activities. If it sounds formalised and managerial, that is because it is a reflection of the organisation it was made in. I don’t know whether other universities or UMCs need these six profiles precisely, but I do know we all need a perspective on scientific quality that fosters diversity.

For further information, please reach out to Rinze Benedictus via

In this video, UMC Utrecht explains how they implement the six new academic career profiles.


Tanya Bondarouk

Within the University of Twente (UT), various attempts are made to bring the fundamental idea of Recognition & Rewards into policy and practice. A good concrete example of this is UT’s TalentTalks. These are the familiar annual appraisals, brought in a modernised format that is completely dedicated to the development of dialogue and talent.

Integrated approach with human talent at its core

This year, the Faculty of Behavioural Management and Social Sciences (BMS) started having TalentTalks with all its employees. The talk covered three levels: the department, the team and the individual. The idea is that from the overarching strategy of the department, common team goals are discussed, which are followed by the individual’s contribution to these goals.

Unlike the well-known annual interviews, these TalentTalks are less about substantiated figures, and more about what a colleague would like to achieve, what they need to develop to reach that goal and what space can be created within the team to make this happen.

Thorough preparation

Holding TalentTalks requires true dialogue and putting the interests of the team and individuals first, but it also requires self-reflection. How do I want to grow? Where do my talents and my ambitions lie? Also, it requires a different perspective from supervisors: perhaps a colleague has had fewer publications, but has made a major social impact through advisory work? To realise this changing approach, we worked closely with HR. All employees and supervisors were provided with explanations and training in dialogue techniques and peer-to-peer coaching. Guidelines were also drawn up, with the UT Manifesto as a foundation. In addition to the co-operation with HR, it was essential that our Executive Board had faith in the TalentTalks.

Standing at the starting line

Of course, not everything is running the way it was initially conceived yet. This approach is new for everyone, which also creates uncertainty. One of the first positive observations is that colleagues who want to take self-development into their own hands see the TalentTalks as an opportunity. They seize it with both hands to shape their own career. One of the first challenges is conversation at team level, which needs more attention. Ultimately, a TalentTalk is still an assessment conversation that is future- and development-oriented. It means that, as a result of these conversations, we need to pay attention to agreements for next steps in work and work management.

‘I hope that with this series of TalentTalks, we will initiate a new culture. We will take things a step further next year by including them in the annual plans.’
This requires more support during the interview to enable a person to think differently about their career there and then. The good thing about TalentTalks is that we try to have them with two supervisors present, so that we can help each other ask the right questions, which in turn will aid our colleague.

Next steps

The TalentTalks were evaluated extensively in October, and the first substantiated results will soon be available. What is apparent at the moment is that the conversations have not yet immediately brought a great deal of diversity in career paths. However, they have created space in people’s minds because we have started talking about challenges, obstacles, talents and ambitions. This makes us confident that we are on the right track and that we will be able to anchor the notion of Recognition & Rewards one step further in a new series of TalentTalks

New academic career paths; A real-life story

Jelske van der Burg

Jelske van der Burg is a clinical epidemiologist and assistant professor at the Faculty of Sciences at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. She recently completed her Master’s in Business Administration at VU Amsterdam, taking a horizontal step in her career. What has this step brought her at an individual and team level, and how is it contributing to the conversation about Recognition & Rewards at VU Amsterdam?

‘I started work at VU Amsterdam as a junior lecturer in 2014 and obtained my doctorate degree in 2020 (Epidemiology in Paediatrics). During my research, I looked at maternal obesity, examining how a pregnant woman’s obesity affects her child’s brain development. Gaining my PhD meant that I was able to start work at VU Amsterdam as an assistant professor, and I seized that opportunity with both hands. I continued to teach and was given the opportunity to carry on with my research. I noticed that, as you move up in the academic world, you are automatically given more supervisory tasks and responsibilities. This applies to both research and teaching, even though you haven’t been trained for this. Examples include tasks such as steering and motivating teams. My interests have always been wide-ranging, and I am really keen to learn. I discovered while performing them that these new tasks gave me a great deal of satisfaction. I just wasn’t sure how to put that satisfaction to practical use, so I discussed this with my head of department.

Following that conversation, I was told that I could apply for an MBA student grant at VU Amsterdam. I think it is illustrative of my department’s forward-thinking nature that it saw added value in an academic with an MBA. With that degree under my belt, I can now act as a link between my academic field and the corporate world. I have a wider network and can bring the outside world in. I also understand how to put a programme on the radar more effectively and how to create an even stronger and more distinct profile. I use this valuable knowledge in my department by addressing such issues and expanding them further. I see this as an important leadership skill.

Now that I have completed my MBA, I also find that it is providing openings for conversations about horizontal development, including horizontal career development. Colleagues see that I am not following the traditional research path and are more likely to come to me with personal questions or to exchange ideas about their careers. This is making the Recognition & Rewards theme become even more alive in my department. I am all the more aware now that inspiring role models (who have not followed the traditional path) can have a great added value – for myself and for others.’

Alette Kraneveld

Aletta Kraneveld, dean of the Faculty of Sciences (VU Amsterdam)

‘I think it is hugely important that people within my faculty and at VU Amsterdam as a whole will soon have even more room to focus on their own careers and that this can lead to vertical or horizontal growth. This development not only provides the flexibility to focus more on teaching as an academic, but also to move from an academic position to a board position, for example, with the recognition and rewards that go with it. These possibilities need to be anchored in our policy.

Jelske is an incredibly good example of an academic whose MBA education has given her the tools she needs to make an impact. It is great to see her then use that knowledge to enrich her teaching and research.’

Would you like to know more?

If you would like to know more about the theme of Recognition & Rewards at VU Amsterdam, visit the web page or check VU Amsterdam’s new academic career paths.

The Academic Career Framework

Within the context of Recognition & Rewards, the Executive Board of Wageningen University and Research (WUR) has approved an Academic Career Framework (ACF) after a process of interaction with the academic community and participatory bodies. The framework is partly built upon our experiences with an education career path in which all WUR lecturers are embedded. The framework is now further operationalised into guidelines. Advice and assessment procedures will be elaborated and conversed further with the relevant participatory bodies.

Six principles

The underlying vision for the ACF reflects the aspired symbiosis between personal development and the organisation’s ambitions, and fosters excellence, flexibility and team performance. There are six leading principles:

  1. The new framework consists of one integral framework for all academic staff (lecturers, researchers, and assistant, associate and full professors) and takes the University Job Classification System (Universitair Functie Ordeningssysteem) as a basis. There are three main career paths (lecturer, researcher, professor) in which academics are recognised and rewarded in the four performance areas of Education, Research, Societal Impact and Academic Services.
  2. The ACF acknowledges the full range of academic activities and practices and stimulates diversity of individual career paths. This involves differentiation between scientific disciplines with different outputs and activities and compensation between achievements. Contribution to teams, leadership qualities at all levels, and open science and education have become cross-cutting elements in the new system.
  3. There are boundaries within profiles and minimum expectations with respect to research and education. The exact composition of one’s personal profile is subject to the context of the group and one’s role in the team.
  4. Wageningen University and Research strives for excellence. It addresses societal challenges in the areas of environment, nature conservation, agriculture and healthy food. And it aspires to retain and strengthen its position through education, research and societal impact.
  5. The ACF serves to accommodate both upward and horizontal mobility where the principle ‘up when ready’ applies.
  6. The transition from a temporary contract to a permanent one is an important step in anyone’s academic career. Granting candidates a permanent position conveys confidence in their abilities and gives them security and reduces stress. The maximum duration of a temporary contract will be reduced.

The steps that were taken

The approved ACF is the result of a design process that started at WUR in 2020. Interviews with specific groups and a stratified random selection of academic staff led to a university-wide survey to which more than 500 academic staff responded. This survey focused on the elements to be changed as well as on the existing elements in the career track that should be safeguarded.

The survey results were used as input for the ACF design process. A presentation and discussion round in all five WUR science groups, and interviews with specific groups and individuals were part of the process leading to the present ACF.

Groups involved in the consultation process represent education and research groups such as the teachers’ representatives and Wageningen Graduate Schools, the Wageningen Young Academy, a representative group of postdocs, the Academic Board, Tenure Track committee chairs and secretaries, and the Open Science and Education platform.

In the second half of 2023 the interaction with the participatory bodies on the guidelines will take place. It is foreseen that the new ACF will be implemented sometime during 2024.

The Academic Career Framework at WUR with three main career paths in which academics are recognised and rewarded in the four performance areas of Education, Research, Societal Impact and Academic Services. The overall framework allows for both upward and horizontal mobility between career paths. In each career path, flexibility in profiles within boundaries is possible.