Six top-class academics on Recognition & Rewards

How do top-class academics view the system in which they have enjoyed success? In The Young Academy’s podcast series Aan de Top! (At the Top!), top-class academics talk about their careers and their journeys to success, based on the themes from the Recognition & Rewards programme. The conversations cover their various roles in the academic world, leadership and team science, as well as open science and how to define the quality of research and teaching.

The podcast, which came out in late 2022, comprises six interviews with professors Peter-Paul Verbeek (University of Amsterdam), Patricia Dankers (Eindhoven University of Technology), Louise Fresco (formerly at Wageningen University & Research), Klaas Landsman (Radboud University), Dorret Boomsma (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) and Claes de Vreese (University of Amsterdam).

Impact on academic policy

The series is a follow-up to the 2020 Setting a good example will help others do well (Goed voorbeeld doet goed volgen) publication, in which The Young Academy uses interviews with young researchers to make recommendations for the implementation of the Recognition & Rewards programme. Members of the top layer, who happen to have significant influence over academic policy in the Netherlands, are interviewed in Aan de Top! And we use this series to examine which aspects of the current system have been of value, or even essential, to those academics for a career in academia. We also aim to shed light on the other side: Are there any things in their careers that did not turn out exactly as they had hoped, and if so, how can we organise this better for the next generation?

Team science

All six interviewees stressed the importance of working in teams. According to them, contemporary academia cannot do without collective input. The academics talk about various forms of cooperation. Klaas Landsman makes a case for involving more disciplines in providing answers to research questions, disciplines that are actually appointed to a single team. International teams are mentioned as well, by Dorret Boomsma, for example, as a means of joining forces and achieving a greater impact together.
But no one is able to give a clear answer as to exactly what team science is and how to make it measurable. The difficulties include working out how to assess an individual that is part of a team and how to measure the results, or whether the person’s contribution to the team should be the key element in assessments. For Patricia Dankers, a publication in a leading journal remains the ultimate goal, and one that is easily measurable.

At the top?

The professors interviewed still have many dreams and wishes for the future and struggle with the idea of being ‘at the top’. Nevertheless, they are aware of their privileged position. They say they reached this position through a combination of hard work, perseverance and a dose of good luck. Opinions vary on the current system, with the emphasis on the usefulness and necessity of competition. Many see it as essential to the pursuit of the best science and make comparisons with elite sport. And while Peter-Paul Verbeek is in fact against this system, he also admits he is a product of it.

If you have listened to Aan de Top! and would like to respond to what you have heard in the podcast, you can do so by writing to

New ‘TjongeJonge’ podcast

In October 2023, The Young Academy launched a new (English-language) podcast called TjongeJonge, in which the themes from the Recognition & Rewards programme also play an important part. In TjongeJonge, four academics are interviewed about common problems they came across in their work and how they resolved them. The topics include the focus on team science versus competition, and a solution to allow diversification of career paths.

Listen to Aan de Top! and TjongeJonge here.