I studied Applied Physics at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, after which I found an interesting position at the Institute for Soil Fertility Research. My scientific work focussed on water flow and nutrient transport in soils and was a combination of field experiments, lab and simulations. My PhD thesis (1997) was entitled: “Water flow and nutrient transport in a layered silt loam soil”. After this PhD research, I chose to do more applied research for Water Boards and Regional Councils. This was related to water management, agriculture, exploring farm-scale options for farmers to improve the use of water and nutrients and lower environmental impacts.
My interest shifted towards science management, where I wanted to contribute to a better performing organisation by encouraging, coaching and challenging colleagues to work more professionally. As team leader of the Nutrient Management Team at Alterra (Wageningen), I was able to play that role. This was during a period when Dutch environmental problems with manure and nitrate leaching to the groundwater (= drinking water) were already topical. My team was very successful in helping farmers and the government reduce the nitrate loads on groundwater.
In 2008, I was asked to become Operational Manager of the Soil Science Centre of the Environmental Sciences Group (ESG) of Wageningen University and Research Centre (Wageningen UR). The Soil Science Centre (150 staff) was a merger of the applied soil science groups of Alterra and Wageningen University. Together with the Scientific Manager I formed the management team. We developed a science strategy, a communication strategy, and improved project management at Alterra. After a reorganisation, I decided to look for other job opportunities. However, I had never thought of New Zealand, until an Alterra colleague told me of this interesting position as Science Group Leader at AgResearch!
In 2014-2015, I had a leading and coordinating role in the development of New Zealand’s National Science Challenge “Our Land and Water”. This is a 10-year national science programme including 7 Crown Research Institutes, 3 universities and many stakeholders. The three main integrated topics are: Innovative Land Use Systems; New Collaborative Approaches; and Value-added in the Production Chain. The objective is to contribute to New Zealand’s Business Growth Agenda to double the value of exports by 2025 while increasing the quality of the environment.
I started the 1st of September 2015 as Managing Director of the Environmental Science Group (ESG) at Wageningen University & Research. ESG combines a university department (~450 FTE) and the applied Wageningen Environmental Research (~350 FTE); both focusing on global topics such as sustainability, climate change, natural capital, metropolitan solutions, ecosystems, biodiversity and resilience, food security and the relationship between economy and ecology.
The 4TU Centre for Resilience Engineering combines my interests as an engineer for finding applicable solutions with the sustainability concepts of resilience in the environmental and other domains.