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Professor Kees van Leeuwen succeeds Van Wezel as KWR’s Chief Science Officer

Professor Annemarie van Wezel swaps KWR for IBED

Professor Annemarie van Wezel, KWR’s Chief Science Officer (CSO) and Principal Scientist, chemical water quality and health, is going to leave KWR. On 1January, she will become director of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) at the University of Amsterdam. She will also be appointed professor of Environmental Ecology by IBED, where her research will concern the impact of the anthropogenic use of chemicals and emerging technologies in the area of human and environmental health. This Environmental Ecology chair is part of the Freshwater and Marine Ecology (IBED-FAME) research department. The current professor of Environmental Ecology, Van Wezel’s KWR colleague Pim de Voogt, will be retiring in November.

Besides her work at KWR, Van Wezel is currently also special professor at Utrecht University’s Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, a function she will also be giving up. KWR congratulates IBED and Van Wezel on this match. Annemarie van Wezel is a highly appreciated principal scientist who has contributed immensely to the organisation. KWR will miss her greatly, but is also happy and proud that she will be continuing her career at the prestigious IBED.

Professor Kees van Leeuwen, Principal Scientist in the field of governance at KWR and professor of Water Management and Urban Development at Utrecht University, will succeed Van Wezel as CSO at KWR. This is a good moment to talk to Van Wezel and Van Leeuwen about the forthcoming changes and the importance of monitoring and maintaining the scientific quality at KWR.

Van Wezel has been Chief Science Officer at KWR since 1 May, when she took over from Professor Gertjan Medema. She is extremely sorry to be stepping down from the position already. ‘This was one of considerations that weighed against leaving KWR,’ she says. ‘However, the opportunity of working for and at such a renowned institute like IBED was simply too wonderful to pass up. But I haven’t left yet: I’m still closely involved in this autumn’s peer review, which we have been working towards all year. Furthermore, I’ll be passing the baton to a very experienced colleague, who has an extensive network in the Netherlands and beyond, and who has seen a great deal. I also hope and expect that, in my new function, I will be collaborating with the water sector and KWR. In areas like analysis, modelling, technology and the human impact on the environment and ecology, KWR’s input is very valuable for IBED.’

Chief Science Officer

Kees van Leeuwen will become the new CSO at KWR. ‘Over the past few years I have worked in several places for the Dutch government, as well as at the Joint Research Centre in Italy for the European Commission,’ says Van Leeuwen. ‘I have participated in a number of European projects. Now I’ll direct my focus on the scientific development and quality of KWR. I’ll be happy to dedicate my time and my national and international networks to this task.’

Further develop human capital

One of the CSO’s priorities is the further development of KWR’s scientists: our ‘human capital’. ‘We have an expanding group of high-potentials; young, smart scientists with fresh ideas are joining us, and we could make use of a lot more,’ says Van Wezel. ‘They have much to offer when it comes to new ideas and new interdisciplinary possibilities. As Chief Science Officer, I advise incoming scientists most of all to define their own path, to make their own mark, and to get KWR to support them in this. And we are glad to do so: it is good for the scientist and for the organisation. But the scientist must have the drive.’

‘At the same time,’ adds Van Leeuwen, ‘we are always on the look-out for experienced scientists in established and in new research fields. As a knowledge institute, we are constantly progressing, because science, too, is constantly progressing. We want to have the best knowledge and the best people in-house, people who can also contribute to strengthening our connections with other renowned knowledge organisations. Such individuals can come from within our own ranks or from the outside. At the same time, I want to create more connections with universities and research organisations via our young high-potentials, who can continue flourishing within KWR.’

A mix of skills

Scientists at KWR need to master quite a few skills. They need to perform good scientific work and publish it in peer-reviewed journals. ‘This is an important means of establishing our knowledge and strengthening our reputation,’ stresses Van Wezel. ‘Publish or perish!’ In addition, KWR’s scientists must have an eye for the application of science, an ability to bridge science and practice. And they also have to acquire projects. ‘Acquisition is always a tricky matter,’ in Van Leeuwen’s view. ‘It demands lots of time and energy. But it is essential: without funding and the involvement of stakeholders who can implement our science, KWR can’t do any research. This effort can also be helped if you know how to make use of the press and social media to show the world what you and KWR do. ‘Naturally, not everybody possesses all these qualities in equal measure,’ says Van Wezel. ‘That’s why we also need to be able to rely on one another, within our teams and our organisation. And on KWR’s facilities as well. For example, our project administration and library provide highly efficient research data recoverability. This is important, and you can build upon it. What’s more, it is very easy to work in an interdisciplinary fashion at KWR: there are very few walls, literally and figuratively, separating our research groups and teams.’

Scientific agenda

‘KWR has built up an outstanding scientific reputation, both at home and internationally,’ says Van Wezel. ‘At the same time, through Watershare and other initiatives, we have developed a strong profile in the valorisation of scientific knowledge, in bridging science to practice. This is clearly the path KWR should continue to follow.’ Van Leeuwen seconds this and sees a variety of key research subjects on KWR’s agenda in the years ahead. ‘Emerging substances and pathogens, plus the water technology to tackle these problems: these will remain fundamentally important themes, and also relevant beyond the borders of the Netherlands and the EU. Governance and the circular economy will also continue to play a central role. I see growth opportunities regarding the Sustainable Development Goals, for which governments and companies require support. As KWR, we have a great deal of expertise to offer in a wide variety of fields, together with a strong capacity to establish connections and build strategic partnerships. Working with government ministries and water utilities we could do a lot, for instance in Asia and Africa where development and infrastructural needs are so great. After all, KWR wins awards for its applications in these areas! Our qualities can be effectively applied and marketed, and our staff can acquire valuable experience.’ To which Van Wezel adds: ‘By smartly collaborating with the Watershare members and with partners like Allied Waters, KWR can focus on the science.’

The new and the departing Chief Science Officers of KWR, Kees van Leeuwen and Annemarie van Wezel: ‘KWR has built up an outstanding scientific reputation, both at home and internationally. At the same time, through Watershare and other initiatives, we have developed a strong profile in the valorisation of scientific knowledge.’