’One team, together with the researchers’

Silvie van Dam. Photo: SURF / De Beeldredaktie
Silvie van Dam. Photo: SURF / De Beeldredaktie
Silvie van Dam wins SURF Research Support Champion Award.

Usually, it’s the scientists who get to take center stage after they’ve secured a grant or published an article. Silvie van Dam also prefers it that way; she likes to work behind the scenes. Now that SURF has put her in the spotlight by presenting her with a Research Support Champion Award, she gladly shares the attention with her team, which provides researchers at the department of Built Environment with support throughout their entire ’research life cycle’: "Don’t try to figure everything out by yourself, but involve us on time."

The Research Champion Award has an R for Research carved out in the middle. Behind it, various cables can be seen. "Those come from the Snellius supercomputer," winner Silvie van Dam says. With a smile: "A real nerd award, and that suits me quite well."

During her sixteen years at TU/e, Van Dam worked her way up within the department of Built Environment from secretary and data-steward to policy officer research (for the past seven years) and manager Research Development and Support Office, a post that she has held for a year now. During that period, she gained much knowledge and acquaintances.

Spider in the web

"I’m not a technician myself, but I usually know just enough to bring together colleagues who can help each other." She is the proverbial spider at the center of the web, or, as a former director once put it: "All roads in Vertigo lead to Silvie."

But Van Dam definitely is a skilled specialist in several fields, including open science. She also knows all the ins and outs of data storage, and she has been advocating for Research Data Management (RDM) policies for years. Van Dam: "Preferably TU/e-wide, but in the first place within the department. Minimally, we need to be compliant with all the regulations, such as in the field of personal data. And ideally, all research data should become accessible for reuse."


TU/e is also where Van Dam met her husband. He worked at the precursor of LIS at the time, but now he works at SURF. At an entirely different department, incidentally, than the one that hands out the Research Support Champions Awards: "To be honest, I didn’t even tell him that I was nominated."

That’s because she didn’t think for a moment that she might actually win the award. "I thought it was really nice and thoughtful that my colleagues - at the initiative of managing director Merle Rodenburg - took the trouble to nominate me. But the prize is awarded by SURF, an IT club, and in my current work the focus isn’t on IT anymore, but on research support in a much broader sense."

On May 23rd, she attended SURF’s Research Day without giving much thought to the award. But then the moment came when her name was called out during the award ceremony, after which SURF’s chief innovation officer Ron Augustus addresses her using "very sweet words whispered to him by my colleagues."

She is still a little taken aback by it all, she says. "It was heartwarming." And so were the festoons and festive surprise lunch at work and the many congratulatory messages, "including one from the executive board president."

Support desk

Van Dam and her team want the Research Development and Support Office to offer an integrated support throughout the entire research life cycle. Because why would you have researchers go from support desk to support desk with each step they take? She sums up: support during the application of funding is followed - when granted - by support from legal to set up the contracts, from HR to recruit a PhD candidate or postdoc, from finance for the financial administration, from LIS for data management and the required calculation infrastructure...

"There is much expertise at TU/e, and we want to make that expertise accessible to our researchers. Vice versa, our office is a useful entry for specialized support staff members to find their way to the researchers at our department."

Van Dam is still very busy setting up the new support office, which - including herself and several embedded staff members from LIS - currently consists of nine staff members. After her pleas for centralized research support, but also for RDM policy and open science, the department gave her the opportunity to set up an integral office once the means became available. She wasn’t entirely convinced at first though, because she doesn’t consider herself a manager. But in the end, her sense of responsibility and the challenge to realize her ideas prevailed.

Involve us on time. Don’t spend weeks thinking about who needs to sign that non-disclosure agreement, or about how to set up a data management plan, but just drop in.

Silvie van Dam, manager Research Development and Support Office Built Environment Department

What message does Van Dam have for the researchers at Built Environment - her ’customers’ - in conclusion? "Most of all: involve us on time. Don’t spend weeks thinking about who needs to sign that non-disclosure agreement, or about how to set up a data management plan, but just drop in."

Successful collaboration is what gives her energy. "I feel happy when I get the feeling that we are one team, together with the researchers. I’m not the one who improves the world with technological innovations, but this is how I can make my small contribution."

This storyt was written by Cursor.

From our strategy: about Research Life Cycle Support

It is important to us that our researchers can focus, first and foremost, on that in which they excel: doing research. To support them in that primary process that is so vital for our university, we are working on a seamless chain of services. Under the name Research Life Cycle Support, TU/e optimizes this support throughout the entire research process: from an initial research idea to the dissemination of final research results and everything in between. Researchers and support staff as well as departments, institutes, and services closely cooperate in this. But, with the focus firmly remaining on the researcher’s needs.

At our university, this support is provided by, among others, the Research Support Office (RSO). Recently, a pilot project with a central project management team was begun to better support researchers. That means additional project managers.

Research Life Cycle Support falls under Strategy 2030 under the theme, Resilience. Read more about our Strategy 2030 .