I take care of the deadlines; the researchers take care of content

From left to right: Berend van den Berge, Vaida Verhoef, Yvonne de Kort and Nima
From left to right: Berend van den Berge, Vaida Verhoef, Yvonne de Kort and Nima Hafezparast Moadab. Photo-s: Vincent van den Hoogen
Project manager is the link pin in large European research projects


When it comes to large research projects, the Research Support Office’s project managers know how to chase deadlines and, where necessary, support researchers. Those researchers can then focus on content.

Project manager Berend van den Berge is indispensable to Professor Yvonne de Kort in running the international innovative training network, LIGHTCAP. This Eindhoven full professor is this network’s scientific coordinator. Aside from keeping an eye on deadlines and finances and organizing training sessions and congresses, the project manager functions as the social lubricant between the 15 doctoral candidates that are, in seven groups at six different European universities, researching light’s effect on the brain.

Leading an Innovative Training Network like the LIGHTCAP project is no easy task, as scientific coordinator Yvonne de Kort well knows from experience. Many international partners work together in this European project which is training 15 young international researchers. -The goal isn-t, per se, to arrive at a technical concept or product,- says the full professor of Environmental Psychology in the Human-Technology Interaction group, -but that we deliver young researchers of the future. Those who work in the sciences but can also play an important role in industry.-

De Kort talks enthusiastically about the Horizon Europe-funded Marie Sklodowska-Curie project she set up 18 months ago. -It’s a wonderful thing to be able to do. I asked researchers I respect and wanted to work with, to join the LIGHTCAP consortium. For that, I chose adjoining disciplines relevant to new developments in the area of light: from very basic to highly applied. Think neuroscientists, chronobiologists, psychologists, and lighting designers.-

In practice

Researchers who have worked in projects know how intensive leading them can be and how much work goes into properly following regulations and deadlines. -I-ve done several national and European projects before with many industrial partners, but this is the first ITN (Innovative Training Network, ed.) I’m doing. It has a very different dynamic and takes a massive amount of work,- says De Kort. -There’s a lot of pressure to make interim deliveries to Brussels. Sometimes you have to put science aside to meet those deadlines.- Not that she-s complaining: -It’s a huge honor to coordinate 15 PhD-s.-

About LIGHTCAP

The LIGHTCAP project is a so-called European Training Network. The 15 doctoral candidates involved in the project receive a scholarship from the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fund. These PhD-s, also called early-stage researchers (ESR), work in eight different groups at seven European universities in Basel, Berlin, Lausanne, Liege, Manchester, Sheffield, and Eindhoven. Within the consortium, they also work closely with industry partners like Velux, Signify, Arup, Zumtobel, and Lighting Europe.

Each doctoral candidate has their subject matter, with light and its effect on the brain as the common denominator.

The goal is to train a new generation of researchers who can look and operate beyond their subject boundaries. They, thus, also do internships at both another partner university and an industry partner. -That’s the big difference from a -normal- PhD,- says project manager Berend van den Berge. -We want our researchers to experience the industry too, so they can make an informed decision whether to stay in the scientific sector or work in the industry.-

LIGHTCAP’s young scientists do a training program, symposia, and two different internships and must deliver regular group and individual reports.

Deadlines

That is where the Research Support Office (RSO) project manager pool comes in. For LIGHTCAP, that is Berend van den Berge, himself an alumnus of the Human-Technology Interaction group. -I take care of the deadlines, Yvonne takes care of content,- is how he neatly sums it up. In practice, that means he unburdens De Kort as much as possible. -So she can keep doing her own work.-

-Most important is monitoring deadlines,- he says. -The grantor must get everything on time, so we can account for the funds we receive.-

Berend is indispensable to me; I’m scatterbrained
and prefer diving into the content.


Yvonne de Kort, Scientific Coordinator LIGHTCAP


-For me, personally, it’s vital that he supports me in the process and administration,- says De Kort. ÜBerend coordinates the researcher and doctoral candidate meetings, arranges training sessions, keeps an eye on when we have to deliver something to Brussels, and chases those deadlines. His duties also include contact with the project officer in Brussels. He-s indispensable to me in many formal tasks. I’m scatterbrained and prefer diving into the content. He brainstorms the project with me on a weekly meta-level. It isn-t always easy being the coordinator as well as a researcher.-

Vaida Verhoef: ÜBerend keeps us together and checked in-

-Without Berend, I-d be doing only my own research, entirely isolated,- states doctoral candidate Vaida Verhoef. She is an early-stage researcher in the LIGHTCAP project as part of Yvonne de Kort’s HTI group. -He keeps us together and checked in.-

Vaida, who is from France, has just begun the third year of her PhD in Eindhoven. She is researching whether light activation can help patients with sleep disorders and is working with Kempenhaeghe’s Center for Sleep Medicine. -That absorbs me so much I sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. Berend helps us set priorities and pushes us to meet the European program’s deadlines. Or to go to conferences, or contact other LIGHTCAP doctoral candidates.-

Increased output

-Compared to other doctoral candidates, we are expected to produce more reports and annual plans to send to Brussels for justification. This kind of large project requires more output. We have to create an online class (called a Massive Open Online Course, ed.) too. That can sometimes be overwhelming, and that’s where Berend helps us. He reminds us of deadlines well in advance. Actually, he-s kind of a pillar central to LIGHTCAP who knows everyone and everything.-

She has earned her place in the HTI group: -We are all very close, and Yvonne ensures we are on familiar terms with each other. Doctoral candidates from other groups tell me they sometimes feel slightly overwhelmed; then they appreciate being able to consult with Berend.-

Privilege

Van den Berge considers his work more of a privilege than a job. -As a project manager, I get to enjoy all the great research being done without having to do it myself. Let me arrange and bring people together, I like that. And I also get to travel; recently, we all travelled to Sheffield and Liege.-

De Kort loves how Van den Berge organizes a social life beyond the to-dos. -That goes beyond arranging dinners. He-s the one who suggests getting together again. He even buys Sinterklaas gifts and writes an accompanying poem for everyone.-

I like being able to mirror with someone to see if everything’s going well,
or if I’m missing something.


Yvonne de Kort, Scientific Coordinator LIGHTCAP


-And he has a warm relationship with the young researchers. The doctoral candidates often look up to us a bit as principal investigators. They-ve read our articles, and although we interact informally, we remain their supervisors. Berend can interact with them differently. In that role, he-s also privy to confidential information. I like being able to occasionally mirror with him to see if everything’s going well and if I’m missing something.-

-I follow them for a few years of their lives, and that builds a genuine bond. I love that I get to mould them into a group, to be there for them when they get stuck,- says Van den Berge. -I’m also a kind of confidant for them. Don’t forget; it can be very tough psychologically to work on the same subject for four years, working it all the way through. That can feel lonely, especially when you-re far away from home. For me, that human side’s a crucial part of my job satisfaction.-

Nima Hafezparast Moadab: ÜBerend bridges the gap between doctoral candidates and supervisors-

Nima Hafezparast Moadab, from Iran, is part of LIGHTCAP at the University of Sheffield in full professor Steve Fotios- group on the impact of light on drivers- alertness. -I focus on, for example, car drivers and how light affects their alertness on the road. The dream is that by using a certain light, you can keep drivers so alert that accidents can be prevented,- he says.

Nima is proud to have won a spot on the prestigious project. -It’s great that we can work with other doctoral students. Doing your PhD can be a lonely business because many people understand nothing about your topic. Within LIGHTCAP, everyone’s working on light, even if it’s in a different application, so you can spar about that together.-

-This project also allows me the chance to see how things work in the industry. I did an internship in London at Arup Lighting Design. It helps me as a scientist to see how we can apply our knowledge in society because that’s what drives me.-

He believes Berend plays a much-needed role. -Us researchers aren-t always the most communicative people; we are focused on our research. Then you need someone who does communicate, makes connections and gets collaborations going. Berend bridges the gap between doctoral candidates and supervisors. He does that interactively; he-s always available and fixes all the problems.-

And I’m allowed to work with such talent.
That feels more like a privilege than a job.


Project manager Berend van den Berge


Van den Berge often hears of scientists not taking on large projects because they have no time for them. -To be fair, it takes up a huge amount of your time, but having such a project to your name is very cool too. It greatly boosts your research and network. And then you also get to prepare 15 doctoral candidates, which is fantastic!- He proudly adds, -And I get to work with these talents as project manager.-

-It’s important that TU/e researchers know we are here to help them. That can remove a barrier to applying for a big project. We can help in all areas, both in applying for the project and during it.-

Never empty-handed

De Kort recommends her TU/e colleagues work with an RSO project manager. -I work fantastically well with Berend. I know when to take the lead and vice versa; we work as a true team. We are also often addressed together in emails, which I love. Plus, Berend understands how TU/e works and has short communication lines within our organization.-

She likes that an RSO project manager has to apply for the position before a project begins. -Find someone with whom you click. I also like that there’s a pool of project managers. If there’s an emergency, someone can always step in, so you-re never left empty-handed.-

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 .