‘The world has problems, not disciplines’

| Michaela Nesvarova

Just after celebrating his 25th working anniversary at the UT, Professor Boudewijn Haverkort (1964) is saying ‘farewell’. He is leaving to become a Dean at the Tilburg University. ‘I look back at my time here very positively. The UT has given me a lot of freedom to develop.’

Photo by: RIKKERT HARINK

As of January 2019, Haverkort will lead the Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences. After more than thirty years as a researcher and lecturer. What has led to this decision? ‘I’ve gone through all the levels,’ answers the professor of Design and Analysis of Communication Systems. ‘I was an assistant professor, a full professor, the head of the department. I asked myself “Do I want to keep doing the same?” and I decided that I didn’t. I realized I got a lot of joy from organizing and managing research, which is something I will get to do as dean.’

Changes

Apart from his time as a professor at the RWTH in Aachen in the late 1990’s, Haverkort has been connected to the UT since 1986 when he obtained his master’s degree here. He reflects on how the university has changed over the years: ‘As a student, I used to bike from one end of the campus to another all the time. Now everything is concentrated in one spot. That is a bit of a loss. Also, the new educational model comes with a very full schedule for both lecturers and students. There is no time for reflection. I believe the TOM model has a lot of merit, but it can be a heavy burden. And the UT has become more financially oriented and lost a bit of its informal character. I’m not judging that, it’s only a change I’ve observed.’

‘I have accomplished most of my goals here, which is why it’s a good step to move somewhere else,’ continues the soon-to-be dean. ‘I look back at my time here very positively. It’s always been a very nice university. The UT has given me a lot. Especially a lot of opportunities and freedom to develop.’

‘High tech human touch’ in Tilburg

Haverkort’s responsibilities will be rather different at his new position. ‘I will have no time for teaching,’ he says. ‘I’ve just given my last lecture here and it will probably be the last lecture for a very long time to come. I will have far less time for my own research as well. I will miss the interaction with my PhD students, but I will of course be in touch with other researchers. Overall, I’m very excited about my new position and about being able to shape a university. Tilburg’s motto is “Understanding society”. I’d like to go a step further and improve society, with the use of technology.’ That sounds like applying the ‘high tech human touch’. ‘Yes, indeed,’ confirms Haverkort. ‘The UT’s motto is very dear to me.’

‘The UT’s motto is very dear to me.’

Following the motto, the professor’s research focus has shifted in the course of his career at the UT. He started with research in computer science, looking into performance and reliability of communication systems. Lately he has been working on themes related to security and safety of critical infrastructures, smart grids and energy management, among others. ‘I now like to focus on topics that have positive effects on the world, trying to make the world greener and safer.’

Boudewijn Haverkort with a model of a nanosatellite he has worked on. 

‘Cross boundaries’

Boudewijn Haverkort enjoys crossing boundaries – across disciplines and departments. ‘I like to work on societal issues, on sustainability goals, and that requires cooperation with other fields of expertise. Moreover, I enjoy the “broadness”. I usually like to switch to a new topic after a few years. Maybe I just can’t choose,’ he says with a smile. ‘But it’s nice to see that I can use my knowledge in a completely new context. For example, I got to work on energy management in nanosatellites, on developing algorithms to best run them. The research was published in an astronautical journal, which is a completely different world for me.’

Cooperation across disciplines is something that the professor would like to see more of. As a parting message to his colleagues at the UT, he’d like to say: ‘Cross boundaries. The world has problems, not disciplines. Don’t stick to artificial boundaries, don’t let them spoil the potentially good work that could be done if we join forces.’   

Boudewijn Haverkort in a nutshell:

  • 2017 – 2018 Head of the Department of Computer Science
  • 2016 – now Chairman of Commit2Data, national research and innovation program on big data and applications
  • 2009 – 2013 Scientific director at the Embedded Systems Institute, Eindhoven
  • 2003 - 2018 Full professor of Design and Analysis of Communication Systems at the University of Twente, faculty for Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (EEMCS)
  • 1995 – 2002 Professor of Distributed Systems at the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) in Aachen, Germany
  • 1991 – 1995 Assistant Professor, University of Twente
  • 1991 PhD degree in Computer Science, University of Twente
  • 1986 MSc degree in Computer Science, University of Twente

To commemorate Professor Haverkort’s time at the University of Twente, a farewell symposium is being organized this Friday in the Waaier. More information can be found here