Category Archives: education

Motivation 2.0

Today, it was announced in the news that the Netherlands is again facing, now for the third time, a case of severe fraud in science. A professor in Consumer Behavior at the Erasmus University Rotterdam has resigned from his duties and two of his articles will be withdrawn from the journals they were published in.

Mark my words. We’re not dealing with intrinsically bad people here and before you raise your fingers at the scapegoats, read this [taken from the Book ‘Drive’ by Daniel H. Pink]: "Goals may cause systematic problems for organizations due to narrowed focus, unethical behavior, increased risk taking, decreased cooperation and decreased intrinsic motivation. Use care when applying goals in your organization."

It makes me wonder to what extent the universities are falling into the pits they digged themselves.


Excuse me, I am just a university professor

economic downturn in Europe, often denoted as the Euro crisis, is often rightly associated with the negative effects of the "neoliberal meritocracy" we
live in. The term meritocracy perhaps deserves some explanation. It was
coined in the book of Michael Young, entitled "The rise of the
Meritocracy", which appeared in 1958 and sketches a world in which the
best, i.e., those with the highest intelligence and the highest work
power, climb the social-economical ladder very fast, and vice versa [1].

Also the universities, and Delft University of Technology
unfortunately is no exception, suffer under the yoke of this neoliberal
meritocracy, which has created an atmosphere in which professors only
become visible and respected if they have successfully competed with their colleagues
and have won an award, of which they subsequently advocate that it is
the most prestigious in their field.

Another effect of this
neoliberal meritocracy is that it all is about numbers that pretend to
reflect quality rather than that they are part of the quality itself. To me, the
best book ever on true quality is Robert Pirsig’s "Lila",
the worthy successor of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (1974) and
which appeared in 1991. Naturally, an abstract topic like "quality" that
needs more than a book to give the reader a notion of its true essence
cannot be reduced to a number. Yet, in universities, the meritocracy
florishes due to numbers. In a self-assessment, made for the periodical
accreditation of our university, the quality of the research of its
professors was reduced to a number, in this case the Hirsh index or h-index. For a detailed discussion on h-index I refer you to the many web sites of Elsevier’s Scopus,
but for the moment just remember that it is a number that supposedly
indicates the influence of one’s scientific publications and thereby of the author himself on the field.
As if all fields are equally important, of equal size and all scientific communities
deal with their publications, authors, etc. in the same manner. Of
course not!

Quality of education of course is another aspect that
should be of concern to universities. Unfortunately, here the numbers
are more difficult to generate, if possible at all. As also education is more
inside-oriented and research is more outside-oriented and universities
would like to show to the outside world how great they are, they have a
tendency to stress the impact of their research more than the impact of
their education. Also, a university is an education institute of which
the major outcome, i.e., the student that successfully completes his studies
with a diploma on time and thereby is well equipped for his professional life to come, is a result of the great work of many individuals in a
team, including, of course, the student himself, but definitely more
difficult to trace back to the individual effort of a single professor. I
believe that, as a consequence of this more hidden impact of the
efforts of an individual professor, less appreciation exists among their
colleagues and bosses for the great work they are doing. Also, it is
striking to notice how many years must pass before a teacher that
clearly underperforms (according to which numbers?) will be no longer
able to pursue his damage. 

However, this is also not my main
issue here. I guess my main issue is that in this meritocratic
university system there is no appreciation and thus no room for the glue
that keeps things together. To give you a few examples:

  1. If a
    professor falls ill and a colleague takes over and brings the expedition
    to a satisfying close, this will most often go unnoticed as the project
    or course officially is still under the wings of the original professor. You have to be
    a loser to help your colleague in situations like these. 
  2. If a
    student suffers from a delay in his studies due to lack of motivation,
    skills or talents and he finally makes it due to the strong motivation
    and commitment offered by his thesis advisor, whereas the thesis advisor
    instead  have spent his time on supervising at least two other more
    brilliant students, according to the numbers, the advisor did the wrong
    thing. You must be a loser to spend your time on less brilliant
  3. If a thesis advisor trains a student to let the creativity and the innovation come from the student himself rather than that he imposes his own solution to a
    scientific or engineering problem on a student,
    the result takes longer time to come to fruition and therefore requires
    more time from the thesis advisor. You must be a loser if you don’t tell
    your students exactly what to do and how. 
  4. If a thesis
    advisor himself writes major parts of the scientific paper that is based
    on the work of a student, this paper has more chance to be accepted for
    publication and even win an award. You must be a loser to let your
    student write his own paper.

If situations like those sketched above arise, I have accepted and even deliberately decided to be the loser. 


[1] Paul Verhaeghe: De effecten van een neoliberale meritocratie op identiteit en interpersoonlijke verhoudingen, Oikos 56, 1/2011

Award for Senad Hiseni

On March 16, Ir. Senad Hiseni received an award from the Biomecial
Electronics Foundation
for excellence in research on implantable
medical devices with a high scientific, engineering, clinical and
societal relevance.
Congrats, Senad!


BELEM is an
Erasmus intensive training program labeled by the EU for 2012. BELEM
addresses the field of BioMedical Engineering (BME), with a
specialization in BioElectronics.
BELEM supports
multi-disciplinary research and helps young engineering researchers,
in the early phase of their research project, bridge the gap with
life sciences. BELEM intends to bring them the necessary background
and methods to conduct efficiently multi-disciplinary research
through a deep and broad integration of engineering and biology. [
The above text is coming from the BELEM website

BELEM took
place from 25th of March till 6th of April at
the University of Bordeaux, France. The course is especially
interesting for PhD students being at the first year of their
research. It gives an overview of the BME research area and can help
you in gaining a better understanding of your research topic. The
course consists of lectures about the topics in BME, a small research
project, a hospital visit and a bio laboratory visit.

people of TU Delft presented about their research. Wouter gave
lectures about the electrophysiological aspects in recording bio
signals and low-power circuit design, Marijn about electrode-tissue
modelling and Mark about the RF link between an implant and the
outside world.

Besides the
lectures, the course is a very good opportunity to meet fellow PhD
students from other universities working in BME as well. During the
course, you have the opportunity to share knowledge and experiences
with each other.


Wanna make a donation to the Biomedical Electronics Foundation?

In a previous post I reported about the recently founded Biomedical Electronics Foundation. It supports talented students and junior scientists in the field of biomedical electronics, an exciting field as you are undoubtedly aware of if you follow the posts on this blog regularly.

More information on the Biomedical Electronics Foundation can be read on:

You, your family and friends can help! If you have a paypal account, please click the ChipIn! button in the widget below. If you have Facebook, you can add the widget to your Facebook. Simply click on the Copy tab in the widget. There you can aso find other ways of distributing the widget and thus collect donations for the foundation. 

Of course you’re also welcome to make a donation in any other way. Please visit the web site for more information.

On behalf of the beneficiaries, many thanks!

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O no, please not Ronald Plasterk!

Yesterday, Job Cohen announced he will resign as the leader of the
Labour Party (PVDA), effective immediately. And of course, immediately thereafter everybody started speculating about who should become his successor. One of the names mentioned was the one of Ronald Plasterk.

I honestly don’t think this is the right man for the job. 

Ronald Plasterk was Minister
of Education, Culture and Science from February 22, 2007 until February 23,
2010 in the Cabinet Balkenende IV. During his tenure he was responsible for the declining quality of education at various levels of education. One of his proposals was cutting the allowance for students
and raising the fees for universities and for this he has been rightly strongly criticized by the students unions. It is my strong conviction that Plasterk, who advocates himself as a strong believer in individual excellence, just tries to mimic the American educational system without taking into account the unique features of the Dutch culture, and observes the world from his own ivory tower. He is a politician, and by definition, not interested in the truth, what is right or wrong, but just in the way you present it to the public. 

A Chinese proverb says: "He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not
know". This definitely applies to Mr. Plasterk. Above, you see him in a chearful pose, pretending to play the guitar. But every self-respecting guitar player, and surely those heroes that will perform at the upcoming ELCA festival on March 9, knows that this is not the way to play guitar and that there either must be a CD playing in the back or there must be a real guitar player behind those doors, whose name we will never know and who probably would do a better job when it comes to leading a political party, too.

The PVDA needs a frontman that understands that the Netherlands has no cheap labor, no big market of its own, no raw materials (apart from a little gas near Groningen) and thus only can manifest itself as one of the leading countries in the world by exploiting the unique things it has: an open culture and high-level knowledge. The Netherlands is leading in water management, probiotics, wafer steppers, and many more. This unique position has been slowly created over the last 30 years and is rapidly crumbling. From a country that once belonged to the world top when it comes to investments in education and research, we now are doing below average and many countries have surpassed the Netherlands, a.o. Finland and Ireland. 

Of course, it is not only Plasterk who is to blame for all this, which has been a process of quite some years. However, he did not understand and pick up the challenge, either. Rather he pretends, just as on the picture above.

PVDA, please be smart; choose among your midst a leader who understands the needs of your party and our time, whether you will make it into the government next time or not. But please, no more Ronald Plasterk. 



Fanmail from China

Today, we received the following feedback on the course Analog Integrated Circuit Design (ET4252), which is available under the Open CourseWare program:



student ding


<email address removed>

Where are you from?


You had a(n):


What was your feedback about?

Analog Integrated Circuit Design

Your Feedback was:

The video is so cool that I love it very much. IT seems doesn’t contain all
lectures, I am really want to see all the lectures in video.
I am a senior in university from China.
Thank you very much.

Thank you very much, Ding! You definitely make my day.


BioCAS comes to the Netherlands in 2013

From Flits, the newsletter of the faculty of EEMCS of Delft University of Technology:

"Wouter Serdijn has successfully won the chairmanship and organisation of BioCAS 2013 for TU Delft. The annual IEEE Biomedical Circuits and Systems (BioCAS) Conference is the premier forum for bringing together scientists, engineers, medical researchers, and health care practitioners to drive these advances and share in cross-cutting research at the interface between circuits, systems, biology, and medicine."

The complete organizing team comprises international established and future leaders in the field, a.o. Firat Yazicioglu, Gianluca Setti, Tor Sverre Lande, Sylvie Renaud, Andreas Demosthenous, Ralph Etienne Cummings, Pau-Choo (Julia) Chung, Marion de Vlieger, Marijn van Dongen, Mark Stoopman and Senad Hiseni.

Advancing frontiers without borders

"In today’s global village, access to the latest and
greatest advancements in science and engineering is only affordable to
one percent of the world population. Imagine what discoveries and
inventions could be made if instead everybody would have access to this
information. Open CourseWare is one of the ways to make the right
progress in this direction."

Wouter Serdijn, TU Delft Open CourseWare ambassador, since today


More on ethics and good scholarly behavior

Today I learnt that the junior author of the manuscript submitted to my journal, of which I reported in the blog below, had sent in the cover letter on the senior co-author’s behalf, without the senior co-author knowing it. If true — the whole situation becomes quite confusing and blurred, I feel — then the senior author is not to blame for the whole situation but his junior co-author.

Soon thereafter, I indeed received an apology letter from the junior author, basically begging for forgiveness and asking to withdraw the manuscript submitted on her behalf. In my imagination I am picturing the senior co-author, who must be the supervisor of this young, inexperienced, junior co-author, with a whip in his hand and an angry expression under his eyebrows and the young author bursting out in tears and trying to see the screen clearly while typing that email message to me. Not an easy thing to decide on (to withdraw or not).

I am still mulling it over.