Recommendations research assessment 2021 Environmental Technology and Microbiology (ETM)

Executive summary

In the cluster Environmental Technology and Microbiology (ETM), the themes of the three chair groups are very well aligned with global trends in circular economy and sustainability. The committee appreciates that the cluster is trying to open up new fields, and even to change established paradigms. The committee fully agrees with the ‘science for impact’ and ‘from principles to technology’ strategy and thinks that such a strategy can be very fruitful. ETM’s field of research is a strategic priority in The Netherlands and across Europe, North America and East Asia. ETM’s infrastructure will therefore likely be in substantial demand. According to the committee, expanding the use of its excellent infrastructures can have multiple benefits. However, the cluster will need to shape its proposition to the requirements of industry, and market its capabilities. The committee found that the ETM cluster has done well in the past six years in terms of research quality, but noted that both productivity and the use of research products by peers seems to have declined in the past years. This phenomenon need not be directly related to research quality, but there is cause for vigilance. Thanks to the excellent relations of ETM at different levels of private and public society, stakeholders are strongly involved in the design and execution of ETM research. This is worth a compliment. Over the years, the ETM cluster has achieved world-class results in transferring technology, but the committee thinks ETM has the potential to realise even more impact. On some points, the PhD supervision at ETM could be improved, in the committee’s view. It found that the frequency of supervision per PhD student varies widely, depending on the supervisor.

Main Recommendations

  • Clearly articulate outcome expectations at the end of six years from a problem-solving perspective, to enhance your attractiveness both to potential staff members and to external partners and stakeholders.
  • Seek more European leadership positions. This will help to build new projects and alliances, and also allow you to better showcase your excellent research infrastructures.
  • Conduct strategic pre-market assessment research, to determine which of your strengths is in greatest demand. Consult your many private sector and government partners.
  • Investigate whether it is possible to widen the range of your clients and possible markets.
  • Be more inclusive towards young scientists from the Global South, who are normally severely resource-constrained.
  • Investigate the underlying cause of declining productivity and use of research products by peers.
  • Include more societal issues in your research programme, in collaboration with social scientists.
  • Actively stimulate collaboration between cluster members.
  • Make sure that every PhD candidate gets sufficient supervision. Consider working with external mentors.