Luisa Trindade new director of graduate school Experimental Plant Sciences

April 17, 2024

‘We need to increase opportunities for young scientists.’ So says Luisa Trindade as the new director of the collaborative research and teaching institute Experimental Plant Sciences. On 1 March, Trindade took over from Gerco Angenent, who had held the position since 2018. Trindade combines the new position with her professorship at Wageningen University & Research. What drives her to take on this new challenge? And what goals does she pursue as director?

Luisa, congratulations on the appointment! What motivated you to apply for the position?

"I get a lot of satisfaction from mentoring young scientists such as PhD candidates and postdocs to develop themselves. In this position I will be able to assist and support the development of many PhD candidates and postdocs in their careers in science or elsewhere. A more personal motivation is that I want to become more involved in policy and strategy. And this position allows me to do that while still being very much involved in science. What I also like is that I can simply combine being a director with my position as a professor (Luisa is a professor in Bioresources breeding & genetics, ed.).

I will manage EPS for two days and continue to work as a professor for three days. As a plant scientist, I cannot emphasise enough how important scientific research and education are for the field. EPS is a partnership of seven Dutch universities & institutes and we help determine the national research and training strategy on plant sciences. This was an extra incentive for me to apply."

What will you commit to as a director?

"I'm just getting started and new ideas will probably emerge along the way, but there are at least two ideas I want to work on with my colleagues. The first is that I'd like to see our young scientists benefit more from global expertise. I'd like them to come into contact not only with Dutch specialists, but also with those from other countries. For that I want to make more use of our strategic alliances with other Universities abroad, such as EBU (European Bioeconomy University Alliance) or A5 (Agrifood 5 Alliance). Secondly, I want to strengthen the bond with senior researchers. We currently come together once a year in the Annual EPS meeting. I'd like to see us put our heads together more often. Not only to exchange knowledge, but especially to come up with good research ideas together."

I'd like to see our young scientists benefit more from global expertise
Luisa Trindade

EPS is one of six graduate schools in Wageningen. You know Wageningen well. What are their strengths?

"They're organised along not too broad themes. Some universities have a graduate school for each faculty, making them very diverse. That can certainly have its advantages. The strength of our and other graduate schools in Wageningen is that they offer many courses within one subject. That may seem a bit limiting, but plant sciences still remains a fairly broad field of science. And you also notice it whenever we organise a conference: they're extremely popular among students and researchers. I think this has to do with the fact that the substantive programme always falls within their domain of interest."

How do graduate students and postdocs benefit from EPS?

"EPS provides a lot of support to young plant researchers. That's not just about the development of scientific skills, but also soft skills. I dare say that we really offer an attractive package of courses that allow students to develop further. Another really strong point of our graduate school is that we support young researchers individually when they get stuck. They may have personal issues and become a bit lost, for instance. We also help them out in instances like that."

The route to a permanent research position can be quite frustrating. What do you want to convey to young plant scientists?

"True, many of them are uncertain about their future and that can lead them to choose a career outside science. I notice we're losing talent. With EPS we want to reduce that uncertainty and energise the academic careers of young researchers. At the same time, it remains a fact that many PhD students ultimately make a different choice than a career in science. At some point they may realise that a different route is better suited. We also want to be there for those students. I'd like us to teach every student the skills they need to take the next step in their career, also if that's outside of science. I'm thinking of management skills or teaching skills. What I want for our own organisation also applies nationally: we must increase opportunities for young scientists and offer them a more flexible PhD programme that enables them to develop in different directions."

Have you ever doubted your future as a scientist?

"No, when I was ten or eleven, I already knew I wanted to be a scientist. From the age of seven, I lived with my grandmother on a farm. That's where my fascination for nature arose and it has never left me. Nowadays I get often laughed at by my husband and daughter when I get distracted with plants on the road side or in a big city somewhere abroad. By the way, I don't come from a family of academics, but I did have distant relatives with academic careers. They told me what they were doing: trying to understand how things work and why they work. This looked very exciting to me. That's when I knew for sure that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I wanted to be a scientist. At the same time, they told me how difficult it was to become a professor. It never discouraged me, though. I didn't care how long it would take, this is what I wanted to do and I went fully for it."

Photo: Merel Hurkmans
Photo: Merel Hurkmans

Is your appointment as director of EPS the icing on the cake?

"I'm certainly honoured with this appointment and very excited to take this role. I love science and governance, this position allows me to make the perfect combination between both. I am proud to be the first female director of EPS. I hope it inspires other (young) female researchers to continue their careers in governance if that is their ambition. We're going in the right direction; we have reached the milestone of a quarter of Wageningen professors are now women. But we still have a long way to go."

I hope it inspires other female researchers to continue their careers in governance
Luisa Trindade

Lastly, something completely different: what do you like to do when you're not working?

"Well, I run, for instance. To be honest, I hate sports, but somehow I always manage to challenge myself. It's actually my husband's fault, who gave me a smartwatch as a gift. That was enough to get me running and hitting my daily goals. This morning I ran before I went to work and I felt fantastic when I arrived. Although that was also partly due to the beautiful spring weather."