Huub Spiertz says, “Young researchers must be given the chance to discover what the scientific world has to offer. They often have little opportunity to acquire new scientific contacts outside of Wageningen University. Especially at the beginning of their PhD, much attention is placed inwards while that is the ideal time to gain ideas from outside; to test their ideas, to gain feedback and to exchange a train of thought. Attending congresses is usually done during the last phase of promotion but without a concrete goal, young researchers can get lost in the masses.”
Professor Huub Spiertz, emeritus professor Crop Ecology at Wageningen University, decided to create a Fund on Name when he turned 70 years old in 2011.
He and his wife, Julienne Spiertz, want to offer PhD students and post docs the chance to acquire foreign experience in crop science and agrobiology by providing funding for their study trips.
New contacts and feedback are essential for the development of researchers. Huub Spiertz personally experienced this during his own promotion in the seventies. “I received little enthusiastic feedback back then for my research idea within my discipline. That is, not until I met renowned Australian scientist Dr. Lloyd Evans who was immediately enthusiastic. It was the impulse I needed otherwise I may have never started my thesis research.”
Spiertz counselled many PhD students as professor. His status as emeritus professor in 2006, however, was not a prelude to his retirement from his work and chair group. He wrote articles, judged manuscripts and gave students practical feedback. This way, he maintained weekly contact with young researchers.
The chair group has a large international network that PhD students and post docs can profit from. According to Spiertz, “I worked with wheat a lot. It’s a very international crop and it’s being worked on everywhere in the world. A study trip to a foreign university or institute allows researchers to stay in touch with new developments and innovations in their specific domains. Not everything happens at Wageningen, there is much on offer elsewhere too.”
The Spiertzes have been active with the development of young people for a long time. Julienne Spiertz worked as a volunteer with refugees and they support the foundation for refugee students, UAF. Through the Rotary, Huub Spiertz was in touch with young talents during its education weekends. “It was fun to see the effects of such a weekend,” says Huub Spiertz. “I wanted the same for young agrobiologists.” He doesn’t see his contribution through this fund as charity though, “Our generation had the wind beneath our wings. But now that times are unsure and budgets are tight, young people must be given a chance. I see it as an investment: you know your goal and you know the people. A contribution from this fund gives agrobiologists and crop scientists extra opportunities and that contributes to the overall profession. For all who donate to charity, or request money at a party for charity, ask yourself whether or not to donate to a niche fund or to another one of Wageningen University funds!”
Global Food Shortage
Although now retired, the challenge faced by impending global food shortage is still very close to Spiertz’s heart. Spiertz believes that crop science can play a large role in finding solutions. “Wheat, rice and corn together provide for 70% of our energy demands. There are so many ways to produce these three crops more efficiently and sustainably. A lot of attention is given to genetics, but a lot can also be achieved if we change our approach to water usage and nutrients.” Besides the quantities, the actual moment that water and nutrients are available is also important. “Good timing allows for the optimum growth and development of crops.”