[Column] Swiping for science

Our new columnist Birgit van Driel wants an end to the obligatory matchmaking events for scientists applying for funding. There are much more efficient and fun ways to do it.

Birgit van Driel: When a technical degree programme suits you, it is not difficult. (Foto: Sam Rentmeester)

One of the many obstacles that academics face when they are applying for funding is the so-called matchmaking event. This is an, often obligatory, meeting between academics who have submitted applications based on the funder’s hope or expectation that the meeting will lead to new and interesting collaboration. I too was guilty of arranging these events when I was in the role of funder.

The Radboud Young Academy calculated that a three hour matchmaking session with 200 attendees is equivalent to a 25 day investment. But reality is even more shocking, while one day indeed contains 24 hours and many academics use this as working time, the official working day only consists of eight hours. This raises the total investment to 75 days, 15 weeks, or almost four months of work. Given the extreme workload in the academic world, how can this be justified?

For me, as a former consultant, it is tempting to get bogged down in complex cost-benefit analyses in which you balance the time investment and their associated finances with achieving new unexpected collaboration with all the potential wonderful short and long term outcomes. However, this is not the point of this article. I would prefer to think about how it could be done better and, in particular, how it can be more fun.

‘Many researchers only join the sessions to get a tick on the attendance list’

The purpose of the matchmaking is clear and young academics, people with limited networks, or people that need specific expertise in a consortium, use these sessions eagerly. Making the matchmaking sessions mandatory is a way to challenge existing consortia to leave the beaten track. After all, humans, and thus academics, are creatures of habit.

There is always another side to the coin, and here I can draw on my life’s motto: ‘It is outside your comfort zone that magic happens’. I believe that this is just as true for people as for academics, but only when they voluntarily step outside their comfort zone and actively participate in the matchmaking event. Many researchers who are already involved in a consortium that meet the requirements, will unfortunately not do this. They will only join the sessions to get a tick on the attendance list – clearly students and academics are not that different after all. This tendency is further strengthened by many of the gatherings still being held online in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

I wonder if the solution might lie in a change of design? I am thinking for instance, along the lines of academic Tinder whereby every consortium or interested researcher makes a profile and then swipes. Academic speed dating based on a Tinder profile is also an option. Having a profile on the academic Tinder would then be a requirement for submitting an application to the NWO (Dutch Research Council).

My idea is based on three principles:

  1. You only put in the amount of time that you yourself want, and if you find ‘the one’, you are done.
  2. It is an informal system that researchers can use when and where they want which may push doubters into becoming active swipers.
  3. Those who are really not interested will not be reached by this method either, but they will at least not have invested a lot of time and frustration.

In line with goal 33 of the new NWO strategy, I call on my previous employer to re-assess the design of the matchmaking events and come up with creative alternatives.

Birgit van Driel started working as a Policy Officer at Strategic Development in 2021. She returned to TU Delft where she started her studies back in 2006. She’s been affiliated to the Faculties of IDE (first year), AS (bachelor’s) and 3mE (PhD). After earning her PhD, she worked as a Strategy Consultant at Kearney and a Program Officer at NWO-AES. 

Columnist Birgit van Driel

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