Since the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year, I’ve been writing the occasional column for Observant, the independent newspaper of Maastricht University. It’s fun, reaching out to a different kind of audience – academic, but not necessarily research focused. Sticking to 400 words, and not including copious references and nuanced explanation is a challenge. My first column appeared in the first week of teaching so I focused on academic new year resolutions, for staff and students. The second was my (necessarily) short contribution to the ongoing discussions about sexual harassment (or – the more apt Dutch phrase – ‘unwanted intimacies’) in universities. The third was about the role of humour in an international classroom, and the fourth celebrated books, prompted by a student complaint about being expected to read very long books.
I was invited to continue for the 2018-19 academic year, and now the columns are only 350 words. The first column is about the limits of autonomous robots, prompted by observing an autonomous lawnmower while on holiday. I then turned to what (male) academics wear, and most recently how to navigate Dutch handshaking culture. The last column appeared in April, and addresses the important issue of inter-species collaboration.
I’m still writing the columns for 2019-20. So far, I’ve done two columns. In September, I addressed the attempts by university administrators to predict the unpredictable, namely student numbers. Most recently, I’ve complained about the ‘male by default’ design of microphones and what that means for what women wear.