Interview FSS Teacher of the Year 2017-2018: Mark van Duijn

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The Teacher of the Year award is an annual award initiated by Pro Geo. The award is provided to the teacher who in that
academic year has proven to explain a complex topic in a very
smart and simple manner, who made students aware of very
important material in a very enthousiastic manner, or who has
done anything else in such an influential manner that students
appreciate the most. Students can therefore vote for themselves
at the end of the academic year which teacher they think is the
winner. Also, the winner gets a spot on the ‘‘wall of fame’’ next to
the faculty associations area in the Duisenberg Building. During
the academic year 2017-2018, Mark van Duijn has won this prize,
because of his excellent manner of explaining complex issues in
a very simple manner!

What brought you to the Faculty of Spatial Sciences?

Well, there was a vacancy for almost more than a year and my
contract at the Free University of Amsterdam (VU) was ending
soon. On top of that I already knew Arno van der Vlist for a long
time, and when I met him at a workshop, he mentioned to me
that he thought I would fit into the team nicely. So, then I applied
and as a post-doc researcher with an economical background the
vacancy at real estate was just right for me. And now I have
education, research and some management responsibilities. But,
of course, the research part is my passion, and what I like about
teaching is the diversity.

What do you think has made you teacher of the year?

I think the fact that I can really relate to the students, because I
started teaching quite fresh out of college. I think that I was 21
when I started teaching at a university, because I actually started
in my master already. During my master I did some courses from
the education master to get my higher level high school teacher
qualification, and for my internship I taught at my old high
school. That was really strange, because I also worked at a disco
as a side job. Which meant that on Monday I had to teach the
same children that I had seen partying the night before. So, after
three weeks I quit, and that’s when I said: I’m not going to be a
teacher. So, after I finished my master, I thought I would never
see the university again. I started my career in Paris straight
after I got my degree. I always say I got pretty lucky. At every
point of change, something just crossed my path. For instance,
I was able to write my master’s thesis at the central planning
bureau, without any side activities. After my master I got offered
a very nice job abroad at the OECD in economic organisation and
development. So, I lived in Paris for a year, but after a year I
actually reached my full potential there. The only thing I could
do to develop further was getting a PHD. Therefore, I went back
to university after all. And I got lucky again, because a friend
of mine already did a PHD and wanted to put in a word for me.
I didn’t even have to do an official job interview, it was more
of an informal conversation, which let to the conclusion that
there were two positions left of ten. So I was given the chance
of choosing between two subjects and so I researched economic
valuation of cultural heritage in choice of site.

What would you advise students in their study or career?

Well, my primary advise would be to finish what you start. And
also to acknowledge that you study at a research faculty, so if
you want to get practical experience as well, then you have to
act proactive. For example, by writing your thesis at a company
– even though that may be easier said than done. But, dedicating
some extra time to your study is not the worst that can happen.
Even I extended my study half a year. Actually, I didn’t really
know what I wanted for quite a long time. It is hard to choose
between all the options when you just finished high school.

What did you want to be as a child?

A pilot. My father was with the air force and I wanted to do
the same. I even applied after high school when I was 17 and
completed most of the course. But eventually they decided that I
was still too young. So, I decided to study economy instead. And,
I am the kind of person who gives a 100%, maybe even 110% when
starting something. That is also because I was raised with a lot of
discipline and the notion that you have to take full responsibility
for your own decisions and actions. If you don’t do that, then you
shouldn’t blame others, only yourself.

How do you handle students who don’t have that same sense
of responsibility?

Well, in that sense I am really a statistician. You know, there is
the normal distribution with some students that score really high,
then you have the middle and then there are the students that
need some extra attention. I think I can handle that really well.
If you identify a student who struggles, you can just talk to them
personally. Actually, I think all professors here at the faculty do
that. And, because the scale of the faculty, it is possible to do
that. Especially in the master. In the bachelor it is a little more
difficult to do that. Then, the students have to rely more on
the educational counsellor. But, there are plenty of small-scale
courses where you have workgroups in which you can really help
students to get on the right track and motivate them. Just trying
to be really enthusiastic and empathic, with a sense of discipline.
We, as teachers, have just as much an exemplary function as pro
soccer players. And, we are also just people.

What are your own further ambitions?

Well, spoiler alert; I am going to stay at the FSS some longer. So,
the students will see a lot more of me. My research is going great
and I am still learning a lot as well. I do have the ambition to
continuously better the education. I think students should realise
that we have their best interests at heart. We don’t leave them
to their own fate. At least, not as much as I see in other faculties.

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