Marjan Smeulders in een laboratorium
Marjan Smeulders in een laboratorium

The educational passion of Marjan Smeulders 

As a counterpart to educational burdens, we invite a Radboud lecturer each month to talk about their educational passion. This month, Marjan Smeulders, researcher in the Department of Ecological Microbiology at the Science Faculty and a teacher ambassador at the TLC, talks about what energises her in her teaching. 

Where do you find your educational drive? 

'Every year at the end of the summer, when the new students come in and introduction groups walk around the campus, my educational passion gets a boost. It takes me back to my own first year at university. Full of excitement, full of expectation, full of energy and so eager to learn new things. When I see that energy reappear with the arrival of the students, that's when I realise why I love learning together so much. It's like a journey together with students to discover new things.'

Which moment has always stayed with you? 

'That moment was not during my microbiology education, but with the team of students I guided eight times a year in their personal and professional development. These students had not had an easy time that year, but were able to share that very openly in the safe setting of the team sessions. They were so genuinely interested and warmhearted towards each other. I learned a lot from these students about how you can can support each other in a good team. It was wonderful to see how they grew in their development towards confident biologists the following year.' 

Where draw inspiration from for your education? 

'From the beauty and diversity of life on earth. They continue to amaze and delight me and I like to share that enthusiasm. But unfortunately also from the great ecological problems that humanity has caused and that we must solve to keep our earth livable. Helping students to recognize problems and think in solutions is very inspiring.'

What is your favourite educational approach? 

'What I remember most about my own studies are the fieldwork weeks in Cornwall and Scotland. In those moments, the interaction with teachers felt not so much hierarchical, but more equal. We learned both with hands and heads, in the midst of the ecosystems we were learning about. We should go outside a lot more often with students! I try to bring that fieldwork feeling into our practical education: small groups, direct interaction with a teacher, in an equal relationship and a link to the outside world. I think it's in those moments that we learn the most.'

What tips do you have for other lecturers? 

'In addition to being a microbiologist, I am also a climate activist at Scientists for Future and Scientist Rebellion. The climate and ecological crisis is going to hit young people hard in their lives. I think it is very important that we give our students the tools to deal with this and help them to be able to contribute to the solutions and changes that are needed. So, take that into account in how we organise our education.' 

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