‘I sometimes wonder how many legs a sheep should have’

After an impressive career, Peter Schoenmakers is retiring as professor, leaving behind a highly regarded programme for training analytical chemists.
Arjen Dijkgraaf,
C2W | Mens & Molecule

‛Maybe half of chemists advertise themselves as analytical chemists,’ begins chromatography expert Peter Schoenmakers. ‛That’s not surprising, since within the industry they are everywhere.’ He should know. For some 20 years he worked in industry himself, and then another 20 years at the University of Amsterdam. This summer, he officially retired from his position as professor of analytical chemistry. But at the end of September, his schedule is still quite busy. ‛He will quiet down soon though,’ Schoenmakers says. ‘My PhD students are completing their projects, I have not been teaching much for the past year, and in ongoing projects I am no longer the project leader. For the time being, I still manage the analytical chemistry talent programmes: at bachelor level for higher laboratory education, and at master level for academic students. That’s a proper job.’

It is a job he enjoys a lot, though. ‛It is fun to be with a lot of young people, especially when they are very committed. And if you get eighty masters students in, forty of them are just good – but ten are truly excellent and enthusiastic, motivating all those around them. Those are the exceptional types, the ones you see emerge later. And they are definitely not merely the ones with the highest grades.’

In your opinion, what makes an analytical talent?
‛For our honours programmes, we look for students who can make a difference in the world they are going to work in. They have good grades, which do not need to be nines or tens. Communication skills are also important for this field. Of the three ‘Sisters in Science’ [who won the KNCV’s Van Marum medal this year, ed.], two have completed a similar programme with us. And they all have to be motivated, and willing to take a course on Saturdays, for example. People who are willing to do something extra are also the ones who will be worthwhile within companies and the university in the future.’

What could be improved within the academic realm?
‛I sometimes wonder how many legs a sheep should actually have. Professors should be able to teach wonderfully well. They must be able to do good research, have ideas, write proposals, carry out projects, present at home and abroad, and we also expect them to be able to lead a whole group of people. It’s a bizarre set of requirements. Within companies, most people turn out to be poor leaders, so why do we expect this of every professor?’

Read the full article on our website: C2Winternational.nl/Peter-Schoenmakers

Photo credit: Jordi Huisman

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