Caspar Chorus

Position

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Professor in Choice Behaviour Modelling, Head of the department ESS.

Tell us about your personal life

I was born in The Hague in 1977. And after some wanderings, I eventually returned there to settle. I'm married, with two wonderful daughters. In my view, my daughters are two budding artists, with a particular talent for conceptual art. For years, I tried to bring two of their paintings to the office to brighten up the walls a little. I recently managed it, as a birthday gift: they can be admired in room B3.120 during office hours.

What is your favourite pastime?

I spend most of my leisure time with my family. I also enjoy reading. I am interested in politics, history and a combination of the two. In a Dutch context, but above all in an American one. I am particularly fascinated by stories about American presidents and the associated elections, such as those told in the book Game Change. As for sport, I go running – it is wonderful in the dunes around The Hague and Wassenaar, preferably in the rain.

What has been the highlight of your career?

Two particular moments come to mind: firstly when, in a hall packed with colleagues, a Nobel prize-winner in Economics responded enthusiastically to a new model that I had presented. The so-called ‘regret model’ is partly intended as an alternative to the ‘utility model’ developed decades previously by this pioneer in my field. It is an understatement to say that I was relieved that my idea was well received by this man, in particular. A second occasion is the day I heard that this regret model, hardly year after it had been introduced, would be included in an econometric software package to be used worldwide. The model was featured on the webpage for the software as an interesting new feature. I find it quite amazing that researchers worldwide can now run the model at the touch of a button.

What is your greatest challenge at the moment?

In my specialist field, we are currently hitting a brick wall, in the process of incorporating insights from behavioural sciences within the classic econometric choice models. In empirical terms, the new generation of choice models are effective, but if you then try to convert them into large-scale model applications, or into cost-benefit analyses, you encounter all kinds of problems that the classic models do not have. It is highly frustrating! But it is also a source of inspiration for my postdocs, Sander van Cranenburgh and Thijs Dekker, who are trying to find solutions to these problems.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The fact that I have the opportunity and time to think freely. I see it as an absolute privilege that I can regularly sit down at my desk and think in complete freedom about a subject that I find interesting and have chosen myself.

Why Delft?

Delft is all about quality, rigour, diligence – and that appeals to me a lot. Compared with other Dutch universities, Delft is also very careful in the way it deals with its students. More than other places in Dutch academia, Delft takes teaching and students seriously. The group sizes are relatively small and the supervision of graduating students, for example, is quite intensive (perhaps even a little too intensive). As a consequence, one gets to apply high standards when dealing with students and that is something that we certainly do. I find it a great combination, also in terms of the return on the investment of taxpayers' money. At TU Delft, TPM is my ideal faculty: there are relatively large numbers of original, open-minded colleagues and, on average, their background is slightly more varied than the 'standard' Delft profile. I like that.

What is your best character trait?

At times I can be quite creative. At other times not so much, but that is not a problem; a handful of really good ideas is enough for a successful academic career. Basically, one really good idea sets you up for another few years of progress.

What is your worst character trait?

I can be a control freak. That can be tiring for me and very annoying for the people I work with! As a research group leader, and as a supervisor of young researchers, this desire for control is not always productive. Recently I have been trying not to manage and direct things quite as much, and the response has been good.

What subject do you think should be high on the political agenda?

As head of the TLO group, my immediate thought is road-pricing policy: the benefits to society – reduction in traffic congestion, less environmental pollution – are significant and the principle is as fair and elegant as anything. Unfortunately, this has not proved feasible here in the Netherlands. Why that is the case, is another interesting research subject for my colleagues in TLO, of course.

Your source of inspiration?

As far as my work is concerned, I take inspiration from researchers who develop something fundamentally new and then stand their ground, even if colleagues overwhelm them with mockery and criticism. I am not sure if I would have the courage to persevere in such circumstances. An excellent example is Dan Shechtman, the inventor of quasi-crystals (incidentally, I have no idea what they are). Initially, people laughed at him – the consensus was that his discovery simply cannot be true. He was then ejected from his department (!) because his presence was seen to be undermining his colleagues' reputations. Thirty years later, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. That must have been a great moment for Dan and must have come as a great shock for his former colleagues...

Your life philosophy?

“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America” (inaugural address by my idol Bill Clinton – 1993); but then applied to oneself. In other words: the solutions for problems that you yourself cause are also to be found in yourself – I really love American positive thinking!

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