Neelke Doorn


Professor of Ethics of Water Engineering in the Ethics and Philosophy of Technology section. 

Tell us about your personal life

I am married and live in Nijmegen. I grew up not far from Delft – in Wateringen to be exact – and I lived in Delft from my university years until I was 33. So I really know the area well. I moved to Nijmegen 11 years ago, and enjoy living there. It's primarily the countryside around Nijmegen that I love: the river landscape, the hills and the forests.
Nowadays, commuting takes up quite a bit of my time, so playing the double bass, something that I used to enjoy, has been put on hold. But what is great about music is that you can also enjoy it when it is made by others, so I like going to concerts. 

What is your favourite pastime?

Running. I am not a fanatic runner, but if I do not regularly go for a run, I become restless and less 'fun' to be around. Nijmegen is a beautiful place for a run.

What has been the highlight of your career?

Recently being appointed as professor is fantastic, but that is of course primarily a reward for what I achieved previously. If I had to say what I am proud of, I would like to mention two things.

I studied civil engineering in the 1990s, and got a job at Deltares after I graduated. Back then, I studied philosophy in the evenings and at weekends. Some colleagues thought it was odd when I made the move from Deltares to the Philosophy section. They did not understand how I would be able to integrate the two fields, but after some explanation, they actually thought it was very interesting and also appreciated the relevance. Following my doctoral programme, I also started studying law – mainly to gain a better understanding of the legal context within which policymakers operate. In my current position, these three backgrounds come together, and it is clear that such a broad background is highly appreciated, particularly in the field. I am proud of this relevance, and also of its recognition.

Something else that I am proud of is that I am able to work together with colleagues from other departments to give shape to the multidisciplinary character of our faculty. For me, the recently-launched ‘crowd-based innovations’ project, which I secured together with Eefje Cuppen and Bram Klievink, is a true example of successful multidisciplinary collaboration. While drafting the research proposal, our three research interests came together in such unison that a proposal was produced that both had solid scientific foundations and the utmost social topicality. The reviewers also praised it highly. It really is great to write a joint proposal and to see how it vastly improves through uniting various disciplines.

What is your greatest challenge at the moment?

I think that many social themes require a multidisciplinary approach; something that is also reflected in the Dutch National Research Agenda. I think that there are lessons to be learned when it comes to methodology, and if you ask me, TPM could play a pioneering role in this regard.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Working with PhD candidates and students who are eager to learn, and with colleagues. What I like about an academic environment is that it gives scope to challenge each other and to approach problems from new perspectives.

Why Delft?

When I started studying civil engineering in 1991, Delft was a given, as at the time, it was the only university offering a civil engineering degree. In something of a roundabout fashion, I returned to Delft in 2007, joining the Ethics and Philosophy of Technology section. People sometimes ask if I am more of an engineer or a philosopher. While the latter discipline has perhaps made me more of a thinker, I have always retained the ‘let’s do it’ mentality of an engineer. That’s why Delft and I are such a good match. TU Delft also has an outstanding reputation in my field, which makes it a great place to work.

What is your best character trait?

Hmm, good character traits can naturally often also end up standing in your way. During the very first performance appraisal of my career, my manager said that he appreciated the fact that I did not have a hidden agenda. I think that that still applies today.

What is your worst character trait?

I always enjoy reading the ‘Professor Profile’ column when new professors introduce themselves. I think that ‘impatience’ and ‘need for control’ are two answers that are often given to this question. In that sense, I fit the mould exceedingly well.

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

I think that our political system is structured as such that nearly every subject that does not enable you to achieve success within four years receives less attention than it deserves.

Your source of inspiration?

There are several. A range of people can inspire me, both in my work and private life. There has recently been quite a discussion about the competitive character of the academic world. I think that it is extremely inspiring when researchers have the courage not to see other researchers primarily as competitors, but chiefly also as colleagues; even if they have to fish for subsidies in the same pond.

Your life philosophy?

I do not have a distinct life philosophy, but a volleyball coach once said: "You need to have more self-confidence in each other". While it was probably unintended garble, I have always seen it as a fine observation on teamwork, and even more so for multidisciplinary teamwork.

/* */