Wil Thissen


Professor of Policy Analysis, head of Policy Analysis section.

TPM is my life...

"I have been attached to TU Delft since 1986 and was involved in the development of Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management from the word go. Our new dean Theo Toonen recently referred to me as 'Mister SEPAM', but I think that's going a bit too far. At the time, I suggested and explored the idea of a new degree programme in Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management, but there was a whole team that actually set to work during the pioneering phase. The programme has been around for sixteen years now and the basic idea is still our guiding principle: to train people to think and analyse in terms of technology and design, without losing sight of what is going on in the 'real world' of policy and management. I never imagined that the programme would become so successful. It even has an international name for being unique. TU Delft should be very proud."

What are some of the highlights of your career?

"Before I started at TU Delft, I was carrying out research for the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management into managing the Oosterschelde storm barrier. This was still being built at the time. We designed a system that was eventually (three or four years later) incorporated into the actual construction. This isn't something that happens every day."
"After studying applied physics and obtaining a PhD at TU Eindhoven, but before my time at the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management, I spent two-and-a-half years working at the University of Virginia. I built up a lot of very special memories during this stay. It was an exciting and inspiring period, both scientifically and social-culturally. My wife and I spent a long time deciding whether or not to stay there. We finally chose to return to the Netherlands. It took us a long time to adjust during the first year, but we never regretted leaving America. We still pay regular visits."

What is the best thing about your work?

"There's so much. The diversity of the subjects in our programme, for example. We explore such a wide range of issues: infrastructure and transport, energy, spatial planning, transitions to sustainability, and so on. This is one of the things I really like about this field. Other programmes tend to concentrate on just one of these subjects. We are constantly switching between different fields. The best way to do this is on the basis of concrete questions from society. For example: we have been commissioned by Essent to look into the long-term changes emerging in society, and how they will affect demand on the energy networks. Which areas are uncertain and how can network operators start responding at this early stage? We are researching this in a technical context, but from an economic and organisational angle."

How do you allocate your time?

"I think I spend about a third of my time supervising PhD students. General faculty duties and being head of a section takes about another third. I'm in charge of a team of about 25 people, so this involves administrative duties and personnel management. Securing subsidies is another time-consuming task. I also do some direct teaching. Supervising graduation candidates and giving tutorials, interacting with young people; I still enjoy this and want to continue doing it. So what's left? Writing articles, speaking at conferences, taking an active part in external networks and international activities in professional organisations? Yes, there are so many things I enjoy in this job. Unfortunately, there's no time left to carry out my own research. It's a pity, but I can't complain."

How about your spare time?

"We enjoy going to concerts or other performances like the National Ballet, which we attended recently. I am always particularly thrilled to spend an evening in the Concertgebouw. I may have grown up in the Beatles era, but I now prefer Beethoven and Mahler concerts. I try to play tennis once a week with a group of friends. But I only really relax when we stay at our cottage in the north of France. I love the peace there, and being outside. It's probably because I grew up on a farm."
"If at all possible, we combine attending conferences with an extra holiday or the chance to experience another part of the world. We usually visit a number of museums wherever we can. My wife is an art historian and she has taught me a lot about art and history. This didn't come naturally to me as a boffin, but it's something I have learned to appreciate."

Good and bad characteristics

"I think I should let other people comment on my good qualities. One of my poorer characteristics is that my optimistic nature leads me to take on more than I can manage in a given period. I am constantly battling with deadlines and I'm envious of colleagues who somehow manage to get everything finished on time. I should probably learn to say 'no', but I get so enthusiastic when someone approaches me with a good idea. I let myself be persuaded to attend yet another conference or anything else that seems too tempting to resist."

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