Professor in the Energy and Industry section, part of the ESS department.
Tell us about your personal life
I am married to Nico. We have four children and one grandchild. I live near the city of Utrecht, in a rural area bordering on the countryside. I was born in Poland, where I studied mathematics and philosophy. I did my PhD research in Eindhoven, and have been working with TPM since 1995. I still have strong bonds with Poland. My family has a house there, which we enjoy visiting.
Ever since I was a student, I have enjoyed going to ballet performances by the Nederlands Dans Theater. The very non-conformist, progressive productions by choreographers Jiří Kylián, Paul Lightfoot and Sol León particularly appeal to me. On one memorable occasion in Poland, I met Kylián. Choreographer Hans van Maanen, the Mondrian of Dance, also creates wonderful productions. In addition, I really enjoy classical concerts and opera and a good book. If I have any spare time left, I like gardening. I also enjoy hiking in the mountains and meeting people.
What has been the highlight of your career?
Being appointed professor, of course, but there have been many other special moments, such as when I defended my dissertation. Besides the fact that was I the first female doctoral candidate in System and Control Engineering at the Physics department, my children also attended my defence and that was highly unusual. Their being there was an absolute must to me, however. I am both a mother and a scientist and, for me, the two are inextricably linked. Their presence gave me strength.
What is your greatest challenge at the moment?
Paving the way to 100% sustainable energy supply in the future with Smart Energy Systems. That is not just a matter of applying technologies; it demands an integrated approach and considering, for example, the role hydrogen could play. Other key aspects to be taken into account include the affordability of energy for the different groups in society to prevent energy poverty.
Contributing to education is also important to me; not just professionally but also by coaching and inspiring students. I firmly believe in co-operation and co-stimulation, both within TU Delft and with other institutes. In 2018, for example, I will be working as a visiting professor at the Politecnico de Torino, where I plan to link large-scale modelling systems developed by TU Delft and Torino.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Helping educate students and doctoral candidates. I take great satisfaction in seeing people blossom and develop. I also enjoy meeting inspirational people. That is the purpose of a university.
After obtaining my PhD in Eindhoven, I understood that optimising dynamic industrial processes calls for more than technology alone. Organisational processes are also key. At the then Faculty of Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management I had an opportunity to explore and devise both technical and organisational/institutional solutions, to apply them in practice. This is a unique mix and suits me well. I found and still find it inspirational to work with various monodisciplinary faculties from TPM. This connecting role suited me perfectly.
What is your best character trait?
Empathy. That is why I can sense what is important to people and, in turn, to help them grow.
What is your worst character trait?
I have difficulty overcoming non-substantive obstacles, playing the political game, for example. There is also a drawback to my empathy. I sometimes tend to take other people’s problems home with me, and find it hard to distance myself.
What topic do you think should be high on the political agenda?
I believe that, besides CO2 reduction, there should be more focus on the transition to renewable energy. I find it illogical that the two issues have been unlinked. They cannot be on the agenda as separate issues.
In terms of education, I believe that in the 21st century, studying should involve more than transferring knowledge alone, it should also involve creativity and imagination. Students should be able to develop personally and to create a moral compass. After all, they are the leaders of the future. The CoSEM Research Challenge course is a wonderful example of how students can be encouraged to take a wider view. These are essential elements of a curriculum.
Your source of inspiration?
My Polish professor of Ethics, Ija Lazari Pawlowska is a huge inspiration for me. When I was studying philosophy in communist Poland, she taught me to think independently, as a counterbalance to the prevailing religious and Marxist ethics. She taught me about the ethical systems of other cultures. She also invited students to her home to meet other philosophers, some of whom came from far-flung corners of the world, and played such a huge part in my development.
When it comes to leadership, my husband is a huge inspiration. My adult children, making choices for the future after their studies and my grandson inquisitively exploring the world, also inspire me.
Chance meetings can also be very inspirational. Like the time we were on holiday in Birma and, during an unexpected visit to a remote village, got into an interesting discussion with one of the inhabitants which led me to wonder what makes people happy. This stranger in his tiny house, who was so very thankful that we had come to visit, gave me food for thought.
Your life philosophy?
I have several. In Ich und Du, religious philosopher Martin Buber says: “Begin with yourself, but do not end with yourself”, wise words indeed. Another (based on Ludwig Wittgenstein) is “whatever you do, do it clearly or not at all”. And last, but not least: “Never give up trying to do what you really want to do; where there is inspiration you cannot go wrong.”