Lecturer in the Spotlight: Joëlle Kessels
‘Nowadays, you cannot picture the university without academic skills education’
Joëlle Kessels is Academic Skills Coordinator for the Bachelor’s programme in Physics and Astronomy. She also coordinates the Orientation course, which offers second- and third-year students the opportunity to explore different lines of research and the professional field.
Back when the Faculty of Science still consisted of three separate faculties, Science Park 904 was only a distant dream and Joëlle Kessels studied biology ‘here at Anna’s Hoeve’ (after the farm that is now Restaurant Polder), very little attention was paid to things like academic skills. ‘I remember that, when I wrote my thesis, I actually didn’t have a clue how to do it. And there were hardly any books available on the subject.’
Working in education
A few years later, after a few detours, she returned to the Faculty of Science, where a Basic Academic Skills module had just been set up for the Life Sciences Bachelor’s programmes (Biology, Biomedical Sciences and Psychobiology).
‘I already considered doing something in the field of education during my studies, but I didn’t yet know what exactly. As a student, for instance, I worked for the Municipality of Amsterdam as part of a project for primary school pupils. After I graduated I also worked for NEMO as part of the Science on Wheels project, where we visited primary schools on a delivery bike to teach science. And eventually I ended up here.’
After spending a year teaching Academic Skills for life sciences’ students, she became coordinator of the course. When the Faculty of Science implemented a renewed tutoring programme for all Bachelor’s programmes in 2011, she switched to Physics and Astronomy. Was that a difficult switch? ‘Not really. Of course, I was curious how it would go, as I do not have in-depth knowledge of the subject, but I think physicists are generally very nice people and I do understand how their brain operates.’
Her fellow Academic Skills coordinators in other degree programmes are also a great help. Despite the fact that the degree programmes differ in the way in which the Academic Skills modules are set up, they are ‘similar enough to be of help to each other,’ Kessels continues. ‘We are on the same wavelength and that’s very nice. Because despite the fact that I get along really well with the Physics and Astronomy lecturers, I am still a little bit the odd one out, because I don’t belong to a research institute. So it is nice to be able to share the issues I run into with other coordinators, that we can use assignments from each other, give each other feedback and those kinds of things.’
Students, however, do not always see the point of Academic Skills education and she does find that difficult sometimes. ‘I do get it – they’ve come to learn about physics and they don’t necessarily want to follow a workshop on how to write a report. In those cases, you need to be the one to who looks further than they do. And it does happen, for instance – and colleagues tell me this as well – that third-year students come up to you and tell you that they are glad they learned those things back then. That they still reach for the handbook they got in their first year when they need to write a report.’
‘One thing I really like about my role is that I’m a kind of spider in the web and in that sense I can bring a lot to the programme.’ As a connecting factor between different degree programmes, Kessels always makes sure that lecturers know what they are doing and what she can help them with. ‘In coordination with the practicum, we teach students for instance to write in LaTeX, so they can use this for their practicum report. And I always want lecturers to know that I pay attention to fraud and plagiarism, so students can’t claim this was not discussed.’
In the beginning, while working for life science, sometimes noticed that course lecturers weren’t sure what to make of her role. ‘Not everyone was convinced of the importance of Academic Skills education, because we deal with other things than just content. But I think that in all those years most people cannot picture the university without us and what we do.’