Bart Kaas, MSc
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Since the redeeming words I was offered a position at the TNO traineeship, I may call myself a 'junior scientist innovator'. 35 days into the TNO traineeship, the 'junior' part fits best, 'scientist' is somewhere in the right direction with my background in biomedical sciences, but the 'innovator' in me still has to get used to its new environment.
Luckily, the trainee program enables us to take the time for our development and growth. Our personal development is largely based on performance targets, formulated by the trainee at the start of a new department. For me, this is RAPID, a department that performs Risk-Analyses for Products In Development within three sectors: chemistry; pharmaceuticals; and food.
During the preparations for my performance target meeting last week, I already started reflecting on the turbulent 1,5 months that lay behind me. In line with the expertise of my new colleagues, I made a list of all the 'risks' that challenged me. From junior to junior, and open access as befits a scientist, I will share with you this Risk Analysis of a Person in Development. Hopefully, it will guide some future trainees to be TNO-ready at their first day of work. Good luck!
1) Before you can even set foot within TNO, you have to pass an extensive AIVD screening. TNO, like organizations as Defense and the Police, works with classified information of which access is restricted to people with the necessary security clearance. This means that you have to fill in forty pages with a multitude of questions about basically your whole life. Never thought that I would be scared of not remembering precisely in which months I worked at the local bakery of my hometown, or the momentary negative numbers on my bank account a year ago. Luckily, I had no real ‘risks’ to hide, but think twice to apply for TNO when you are penpals with that foreign secret service officer you met while you were abroad visiting secret labs.
2) Ok, so you’ve endured the AIVD screening and you are now an official TNO employee. You want to have a nice chat with your new colleagues, find your way in the new building and do some reading on the topics you’ll be working on. But then you realize that ‘your colleagues’ are an army of 3000 people, scattered over 37 locations in 10 different countries (For skeptics: here is an overview of all TNO locations). Serious risks are: Caffeine overdose after all the coffees with new colleagues; excessive travel time between the different TNO locations; and the feeling of being lost in the maze of EU projects, ‘KIPS’, and ‘ERPS’. Fortunately, a mentor and a buddy stand beside you to make sure you’ll not get paralyzed by all the new impressions.
3) When you have found your way to the project you are now part of, a new risk appears on the horizon. You are about to feel very stupid. You wouldn’t think it is possible, after you came, saw, and conquered the strong selection process for trainees, but suddenly you’re questioning your intelligence and wondering where all the knowledge went that you should have built up the past six years at uni. The fact is that TNO is full of experts. Experts on subjects you will likely never be an expert on. Chin up – In the end, the generalist is just as much a specialist.
4) About a month into the program, you’ll get more and more comfortable in your function. The ambitious junior takes over from the insecure junior – and searches for more challenges. By now, you have talked to most of your direct colleagues and many of them saw their chance to involve this ambitious newcomer in their projects. Before you know it you’re on multiple projects at multiple levels in multiple roles... When you are lucky you can ask a fellow-trainee to go running during lunch break in the wooded surroundings of Zeist. With an empty head and endorphins running through your body, the large lists of tasks will be done in no time.
5) By the end of the week you are often working in TNO’s head office – New Babylon in The Hague - with your fellow trainees. By trial and error you have been able to avoid the risks of a person in development and one last challenge lays ahead of you: the Friday afternoon drinks. The risk of sitting in the sun too long and get burned; the risk of not getting the chance to speak to everyone you like because they’re with way too many; the risk of not catching the last train to Amsterdam; but most of all not thinking of these risks and just enjoy your time with your fellow-trainees...
The conclusion of this Risk Analysis? There is only one way to find out… and that is to apply for the TNO traineeship!