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Shaping a merger as trainee

Blogger: Roelof van Dijk • 30 Jan 2018

ECN is merging with TNO to create one centre for applied energy research in the Netherlands. This merger could not come at a more relevant time some serious research breakthroughs are needed for a chance to achieve the audacious European climate goals.

As part of the traineeship, I was given the freedom to take on assignments outside of my department. In December 2016 I heard through the grapevine that a high-level working group working on the merger considered adding a junior member, and I jumped on the opportunity and called the responsible manager immediately. In the first 7 months of this year our working group (4 senior managers, a senior policy researcher and me) was responsible for formulating a research strategy for the new energy research centre. This consisted of charting the current research, defining a mission statement, future focus areas and markets and preparing organisational decisions for the board of directors. Exciting work!

My background is not in energy research – I am a medical physicist – however, in my first trainee spot I had garnered some experience working on the strategy surrounding offshore energy systems in the North Sea and was intrigued. Apart from the interesting topic I was drawn to this assignment by the completely different type of work I would be doing:  at my department, I was spending long hours behind a screen programming a human vision model, but the working group resembled a familiar strategy consulting environment: meetings, slick powerpoint decks, elaborate strategy documents, high standards and tight deadlines. There was always another meeting to prepare with heavyweights from our own board of directors, ECN, the ministry of economic affairs or other stakeholders in this merger process.

Our main task was to bundle the experience of energy research experts such as principal researchers or managers of every level within TNO and ECN into a coherent and focused research portfolio. We wanted to do more than just combine the ongoing research activities, and faced questions such as “What topics can really benefit from the synergy between the two organisations?”.  Many subjects relating to energy research are actually based on expertise in another field, such as structural integrity or networks, which made it difficult to define the boundaries of the new centre.

The first weeks were daunting, there was some serious experience sitting at the table. However, I was received kindly. I quickly tried to make myself useful by facilitating meetings, identifying relevant sources, and transforming ideas into convincing documents. The atmosphere within the working group was friendly, cooperative and productive – everything but self-evident, considering that each member but me evidently had strong personal interest in the outcome, and these interests were not always aligned. We discussed this very early in the process, and in my opinion every one of my colleagues was focused on the common goal of preparing the formation of an excellent research institute. After some of my ideas were well-received, I chose a more active role and pulled work towards me. Our responsibilities expanded during the process, and in the latter months the work easily claimed half of my weeks. These occasionally long hours where easily offset by the amount of fun I was having, the insight I got into the inner workings of TNO and the people I met.

I have left the traineeship two months ago; looking back I am very grateful for the many interesting things I got to do. Being part of the working group made me realize that I definitely want to do strategic work regularly – two months ago I started as researcher at the group Intelligent Imaging, combined with a small role working at the internal strategy department.

About the author

Name: Roelof van Dijk
Background: Physics
1st department: Maritime & Offshore
2nd department: Perceptual & Cognitive Systems
3rd department: Intelligent Imaging
Current department: Intelligent Imaging, Corporate Strategy

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