Developing instruments to make even smaller and faster chips, building flexible electronics, or testing bulletproof material. Hans de Cock and Francesca Chiappini explain why they feel so much at home as TNO trainees.
Hans de Cock works at the Explosions, Ballistics & Protection department, where he tests materials to see whether they are resistant to the impact of bullets. “This is really cool work”, says the 31-year-old trainee enthusiastically. “On some days, I get to fire antitank missiles at targets, to test protective structures. That’s a real kick.”
“Although I’m now allowed to test bulletproof material, it’s not just a case of ‘toys for boys’. These tests help ensure that the friends I made on the officers training course will be safer when they are on missions”
Toys for boys
When he was young, Hans had a dream: he wanted to be a soldier, to go on peace missions, and to help make the world a better place. After three years in the army, his dream was shattered. “I suffered a chronic sports injury which was so severe that I had to drop out. That was when I decided to study Human Movement Sciences. Although I’m now allowed to test bulletproof material and I get to use the shooting range every day, it’s not just a case of ‘toys for boys’. These tests help ensure that the friends I made on the officers training course will be safer when they are sent on missions. That way, I can still do my bit for the army.”
Varied roles during a TNO Traineeship
TNO trainees work in three different departments, one after the other, each for a period of eight months. For the first period, you are placed in a department suited to your background. However, you get to choose where you want to work during the second and third period. You can also switch roles during your traineeship - you can be a scientist, project manager, consultant or business developer. “That way, you can find the place that suits you best and the work you like most”, says Francesca Chiappini (30).
“I want to do something that gets me out into the real world. That’s the beauty of TNO. We do top quality research here, but it is always applied”
Getting out into the real world
Francesca, who is from Italy, came to the Netherlands to study for a Master’s in physics. She liked it here so much that she stayed. “During my PhD, I discovered I had a passion for research, but I also learned that university life is too academic for me”, says Francesca. “I want to do something that gets me out into the real world. That’s the beauty of TNO. We do top quality research here, but it is always applied. You also get to deal with clients, such as companies. That makes the research even more fun, because you immediately see its impact in practice.”
“I’m currently working on flexible electronics. This involves sensors that are flexible, that you can bend and stretch”, Francesca adds. “For instance, these could be wearable sensors that monitor various bodily processes. The more flexible the sensor, the more comfortable it is to wear.” These sensors are used in healthcare, for example. One benefit is that patients don’t have to go to hospital for check-ups quite so often, as the doctor can measure their health status remotely.
Hans, too, is now in his third work period. In his first eight months, he researched the prevention of burn-outs among workers. These days, when he is not testing bulletproof materials he is focused on project management. “When a client submits a question, I check to see whether this is something that TNO can research, what will be needed, and what it will cost.”
The selection procedure for the TNO Traineeship
Around 25 people are invited to the Trainee Selection Day. There, you get involved in group assignments and are interviewed by managers. About nine of the 25 candidates are invited to the Assessment Day. They complete a range of intelligence and personality tests, which are conducted by an external agency. Soon afterwards, four to six candidates are invited to start a two-year traineeship at TNO.
“You can spend 30 percent of your time on developing personal skills, in coaching sessions, and on peer review. I took a leadership course, for example”
Francesca has never had a moment’s regret about her decision to apply. As a researcher, she has the scope to make full use of her talents. But just as importantly, she feels that TNO trainees have plenty of time to develop ‘soft skills’. “You spend 70 percent of the time working in your department. You can spend the remaining 30 percent on developing personal skills, in coaching sessions, and on peer review. For example, I took a leadership course. I also learned how to maintain relationships with customers. As a TNO trainee, you are not only working to improve society, you are also developing yourself!” Hans suggests another good reason for applying as a trainee: “Only nice, highly talented people work here.”