You got visibly emotional when you were presented with the award. Does it mean this much to you?
‘Oh, absolutely! I work really hard for this group. The fact that this is being acknowledged with this award means so much, you know? The past few years haven’t been easy; I got my tenure last year and became an associate professor. I’m doing well, but it takes work. Sometimes I don’t have as much time to spend on people as I’d like. I don’t have time to read manuscripts as quickly, or I can’t immediately talk to people. Knowing that, in spite of all that, my efforts are being appreciated, is just amazing.’
So how do you manage to be such a good supervisor even though you’re busy all the time?
‘I don’t know. It’s about more than just rules and forms, I guess. But last year, I introduced entry and exit forms. I ask every new PhD candidate or post-doc that joins my group two questions: what do you expect from me and what do you expect from your project? Their answers to these questions have to be at least three hundred words. It really makes them think about it. It also allows me to see who I have to talk to because they have unrealistic expectations.
But I also want to let them know that we can talk about the way I supervise them. I don’t want to hide from them, and I also have no trouble telling them whenever I don’t know something. Having a good relationship with your PhDs is very important.’
What is the most important characteristic a good supervisor should have?
‘I’m not sure I can pick just one. A supervisor is more than just someone you feel comfortable with. Sure, you have to get along with your students, but if you don’t have any proper knowledge or good research ideas, you won’t get there.’
Vincent le Corre is one of Jan Anton Koster’s PhDs
‘Jan Anton is the guy who loses sleep over your problems, both personal and at work. I appreciate that very much.
When I first came and didn’t know anybody, life outside the group was sometimes tough, but life in the group was always good, always smooth.
A four year PhD period is a long time and there’s no way to do a good PhD without a good supervisor. There’s always stuff that’s going to bring you down – experiments going wrong or a paper getting rejected.
A good supervisor guides you in that and puts things back into perspective. Jan Anton always listens to you – you can always come in to talk and even when he’s tied up, he’ll drop by minutes later. He’s not telling you what to do, but guiding you and that way you learn so much more.’