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Study Abroad: Gijs van der Veen

 

Find out what Gijs van der Veen did during his summer holiday in Glasgow!

While you were chilling at ‘Het Stadstrand’ during the heatwave and thermometers in The Netherlands broke temperature record after record, I was putting in work for my project in Glasgow. It was an exceptionally warm summer in the north of Scotland: cloudy weather and occasional rain showers along with temperatures averaging around 20 degrees Celsius. You don’t hear me complaining though, I enjoyed every bit of my summer in the UK. Let me tell you why.

 My girlfriend, for the sake of anonymity we will call her Cersei, is doing a MSc in Cancer Sciences in Glasgow. Their university system is quite different as the academic year spans 3 semesters which start in September and ends in August. So when she got accepted for her Master programme, I knew that I would like to join her in the summer for a longer period of time. And instead of picking my nose everyday – for 7 weeks – while I wait for her to get back from the laboratory, I wanted to engage in an interesting job/project for myself. So where do you start, when you are looking for something to do in a random city in Europe?

Yes! You go to Prof. Francesco Picchioni, he has a best friend in every city of the world. To my surprise, Glasgow was an exception to this rule. Nevertheless, Francesco pointed me to Ernst Wit, professor in Statistics & Probability, who had worked in Glasgow from 2000 to 2005 and who now works from an office on the 5th floor of the Bernoulliborg. Ernst directed me to Benn MacDonald, an old colleague of him in Glasgow. Before I knew it, I engaged in an e-mail conversation that almost got me a project in statistics. This stopped abruptly when Benn asked me about my experience with statistics. Logically, 1 first-year, open-book course of Statistics for IEM would not suffice for me to be of any use to his research group in Glasgow.
 
Benn then connected me to Stephan von Delft, a German professor in Strategy and Innovation, who would ultimately become my personal supervisor. This did not happen before a 54-messages long e-mail conversation and a meeting in person in his office in the main building of the university, equivalent to our Academiegebouw. After the long process of getting the position, we had to solve a problem that we identified with the very first e-mail: the university did not want to pay me for this project and I did not want to pay for doing it. After a bureaucratic process that took 4 months, I got a (free) Affiliate Researcher position and I was entitled to get my own desk in the main building! Winning!

Did-you-know: the train from Groningen to Schiphol takes 130 minutes, the flight from Schiphol to Glasgow is 70 minutes.

Likewise, through this process my project took shape as well. I repeatedly stated that I would like to do a project that is different from what I am used to in IEM. This meant releasing the focus from the 70/30 balance between technical courses and business courses and completely focus on business. I think I have been very lucky to be linked to Stephan as he is a professor for Strategy with a focus on chemical businesses. For example, he has worked with Deloitte to provide consultancy services for huge chemical sites of BASF in Germany. This suited well with my PPT background and we decided to formulate the following research question: Business Model Innovation for Chemical Park Operators: What can CPO’s learn from digitally-enabled platform businesses? *Note: chemical park operators are companies that orchestrate utilities on a ChemPark and they provide infrastructure to connect streams between chemical plants. Stephan mentioned that his PhD supervisor is the editor in chief of the ‘Journal of Business Chemistry’ and he offered me the options work on a stand-alone publication while I am on the project. Quite an irregular summer indeed...

 
While I was finishing the last courses of my Bachelor (including Quantum Chemistry, do not take this course, it’s not healthy) and started my Bachelor Integration Project, Stephan started bombarding me with papers and articles to read. These documents contained highly conceptional definitions of business models and abstract figures that depict flow charts for firms to follow in business model innovation. I certainly was triggered to read more about the business side of the firms I might work in later. Moreover, I found that business models, strategy, corporate tactics and innovation management all have different definitions but they remained to seem quite blurry for me. The challenge thus soon arose to put a scope on my project and focus on one, widely-accepted definition of a business model. We are talking about a four-box matrix containing four categories that are interdependent of how a firm creates and captures value – yes, it is a very conceptual way of thinking.

I flew back two days early from the EBT trip to Porto to attend my first official meeting with my supervisor only to find that EasyJet cancelled the flight 40 minutes before departure. Luckily, Stephan did not hesitate to reschedule our appointment and Wednesday the 11th of July marked my first official day on the job. The first 4 weeks were focussed on the desk research I was promised: spending nine-to-five’s (and ten-to-four’s) in my office investigating papers from Harvard Business Review and MIT on business model innovation. After the data collection, I started a process that reminded me of my time in the TaSC Committee, cold-calling companies to get into contact with the right person to get something you need. Luckily, this time I was not asking for their money, so I got into contact with some interesting employees of chemical park operators rather easily. Their opinions about business model innovation and the digitalisation of their companies enlightened me and helped me to visualise some of the conceptual things I read about during my literature study. The phonecalls and Skype conversations I had with several employees of Dutch and German chemical park operators define the experience I had in Glasgow. Not only did they help me to materialise the concepts I wanted to write about in my article. More importantly, they confirmed for me how satisfying successful research is. I get an amazing energy boost from taking initiative and seeing how it pays off, so I feel like finding this summer project and acquiring the contacts within companies are already half of the fun. Lastly, contacting new people often leads to new opportunities: I’m invited to come to Chemelot in Geleen to join an employee during his daily routine.  With the literature review and the field research, my report started to take shape. The last task was to create Powerpoint slides. These should depict the business model in the form of ‘virtuous cycles’. It was essential to create figures like this to make the paper more attractive for publication. Stephan stated an anecdote: he had written a paper of 140 pages for corporate improvement. He was kindly asked to compress his findings into 5 powerpoint slides, in order to ‘efficiently’ reach the board of the firm. Below you see the cycle I made to support a part of my report.

On the last day, I had a final Skypecall with Stephan. He suggested a couple of additional things to do - I was caught by surprise and typed another 1400 words between 2&6 PM that day. In the end, my report consisted of 7000 words which was a little over the limit for a publication. Stephan informed me that he would retrieve the most interesting parts and merge it with some of his findings. This might lead to a publication somewhere in October or November. Fingers crossed!

Cersei and I are back in Groningen for our Masters now, time to pimp the CV’s a bit more and to enjoy the more ‘serious?’ side of student life. Catch me at the Lugus Lounge if you’re interested to hear more about Glasgow, or just to share a bavje.
See ya’all later mates!


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