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Guilt-free Policy

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Academics are prone to the constant plague of guilt-feeling. Is it true that the Dutch are different? Blogger Nadya Karimasari tries to find out.


It’s common for students in Wageningen to have lunch with their professors, during which some wholehearted confessions were being exchanged. Some stories that I gathered from different professors were about the subtle pressure to stay on top of the game.

The pressure is high in most universities in the world, especially in the best universities, including in the Netherlands (read: Wageningen). Being part of the Wageningen University and Research means having to constantly strive for the best. Such pressures manifests in guilt-feeling that creeps in if one does not work all the time, not producing enough publications, not teaching enough classes, etc. It is such a contrast to the image of professors having flexible working time and managing their own workload.


The guilt is especially pervasive on academics on the tenure-track system. They will have their performance evaluated in four years. Either they would reach the “standard” or they would be out. Some of them internalized the pressure and secretly compare their list of publications with other academics, and then they feel bad about themselves for being lagged behind in the competition.

But do not worry! There is a Dutch quirkiness that contradicts the plague of guilt-feeling. It is called a high-level of “compartmentalization” between life and work.

“Last week I didn’t check my e-mail at all. It feels so good,” said one of the new professor in my chair group. He noticed that a lot of people who work in Dutch (universities or elsewhere) often does not replied to e-mails during the whole summer. “I didn’t know that it is okay, to just shut yourself off like that, not even replying to e-mails. But I figure it’s quite normal in the Netherlands,” he added.

It is a good illustration of a strict life-work compartmentalization, but it means people have to try their best to finish work-related communications before summer.

For overdriven people who feel guilty whenever they’re not “productive” enough, remember, it’s summer. Go soak up the sun, right now – says me who stay in front of the computer all day long.

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on-going tensions between ready-made values and uncharted territory

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