Today was probably the most rewarding day I’ve had in my entire time in academia. Okay, perhaps minus the day I defended my PhD. That was pretty rewarding and memorable too. But certainly this was a close second.

The day of my PhD defense. Two years and eleven days ago today. A game of penguins and wizards. A bit ridiculous. But fun!

As I wrote before, my office space is slowly turning into a entomology lab. It is home to several aphid rearings. Furthermore, the windowsill is used to grow various backup plants to sustain the aphid colonies. All of course sustained with ample supplementary light. If the university connects the electricity bill and my Dutch origin, I’m sure they will come knocking to make sure everything is alright. (Trust me, it is alright.)

As my space is also a bit of a lab now, I share it some days with the PhD researchers in my team, as they often prepare experimental work on my meeting table (which surprisingly has hardly been used otherwise in two years). It’s therefore quite common to bump into people in my office. Or for them to ask whether they can actually disturb, or that I’m teaching or so.

This morning, I got a message, asking if I was there this afternoon. Or if I was busy teaching. I said I would be teaching, but was considering doing that from home. When they asked me whether I was there during lunch or not, I got confused. Did they need me, or did they need the office? So I asked. They needed to see me. Well. Ok. I told them I could stay for a bit, and continued with my day. Some admin stuff to do, and some teaching to prepare. I had quickly forgotten about the conversation.

Just before lunch, I went to pick up some paperwork I had printed. I don’t know where they came from, but suddenly they were all there. My sweet team. All there except one. (She turned up two minutes later.) Oh no! An intervention? What did I do wrong? And why were they all smiling? It’s weird to smile at interventions, no? It soon became clear that they all came together to see me, and give me a Christmas present they had prepared for me. I didn’t know what to say… I had also planned something for them, but they beat me to it. I was quite moved by all of it. Not necessarily only by the gesture of a Christmas present, but also by the fact that they organized this for me together. We’re a young team, and three out of six have joined in the last year. There was no team before, but now there is. You never know if it will work, right? It already felt like a good team with good team spirit to me, but them organizing a present together, and coming together to hand it over… Well… I don’t know. It just symbolized the team spirit for me. This was even more obvious from a picture they had taken together and printed for in my office. I loved that. (I feel terrible for not having a group picture together yet, but we agreed we would soon work on that.) Obviously, the whole event made me feel deeply appreciated. And, well, I also just bloody love chocolate, let me be honest… There was more than that, but that I only figured out a bit later.

This bag will get my family through Christmas!
The team! I took a picture of the picture pinned to my office pin board! The team picture with me included is on the to-do list :).

When I came home, I was smiling from ear to ear, and I told my wife Heike about the intervention and how nice it was. As she also loves chocolate, I wanted to show her what gifts I got (don’t worry, I will share, maybe). Only then I noticed the cards, that were covered in the kindest personal messages from each team member. These were very specific messages, detailing what they appreciated about me. It left me quite speechless and with tears in my eyes. It filled me with gratitude.

The thing is, I’m new at this leadership/supervisor game, too, and often I feel completely in the dark about what’s best. In all honesty, I am mostly going by my gut feeling, and by trying to approach everyone with kindness and compassion. I treat my team how I would like to be treated. I haven’t read books about this, and I sure as hell never followed a course. I just go by trial and error, and aim for minimal error… I’m very happy to see and hear that it works, not just for me, but also for them. I’m proud and blessed to have these amazing people around me. I look forward to the next year, all making the best of our time together in the department.

I know that some of my team members sometimes read my blog. I hope you don’t mind me sharing. It means a lot to me, and I appreciate you all! The world can know this, right?

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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