Learning From Chemistry: A Day in My Life


Maria Mennen, Head of Communication Services at the University of Amsterdam, describes a typical day at work. The Department of Communication Services is a new venture and employs about 40 staff, who provide the university with support in all areas of communication.

A typical workday starts early for my family. Today my husband is off to a congress for a few days. Before he leaves he is taking our daughter of three and a half to grandma and granddad: Normally it would be his day to look after her. I am also at home one day a week, and our daughter goes to the crèche on the other three days. As a professor my husband has a job as busy as mine and that we can cope is in part due to our fantastic parents.

Once I have got my husband and daughter on the road, I quickly eat a sandwich before jumping on my bike. After a pleasant ride through the Vondelpark and over the Amsterdam canals I arrive at my office in the city centre.

Prior to my first appointment, I have a few moments to prepare for a meeting that I have to chair shortly. A few aspects of the university Web site need to be substantially changed. The manager of our Web team has issued a proposal following two brainstorming sessions. We will have to steer this through a meeting with the faculties shortly.

Then I discuss the next stage in our move towards independence with the director of the Service & Information Centre. We have yet to fully agree about the forthcoming division of responsibilities. It is a tough but useful discussion.

Before I know it our discussion has overrun by 30 minutes. I rush to the meeting about the university Web site. We discuss each of the proposed changes in turn. There is a good atmosphere in the meeting and the discussions are constructive. By the end of the meeting we have got the green light. Our manager and I exchange glances: a job well done.

I quickly pop out to get a sandwich. It is blowing a gale outside and the 15 minutes in which I face the elements are just enough to clear my head. Whilst eating I check my e-mail. Two of my staff come in with the idea that we should send a thank you to all of the contact people from faculties who regularly contribute to our communication activities. I warmly applaud this suggestion. We briefly discuss the approach: They will come up with a more detailed proposal.

I have a few minutes to spare before my next meeting and I pop in to see a member of staff who has written a short piece for our department's internal information bulletin. The piece is about how the University of Amsterdam can better present itself in the publications, including commercial publications, of third parties. I have decided not to include the piece in the bulletin because the line taken is not communicative enough. I explain my point of view and we agree to come up with a new draft for a future bulletin.

On my way to the next meeting I see the manager of our marketing team. Together with a colleague she developed a really good campaign, within a short space of time, to promote a couple of interdisciplinary courses at the University of Amsterdam. I compliment her on a job well done.

Next I attend a meeting about the communication issues around our master's courses. Just like many other universities in the Netherlands, the University of Amsterdam is changing all of its courses to the bachelor's/master's system. This means that, in addition to providing information about the bachelor's courses, we also need to recruit students for the master's courses. This is virgin territory for us and fortunately we are not the only ones for whom it is a new challenge.

I discuss an idea for the financial reporting of the first trimester of this year with our head of administration. We also take the opportunity to exchange ideas about a number of matters that still need to be arranged with respect to making Communication Services an independent unit.M

In the meantime representatives of the agency that places all of our advertisements are waiting in my office to discuss a new contract. The manager of my marketing team and I only wish to continue employing their services under certain conditions. Our careful preparations for the meeting pay off, as it goes without a hitch.

Just as I am about to leave one of the managers brings up a personnel issue. Meanwhile the secretary comes in with a pile of post and informs me of a few changes to my diary. Then I rush home to meet my daughter, who granddad has already brought home.

Whilst my daughter produces a water ballet on the draining board under the pretence of washing up, I cook a meal for both of us. We eat and I put her to bed, where I read her a few stories before kissing her goodnight. The news has just started; a brief break in this otherwise hectic day. Once the news has finished I make myself a pot of tea and work at my computer until 23.30. After a few household chores I turn in for the night.

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