Starting the New Job

Looking for an appartment and equipping the chosen appartment were not my only activities during my first ten days in Macau. I also began settling in to my job at UNU/IIST. I knew that my job included assisting the director, managing a research group, training young graduated people from developing countries in doing computer science research, and giving post-graduate computer science courses. However, much more was needed to do the different parts of my job right in the setting of UNU/IIST.

UNU/IIST is one of the research and training institutes of the United Nations University. It aims to help developing countries improve their capacities in the area of software technology. UNU/IIST began its activities in July 1992 after the Governor of Macau and the Governments of Portugal and the People’s Republic of China provided it in March 1991 with an endowment fund which serves as the basis of its financing.

The members of the academic staff of UNU/IIST, called research fellows, were divided into two groups, the research group and the development group. Each of these group was led by a senior research fellow. The people from developing countries that were trained at UNU/IIST in doing computer science research or advanced software development, called fellows, were intensively supervised by the research fellows. Each research fellow usually gave guidance to three fellows, among other things by spending each week about eight hours per fellow on doing research or development together.

Each research fellow selected his fellows himself during the computer science courses or software engineering courses that he gave in developing countries. Fellows were usually invited for a period of nine months. This meant that I did not had fellows to train at the very outset. First I had to pick and prepare a course that fit in with the aims of UNU/IIST, to pick related research topics that could be investigated by fellows, and to give the course in one or more developing countries. As the head of the research group, I found it important to strive for some coherence of the research topics concerned with the ones being investigated in the group by then.

On my seventh day in Macau, a new fellow from South Korea, named Ko Kwang Il, arrived. He would be supervised by Dang Van Hung. There is an exception to every rule, for some reason unknown to me Ko Kwang Il would stay for only two months. I conferred with Ko Kwang Il, Dang Van Hung and Xu QiWen about the way in which Ko Kwang Il could best spend his time at UNU/IIST, that is, fitting in with his Ph.D. work and the research work of Dang Van Hung and Xu QiWen. This was probably my first visible act as head of the research group.

Already on my first evening in Macau, Dines Bjørner and I discussed the strategy of UNU/IIST to achieve its goals and the details of my job. In particular, the ways in which I would assist him were initially rather unclear. We determined, for instance, that one of my tasks was to make efforts to raise funds from the European Union in the framework of programmes of cooperation with developing countries. An important reason for this was my relevant experience with raising funds from the European Union. One of the strengths of UNU/IIST at the time was that it was common practice to make optimal use of the existing knowledge and experience among the research fellows. I would find out soon more of this practice.

Another strength of UNU/IIST was that an invited fellow that accepted the invitation and his or her employer at home had to sign an agreement to guarantee that the training would take effect in his or her country. As a consequence of this and other factors, UNU/IIST had already built up an impressive network of associated scientific institutes and businesses in the three and a half year that it was active when I started. This network was geographically limited to roughly East Asia and India. We found that I could use my professional connections in Eastern Europe and Turkey to expand the network to this region.

One of my first days at UNU/IIST, I was officially introduced to everyone in a plenary meeting. I told not only about myself, but also about my wife and children. That went down well. Together with the recent pictures of them that I showed, it endeared me, in particular to the support staff. One of the striking things at UNU/IIST was the dedication of all members of the support staff. In supporting the academic staff, most of them seemed to feel most fulfilled if they could noticeably contribute to achieving the goals of UNU/IIST.

My first impression of the work climate was very good: everyone worked towards a common goal and was willing to help the others, no one used his or her elbows or worked with a hidden agenda, the fellows considered themselves privileged by the given chances, et cetera. This stood out in bold relief against what I experienced regularly in my previous jobs. Fortunately, the impression was lasting and made settling in to my new job easier.

© Kees Middelburg, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kees Middelburg with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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About Kees Middelburg

Retired computer scientist
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