It takes a village

8 minute read


As a Master student, I once asked Siegfried if I should use ‘‘I’’ or ‘‘we’’ in my thesis. After all, the words were written by me, but we did the research together. He explained that, even if you are the sole author of a text, you should always write ‘‘we’’, because no piece of research ever is the product of just one person. I believed him then, but the experience of being a PhD candidate drove the lesson home, never to be forgotten. In this blog post, however, I am truly ‘‘I’’, and use it to thank those that make us ‘‘we’’.

My advisors

First, I thank my advisor, Dr. Siegfried Nijssen. His relentless hard work to help me finish our first paper (and the later ones) was motivating and made me feel like we were a team. His patient mentorship made me comfortable admitting my mistakes, so he could help me fix them. He taught me how to answer scientific questions, and helped me overcome adversity and failure. I treasure his scientific, career-related and personal guidance and support. Someone once asked me to describe Siegfried. After 30 or so seconds, they said: ‘‘Whoa, you must really like your advisor, because you are literally lost for words to describe him!” That’s accurate.

I also thank my promotor, Prof. Dr. Holger H. Hoos, who adopted me into his research group when I was already many months into my doctorate research, and helped me arrange a research visit to the University of Toronto. Without him, my attitude towards algorithm development and my opinion on how it should be done, would not have been the same. He created opportunities for me and taught me how to recognise them as such, for which I am very grateful. In addition, he taught me the one-liner that informs how I look at any scientific research, be it my own or someone else’s: be a benevolent critic.

I thank my other promotor, Prof. Dr. Joost N. Kok, with whom I started the PhD journey. He has been an optimistic and trusting mentor to me, which was very comforting. When it mattered, he was always quick to respond and asked those questions that I had not yet thought of.

I also thank my advisor Prof. Dr. Fahiem Bacchus for welcoming me at the University of Toronto and opening my eyes to new avenues of science and to new approaches to problem-solving.

My committee

Next, I thank the members of my doctorate committee, Prof. Dr. C.M. Jonker, Prof. Dr. K. Kersting, Prof. Dr. H.C.M. Kleijn, Prof. Dr. P. Lucas, Prof. Dr. A. Plaat, and Prof. Dr. P. Stuckey for reading my dissertation, deliberating its scientific value, and giving me valuable feedback to improve its contents.

I thank Dr. M. van Leeuwen and Prof. Dr. M. Bonsangue for being my opponents during my defence.

My funders

My work was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), and I thank NWO for funding my research. I thank Google for awarding me a Women Techmaker’s scholarship, and I thank the University of Toronto for funding my research visit to their Department of Computer Science. I thank the Netherlands Research School for Information and Knowledge Systems (SIKS) for their financial support of workshops and the printing of my dissertation. Finally, I thank the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS) for funding my return to Leiden for my dissertation defence.

My co-authors

I am grateful to my co-author Dr. Behrouz Babaki, who was the first person who made me feel comfortable talking about my own research, by being genuinely curious in a completely honest and non-intimidating manner. He is a good coder and a great friend.

I thank my other co-authors, Dr. Anton Dries, Prof. Dr. Angelika Kimmig, Prof. Dr. Guy Van den Broeck, Daniël Fokkinga, Marie Anastacio and Jeroen Rook for all their hard work, their critical questions, their smart insights, our fruitful discussions, and all the jokes that made the pill of late-night writing easier to swallow.

My colleagues

I had the great fortune to work at three different universities in three different countries during my time as a doctoral student. In addition, I was lucky to retain a strong connection with KU Leuven, I am very grateful to the many, many coworkers who welcomed me there, joined me for lunch or games, and cheered up my coffee breaks.

At Université catholique de Louvain

I thank my co-workers at the Institute of Information and Communication Technologies, Electronics and Applied Mathematics (ICTEAM) from Universit'e catholique de Louvain for our discussions in the ``cafet’’ and on Slack, and for the very best social activities that academia has to offer: Gaël Aglin, François Aubry, Roberto d’Ambrosio, Vincent Branders, Simon Busard, Antoine Cailliau, Quentin Cappard, Guillaume Derval, Yves Deville, Fabien Duchêne, Benoît Duhoux, Pierre Dupont, Xavier Gillard, Olivier Goletti, Seyed Hossein Haeri, Mathieu Jadin, Nicolas Laurent, Alex Mattenet, Guillaume Maudoux, Kim Mens, Etienne Riviere, Peter van Roy, Pierre Schaus, Michael Saint-Guillain, Charles Thomas, Sascha Van Cauwelaert, Hélène Verhaeghe,

At Leiden University

I thank my co-workers from Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS) at Leiden University for the games of Codenames that we played in the FooBar, for the afternoon walks, and for all the moral and practical support: Laurens Arp, Mitra Baratchi, Alice Bisschop, Koen van der Blom, Hanjo Boekhout, Abdeljalil el Boujadayni, Yi Chu, Daniela Gawehns, Marcello Gómez Maureira, Pieter Leyman, Hugo Manuel Proenca, Irene Martorelli, Rens Meerhoff, Thomas Moerland, Gilles Ottervanger, António Pereira Barata, Bram Renting, Jan van Rijn, Lise Stork, Frank Takes, Jaco Tetteroo, Suzan Verberne, Lieuwe Vinkhuijzen, Can Wang, Hao Wang, Felix Wittleben, Furong Ye.

At the University of Toronto

I am grateful to my co-workers from the Department of Computer Science of the University of Toronto for our lunches, the games of Hanabi we played over Zoom, and the updates on the well-being of office plants: Toryn Klassen, Andrew Li, Sheila McIlraith, Margarita Paz Castro, Maayan Shvo, Rodrigo Toro Icarte.

At KU Leuven

I thank my former co-workers (and plus-ones) from KU Leuven, for keeping in touch with me and inviting me to lectures, defences and drinks. In particular, I thank Jessa Bekker & Ruben for opening their home to me so many times. I am also grateful to Hendrick Blockeel, Sebastijan Dumančić, Samuel Kolb, Luc De Raedt, and Nikolina Šoštari, for including me in both social and scientific activities.

Support staff

I am grateful to the system administrators who built and maintained the servers on which I ran my experiments, and to the administrative staff who helped me navigate bureaucracy. I thank the cleaners, concierges, receptionists, security personnel, mess hall employees and others who made my workspaces comfortable and safe. I thank the following people in particular: Alexandra Blank, Anthony Gégo, Vianney Govers, Alexa Kodde, Vanessa Maons, Jayshri Murli, Marloes van der Nat, Ludovic Taffin, Liselotte van der Woerd.

Mentors and honoured enablers

I am also grateful to the mentors that I found inside and outside academia, who made me stronger, wiser and kinder. In particular, I thank Irma Ravkic, whose encouragement, support and feedback helped me to open many doors. I thank fellow Google scholars Ibtihal Ferwana, Alison O’Shea, Hila Peleg, and Christina Zaga, for being such inspiring and supportive forces in my life. I thank my paranimphs Jessa and Behrouz for standing by my side, now and always.

Friends and family

Finally, I thank my friends and family. I do not mention them by name, because of privacy, but this dissertation would not have existed without their patience and support. They cheered me on and cheered me up. They knew me before I did. They were not scared away by my flaws, but reminded me of my talents. Not all of them are with us any more, but all of them are with me. I am grateful to have them in my life.

Note: part of this text was published in my dissertation. Since I had a strict word limit of max 800 words there, I wrote this extended version, such that I could mention more people by name. There are so many people I am grateful to, that I likely have forgotten at least one. My apologies! Please get in touch if you believe that someone is missing!