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Night University: Science Zoo with strange birds and fighting bantams

Shrill bird sounds can be heard among the trees, and the screeching of other animals. Something like frightening nocturnal animals or excited monkeys. Getting closer, it proves to be a sound system hidden among the trees in red, green, and blue floodlights between the library and Esplanade Grand Café. It is Night University plus World Animal Day. It will prove to be an inspiring combination.

A bird is known by his note
We head for the official opening, where the master of ceremonies in safari outfit announces the dancers of Dance Nation. He asks us to see whether we can spot animal-like dance moves. We cannot identify any, unless it was skipping ponies or the bird dance. Rector Emile Aarts’ welcome speech is larded with animal expressions. “I won’t be sending you on a wild goose chase.” His time is limited so he is “not going to talk till the cows come home.” 
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Tilburg alderwoman Esmah Lahlah is as proud as a peacock: she used to work at Tilburg Law School. Wearing her hijab, she makes a brave statement in the public sphere. Or, as Bert van Roermund writes in the Brabants Dagblad that morning: judge people by their deeds, not by the way they look.

Large grazers

We briefly drop in on Bas Haring, a very aptly named guest speaker, given the fact that the audience were packed like sardines in a can. He starts with a clip about trophy hunters: men (rather like hyenas) who, for $ 100,000, are only too happy to take down a large grazer for you. Money that is subsequently used to protect the Big Five. Dilemma or paradox?

Bantam fight

What do family businesses (for instance, AH, Heineken, Blokker) have in common with the animal world? In a kind of bantam fight – approaching each other, touching, and embracing, which also reminded us of courtship display –, Mascha Hoogeveen (of the Tilburg Institute for Family Business) and biologist Piet van den Hout interact in the small arena of CUBE 221. Piet presents the perspective of the animal kingdom: animals are focused; they do not suffer from any stress of having to choose. Millions of gnus migrate across the plains in the direction of food and water. Without hesitation; it is a matter of necessity rather than choice anyway. Mascha presents the perspective from the world of humans. Family firms are doing relatively well because they form a close-knit social organization, similar to a pack of wolves, in which individuals protect each other, pass on genes, respect the old boss with his wisdom and experience. Piet adds: wolf packs with an old alpha male are more successful hunters than those with a young leader. Family businesses that tend to bundle off the experienced workers too quickly can learn a thing of two from wolves.

Eager beavers in the Science Slam

In the Science Slam session, five young Tilburg PhD students are competing in eight-minute pitches on their research. The audience chooses the best candidate, the prizes being eternal fame and a small trophy.

Laura Kunst (Dept. of Medical and Clinical Psychology, TSB) is doing research into anxiety disorders and is testing a new method to treat anxiety, taking the wishes of the client as a point of departure.

Chrissy Cook (Dept. of Communication & Cognition, THSD) is studying anti-social online behavior by trolls and the socio-cultural aspects of ‘trolling’. Who are those trolls (normal people), how do people become trolls (have often been victims of harassment themselves), how does troll behavior spread? To that end, she interviews trolls, carries out experiments, and analyses social networks.

Anne de Vries (busy bee at Tilburg Law School, chair of Promovendi Netwerk Nederland, the Dutch organization for PhD students, Univers columnist, and mom of two) investigates ‘toxic laws’. Whole honey bee production colonies are being wiped out by pesticides. Why do citizens need to prove that such pesticides are unsafe and harmful? Let the producer prove that they are safe rather than deciding behind closed doors that these fishy chemicals may be used. Make legal arrangements to enforce this. An action has successfully been instituted in the case of the neonicotinoids. And that should also be done for certain drugs, chemicals, and tobacco.

science slam night u

Rat race

Karlijn Hoyer (Dept. of Social Psychology, TSB) studies greed. There is rapacity, unbridled and to the detriment of others, people wanting more, more, more. It is at the basis of, for instance, the financial crisis. But there is something to be said in favor of greed, too: it stimulates economic growth. Could mindfulness training help to prevent the worst excesses of greed? And what is the difference between greed and ambition? According to Karlijn: not a lot. Ambition also means more, better, higher, highest. You can easily fall prey to another kind of rat race.

Robbert Coenmans (also TLS) is involved in robotization, the labor market, and collective labor agreements, studying the effectiveness of the Dutch legal framework for works councils in relation to robotics.

And the winner was Anne de Vries. A large majority voted for her as being the bee’s knees, probably because her bee case is not only a sympathetic one (as opposed to trolls, anxiety, greed, and robots) but also yields a good deal of socially relevant impact. It must be said that the young researchers each put on dazzling and enthusiastic performances, and in excellent English, too. Well done!

When the cat’s away

In the Black Box, the Impro Company is presenting its improvisation theater show entitled ‘When the cat’s away’. Students are invited to speak their mind on education. Sure enough, they go the whole hog about red cards being handed out in the library for making too much noise, about the teacher who commiserates with the student who was unable to do his assignment because he was too stressed out about Ajax and Morocco, about the love life of the student in her student accommodation and, last but not least: a rousing rap about what’s bothering the student audience most about education in Tilburg: the shortage of bike stands.

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Flat earth

Cultural sociologist Peter Achterberg explains to a full house the ideas of members of the Flat Earth Society, creationists, conspiracy thinkers, and anti-vaxxers. How can their ideas be reconciled with the science that has conclusively debunked their theories? Whereas the people who support these theories greatly distrust scientists and scientific institutes, they themselves use scientific methods and techniques to prove that they are right. Achterberg explains the origin of this science confidence gap and how it can be closed. ‘Make science more democratic’ is his conclusion.

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Mickeil Saakashvili

The interview with Mickeil Saakashvili, former president of Georgia, draws a big crowd, even though it is more of a monologue in front of a great herd of fans, including a few decked out with the red and white national five cross flag. This charismatic Georgian is like a top dog playing a home game. And games bring us to the next activity.

micheil saakasjvili nu 2018

Football memories

The ‘Stadsgesprek’ (‘City Talk’) is about the social activities of the local premier league football club, Willem II. As part of the Football Memories project, loneliness and the early stages of dementia in elderly people are studied by Tilburg University researchers. Volunteers work with elderly football fans to reminisce about teams, matches, or the club’s history. It will help bring people living with dementia closer to their communities through football. Similar projects in Great Britain have been quite successful. Memory deteriorates in many elderly people: in the Netherlands, 270,000 people have now been diagnosed; in 25 years’ time, there will be more than half a million. Certain old and emotional memories, however, appear to linger. Talking about football memories with supporters living with dementia will not stop Alzheimer’s, but may delay memory loss.

voetbal memories nu 2018

Linda Jütten and Margriet Sitskoorn (Dept. of Cognitive Neuropsychology) are involved in Football Memories as part of the university’s impact program. Other partners include municipal institutions like De Wever, Thebe, ETZ, and De Twern as well as the supporters club and ‘Oude Glorie’, a group of former players. They are involved in selecting and supervising participants in the project. A pilot project will start in the Willem II stadium in the Fall of 2018 with six 90-minute sessions with 20 participants in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Photos, memorabilia, books, and videos will be used to stimulate memories.

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Finally, we visit the karaoke night, hosted by presenter Leo ‘The Lion’ Alkemade. Chinese, Eastern European, Spanish-singing, and also Dutch students are warbling their heads off. One single nightingale is spotted, but more often than not, the singing is not the cat’s meow: too loud and slightly or firmly out of tune. Sometimes heartbreaking but always amusing. And everything to the tune of traditional karaoke material like You Can’t Hurry Love, My Heart will Go on, Het is een nacht, My Way, and You’ll Never Walk Alone. The yowling seems to have continued into the small hours. This was Night University 2018, straight from the horse’s mouth.

Clemens van Diek & Annemeike Tan

Photo Policy Night University