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“It is actually possible, equal academic careers”

“It is actually possible, equal academic careers”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts

‘Husband and wife’ present inaugural lecture together

Dual inaugural lectures have happened before in Maastricht, but this is the first time that a ‘husband and wife’ present theirs in the same ceremony. The honour goes to German researchers Lisa and Alexander Brüggen, each of whom will accept a chair at the School of Business and Economics (SBE) tomorrow. “Some employees, who have worked at SBE for years, don't even know that we are a couple.”

On the edge of Wolder, in the evening sun, Lisa Brüggen (41, Niederrhein) looks out over the long garden. To the right there is a stretch of green with flowers and plants. That is Alex's hobby (42, Cologne), she says. “He has a green thumb,” an expression from German, a language that is fading more and more into the background. They read Het Financieele Dagblad and by now speak fluent Dutch.

Alexander: “When we were AIOs we still had the idea to return to Germany after our PhD research, also because, to a certain degree, we felt like outsiders in Maastricht. Going back is no longer an option now. Our friends live in Maastricht and the children were born here, they recently asked when they would finally get a Dutch passport. We have become completely Dutch. When I have a congress in Germany, it no longer feels like coming home. Strangely enough, we still watch Die Tagesschau for news and not the NOS Journaal.”

Sparks

Both of the Brüggens started studying at SBE in 1997, but during their studies they never spoke to each other, never even deigned to look at each other. It was not until at Lisa's graduation ceremony that sparks started to fly, when Alexander congratulated her with her degree.

“That was on 14 September 2001, on the exact same day as our inaugural speech,” says Lisa. “The advantage of that ‘late’ meeting was that we were able to do our own thing as students without feeling impeded; I studied in California and Alex went to Hong Kong. You sometimes see students in a relationship making concessions and staying nearer to home.”

After they had met, they never lost sight of one another: they became AIOs on the same day, assistant professors on the same day and tomorrow they will become professors on the same day. They married in 2007 and have two daughters, aged eight and ten.

Phrasing

Alexander will deliver his inaugural speech in the auditorium first, after which Lisa will take over. Half an hour each. They won't, as is usual, use up the whole hour; they don't want to do that to the audience. Alexander will become professor of Management Accounting, a research field of which he will give a glimpse in his speech.

“Accounting is always about information. The same applies to Management Accounting, except this information is not meant for the outside world but for one's own management. It is required for decision-making, investments and planning mergers. By the way it is not just about finance, it's also about decisions regarding the environment, safety or social responsibility.”

Lisa, who will become professor of Financial Services, will talk about something completely different, pension planning. “How to get people thinking about their retirement at an earlier stage? For most people retirement is equal to: far away, boring and complicated. That is partly a matter of phrasing. As an experiment, we adapted four sentences in a newsletter, in which we placed more emphasis on ‘safeguarding the future’. After that twice as many people clicked on a link to their pension.”

Meetings

Two different stories, but with an unmistakable overlap: individuals taking decisions. What makes it exciting, says Alexander, is the psychology behind it. “How do people interpret the information provided? How is it presented and what effect does it have? It makes quite a difference whether an accountant puts specific data in a footnote or in a chart.”

It is therefore not so strange that they both participate in the same research group: human decisions and policy design. Lisa is the chairwoman of this group, but they do not work on projects together. Alexander: “You have to be able to give criticism freely on each other's work and that is not so easy if you are in a relationship. We don't sit next to each other in meetings either. Until recently, some employees, who have worked at SBE for years, didn't even know that we are a couple. Rob Bauer [professor of Finance, who has worked at SBE for fourteen years] almost fell off his chair when he heard.”

So they don't advertise the fact that they have a relationship, if only for the fact that it is not always nice for people to work with a couple, says Alexander. So why hold the inaugural speeches together? “Money isn't the main issue, but we do invite more or less the same people.”

Lisa: “It seemed like fun because we have taken the same academic path. We have always supported each other along the way. For example, Alex flew through his tenure track, whereas I came across some bumps on the road.”

Bees

They won’t dwell on it during the ceremony, but they both feel that the equality of their academic careers is very important. Lisa: “Alexander did just as much housework as I did. So it is possible. Colleague Gaby Odekerken was a good example for me. I hope that we in turn can inspire young researchers.”

They both emphasise that although they are holding their inaugural speeches together they also have their own lives. Lisa is a member of the choir in Wolder and Alexander keeps bees. He rents a plot of land of about 1,500 square metres across the road, on which he has four beehives. Why bees? “I love animals but I don't have loads of time to look after them. Bees take two hours a week.”

Elisabeth Brüggen: professor of Financial Services

Title of the inaugural speech: Tomorrow I will really start my retirement planning: how to improve retirement decision-making

Alexander Brüggen: professor of Management Accounting

Title of the inaugural speech: Beyond the crystal ball: management accounting for future-proof decision-making

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