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An academic father figure

An academic father figure

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Simone Golob

Ragna Zeiss inspired by Andrew Webster

He is full of (British) humour and is intellectually extraordinarily inspiring. Andrew Webster, professor of Science and Technology Studies at the University of York, and at the beginning of this century the supervisor of Ragna Zeiss, now lecturer at the Maastricht department of Science, Technology and Society Studies.

“He is a master in finding links, for example between different presentations at a congress. He makes you look at the subject matter with a new outlook. He always has just a slightly different perspective.” As a supervisor – Zeiss wrote her thesis about how the European guidelines for drinking water are translated in England in particular – he was no different. “Andrew’s specialisation is Sociology of Science and he looks at such issues as how we deal with stem cells. How boundaries between existing classifications such as humans and animals and living and non-living are up for discussion because of these kinds of ‘new’ materials. Such innovations do not fit in the existing frameworks, they are a kind of ‘in between’. Even though his field of research was very different, he could still find links with my research. Very creative and a broadening of outlook.”

In her first week in York, Zeiss discovered that Webster was a “people person”. “I had nowhere to live and he immediately invited me to stay with him and his wife. He looks after his people very well and is very social. He knows what is going on in everyone’s life, and is very open about his family too. He values a solid group cohesion and in the summer he organises a barbecue at his home, in the winter there is a Secret Santa with the research group, drawing lots for exchanging gifts around Christmas.” That friendly bond does not get in the way of the professional relationship. “The one does not exclude the other.”

Last summer, private life and work crossed paths in a dramatic manner. “I was at a congress and in the evening I went to dinner with him. I suffered a miscarriage during dinner. A shock, I knew something was wrong, but it was good to have him there.” In the meantime, Zeiss is pregnant again and due on 8 August. “The same day as Andrew’s birthday! Very special. Of course he immediately made a joke about that.”

Webster is someone that would never blow his own trumpet, says Zeiss, on the contrary: “He allows others to shine, easily gives the credit to someone else. You would be sitting in the hall at a congress and suddenly hear your name mentioned.” You would also never knock on his door in vain: “He is extremely busy, but will always make time for you and stays friendly. I hope that I am also like that with my students.” To conclude: “For me and many others, he is an academic father figure.”



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