Introductory Interview - Lieven Quintens, Senior Researcher at BISCI

Lieven Quintens, a Senior Researcher at BISCI is interviewed by Grant Davis, one of our Project Managers at BISCI. They discuss Lieven's roles at BISCI, and how he balances the important research he does with his teaching responsibilities and being a 'connector'.

Grant: Hi Lieven, thank you for joining me today. To start with could you briefly describe what your role is at BISCI?

Lieven: 'A good question actually! I am part of the Management Team of BISCI, and responsible for being the linking pin between BISCI and the other entities of the university. One of the reasons I might be a good fit for that is because I am also the programme leader for the bachelor’s in business engineering at the Supply Chain Management department. The programme is a joint venture between the faculty of science and engineering (FSE) and the school of business and economics (SBE), so it brings me into contact with a lot of people at both places. For project work, I have been involved in sustainability quite a bit, particularly in new materials and also on the mathematics side with creating new algorithms. So these are more of my specialty areas and I know how to find the right people in these places to help BISCI deliver projects, for example the Business Intelligence and Smart Services (BISS) and the MERLN Institute for Technology-Inspired Regenerative Medicine.'

Grant: Great, so you have got a hand in a lot of areas to help BISCI. Back to the beginning though, what motivated you to join the BISCI initiative and take on the role?

Lieven: 'Well there are so many opportunities outside university to collaborate and share knowledge and I thought BISCI would be an interesting way to do that. Particularly because it focusses on supply chain management but also, importantly, it is connected to many other fields of research, which is important for me, as I don’t like being siloed. I think that’s the main reason, as now I think about it it’s also the reason for my role in the business engineering course because it’s that mix of business and engineering and science. The interdisciplinary aspect makes my work interesting for me.'

Grant: Great, I can understand that sentiment, as someone interested in sustainability, I also like that it touches lots of other disciplines too. So, with the various roles you have, how do you approach being part of various teams and balancing the roles of connector, lecturer and a researcher?

Lieven: 'Well, to be a good connector I hope that people can come to me with a problem and then I can find the people with a solution, so I hope people see me as a problem solver and not problem creator. As a researcher and connector, I like to take complex problems, make them simple and get to a solution. Even in my personal time I enjoy problem solving. One of my hobbies is jigsaw puzzles, but the ones of 10 thousand pieces, because you are presented with a fragmented problem that looks complex, but ultimately has one solution. On projects you of course may not have just one solution, but there will be a solution. Possibly one that no one thought of, but it can come from the process of simplifying the problem, finding the relevant aspects and generating a relevant solution.

On the educational side, I am of course a teacher for my students, but across all areas education, connecting, researching I try to be as honest as possible with what I can contribute and I will say where I am not able to contribute, because this is what makes an effective team, people playing to their strengths. So, I don’t have multiple hats to put on as some people say, but I am flexible in my approach in all roles, and can be a leader, facilitator, and contributor, whatever the moment needs.'

Grant: It’s great to see this multi-disciplinarity in roles as well not just within academic disciplines, I think it strengthens BISCI to have people who can be flexible, given the nature of sitting at the crossroads of business, government and academia. So, what are the best parts about your job? And maybe are there any challenges as well?

Lieven: 'The biggest challenge is in areas of innovation such as digital supply chains, where you have to constantly reinvent yourself. You cannot do straight forward market research and generate one catch-all reusable tool for the solution; you have to start from scratch each time. You have to make it fit with the companies and ultimately if you do create a tool you will need many of them in your toolbox to fit each situation.'

Grant: Do you see that changing at all?

Lieven: 'Hopefully yes, as BISCI grows we will get more specific focal areas within the two broad fields of sustainability and digital we have right now, and here we will generate our toolbox more specifically. But we are in the start-up phase of developing these with clients.'

Grant: You say “with clients”, rather than “for clients”, so is this a co-collaboration process and if so why do you choose this approach at BISCI?

Lieven: 'Well, standalone research and typical research is a bit of an ivory tower. The people in industry will come to us and say “great model, but we have these issues”. We have theoretical contributions where we can do fundamental research, which is also of importance, but there is a practical contribution that must be made too and that is not easy with a fundamental research approach done alone within the walls of academia. So here at BISCI we take a practical approach to make a managerial contribution for business, whilst of course still relying on theory and literature to back up our stories, but we are certainly more applied than traditional institutions.'

Grant: Agreed, I think society, government and business are looking to participate in research more in order to ensure it is relevant in the end. So, moving to the partners involved, we have mentioned business and academia, but there is also government involvement too, in what I understand is called the ‘triple helix’. Why is this important to BISCI to have all three parties involved?

Lieven: 'Well, I think it is more important for universities in general too. Universities generate knowledge theoretically, but if it cannot be used in business and policy then what is the purpose of it? If we develop a new mathematical algorithm, then we have to understand what purpose it is for, to optimise inventory or make a safer internet etc.? The same can be said for less theoretical fields even, for example with materials, it is great to find out that we can arrange carbon molecules in a certain way with more strength but if we can’t use it in production then it is just nice to have and a waste of time and money. So universities realise this more and more and 50 years ago universities just lectured and researched, and now they have other institutes such as BISCI where researchers are connecting and working with business and government. So this is the purpose of university now; to work in society not next to society.'

Grant: Agreed, as taxpayers I think we also want to see our money going to solve our problems too, not someone’s hobby. We have talked about the role of the university changing, how about the role of researchers? Do you see a change here too?

Lieven: 'In the past scientists only gave their opinions on topics like COVID -19, but now the scientists are making the policies, so this is a big change. For example, Sweden, their policy started differently from other countries because a specific scientific group advocates a specific method to handle the issue. People tend to listen more to the scientists than politicians often now and consequently the role of a scientist, especially in a crisis, is more important.'

Grant: As part of Maastricht University you must spend a lot of time in Maastricht and Limburg, how do you enjoy life here? Do you have a favourite restaurant or place to go?

Lieven: 'Well, I am a Belgian and do still indeed live in Belgium, albeit not far from the border, but I have worked at Maastricht University since 2006, for 14 years now.'

Grant: To be controversial, which place do you enjoy more, Belgium or the Netherlands?

Lieven: 'Well the Maastricht way of living is very similar to Belgium, unlike the north of the Netherlands. We have a similar dialect and the same look of cities to Belgium too, by comparison to north of the Rhine. I like the fact here in Maastricht it is very international, and it has a history of being international with the Treaty of Maastricht. I like to hear people speak French, Dutch, German and other languages as I think it creates a nice atmosphere. Also, because it is a relatively small place you always meet someone you know in the city centre, even just going shopping on a Saturday I see my students in town.'

Grant: It is a cosy and well-connected town yes, and if you had to choose, what is your favourite place to have some food in Maastricht?

Lieven: 'Hmmm… Tokyoto, a Japanese place. All you can eat in 5 rounds and I like Asian food. I also like to try a lot of foods and have a good selection during a meal. It is a bit like BISCI really in the sense of a little bit of everything! Whether it’s yakitori or dumplings, I can eat all of it!'

Grant Davis