Key people: Simon de Vries

I’m a real jack-of-all-trades in the organization.
Photo: Oscar Bos

They are indispensable on campus: cleaners, caretakers, caterers, gardeners, receptionists – the list is long. Resource looks up these key people. This time, meet Simon de Vries (59), building manager at Wageningen Marine Research.

‘I took the job here 12 years ago because I didn’t want to do only building management. My boss guaranteed me variety, and I certainly got that. I can be solving a technical problem and get a call to ask if I can help collect research material from five beached sperm whales. That happened in 2015. It was fantastic. How often do you get so close to a mass stranding of whales? A colleague and I did things like sawing off jawbones and collecting and labelling teeth. It’s intensive work and you need a strong stomach for it because it’s incredibly bloody. I can usually cope but once I couldn’t face the meat in my evening meal after looking at dead meat all day. Occasionally I collect a beached porpoise or seal for research. Sometimes they have already rotted quite badly, and you don’t get that smell out of your clothes.

Every year I also help my colleagues tag about 25 to 50 seals. You’ve got to have your wits about you because they can bite. Those kinds of jobs are the icing on the cake, as most of the time I work on technical problems in the building. I like to solve them myself. My father always said, if you don’t manage, just keep trying until you do. That has become my motto too. But with all the computer systems, equipment has become so complicated nowadays that I more often have to outsource the troubleshooting.

I provide technical support for research projects too. I maintain the equipment, keep an eye on dosages and replenish chemicals. To do that I often have to read manuals in technical English, or to work with the inventors of the machines, who might be Japanese. That is incredibly interesting, mainly because of the cultural differences. I’m a real jack-of-all-trades in the organization.

I was asked to help with five beached sperm whales

Actually I still don’t know what I want to do in life. If I had my career all over again, I would be a dentist because of the precision work, and the fact that you work both with people and with technology. How do I see my future? A few more nice years in my job alongside my other work as a hobby farmer and building my daughter’s farmhouse.’

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