Column Ilja: At dinner

Woodland birds are a less explosives topic of conversation at Christmas dinner than protesting farmers.

In a family in which both the farmer and the nature lover share the dinner table, the topic of ‘farmers’ has always been a loaded subject. After the protests of last summer, knives were sharpened even more for the battleground of the family discussion, especially when your family, like mine, has strong opinions and refuses to shy away from confrontation. Things can get pretty rough – I’d prefer to come to Christmas dressed in armour.

As soon as I went to university, I promoted myself from the children’s Christmas table to the adults’ Christmas table because I was eager to contribute to the debates at that table. But as a student at Wageningen, I was usually given the role of factchecker. “Ilja, you’re studying in Wageningen, so do you know if…” was a frequently heard comment. I want to bring my own arguments into the heated discussion, preferably the argument that would solve the entire farmers’ crisis. But I’m always quickly put on the side line by the two head bosses of the family discussion who have been able to refine their techniques for forty years.

Things can get pretty rough – I’d prefer to come to Christmas dressed in armour

In this year of crises and farmers’ protests, I had my own personal crisis: the thesis crisis. Whoever goes in search of a thesis topic and an accompanying supervisor is left to his or her own devices here at WUR. Without the rhythm of a schedule and classes, you have to find a sufficiently stimulating topic on your own and make sure that you don’t fall into a black hole of lethargy after just a month.

What if I chose the farmers’ crisis as a thesis topic in order to be able to work towards a solution? I’d kill two birds with one stone: I was internally motivated, so I’d work hard, and I’d gather enough arguments from my research to be able to dominate the dinner conversation at Christmas.

There was just one problem: I’m actually an ecologist and researching the farmers’ protest was something for social sciences. Even though I didn’t lack internal motivation, I did lack the concrete skills to do the research. So I chose a different thesis topic: woodland birds. That won’t help me to contribute much to the heated family debate about farmers, but it suits me better. And Wageningen is the agricultural university that has renamed itself as the greenest university in the Netherlands – and I’m the perfect example of the fact that agriculture and nature can coexist. I hope that that argument will suffice this Christmas.

Ilja Bouwknegt is 23,bachelor’s student of Forest and Nature Management, and an active member of the study association WSBV Sylvatica. She sometimes does bat research at night.

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