“I’ve had zero meetings as confidential counselor since working from home”

Working from home during this time of corona crisis has slowly become our new normal. We have learned to work with the changing parameters and to negotiate our own personal pitfalls, adjusting to the demands of homeworking, and missing the campus and each other like never before. Cursor regularly calls a fellow homeworker to hear how they are doing. Today: Applied Physics lecturer and confidential counselor Hjalmar Mulders. He hasn’t had any work as confidential counselor since the lockdown started, but his work as a lecturer requires much energy and creativity.

photo Privécollectie Hjalmar Mulders

Hjalmar Mulders is glad to answer Cursor’s questions, but not immediately; he first needs to grade 150 exams. It takes him a lot of time, because “the handwriting is something really illegible, and I would so very much like to know what the students mean.” It’s also not helpful that he doesn’t have the handwritten answers on paper in front of him, but that they’re displayed as photographs on his screen instead. Anyway, when he finally has time to address our curiosity after a few days, we hear the following.

“I’m a lecturer and confidential counselor. My task as confidential counselor has come to a halt since the lockdown, whereas my teaching work has become extremely busy. I give lectures, instructions, guided self-studies, studio-classrooms, et cetera. I also supervise students with their Bachelor final projects and internships abroad, and with their graduation. And I also need to come up with and grade exams, of course. All this work didn’t stop, it just takes place online now. It turns out that offering things in a different way takes a lot of work”

Newborn baby

Mulders performs all these tasks from his home, which is completely made of wood, at the Ulenpas in Eindhoven. He lives with his wife Rucha and their three children, the youngest of whom is a baby. “We didn’t receive many visitors after the birth due to the corona measures. My parents came by the next day, but we haven’t seen them since. Rucha’s parents live in India. They planned to travel here - and it would have been possible - for the birth of Aurora, but we saw what was coming and decided together that they should stay in India. So, they haven’t seen their granddaughter live yet.”

Working undisturbed is difficult, with so many young children at home. Son Sverre is almost six years old and daughter Ronja is four. Work mostly takes place in the evening, seven days a week. It’s great that the elementary schools have reopened, but Mulders also very much enjoyed the - intensive - homeschooling. “I downloaded arithmetic and writing methods and worked with that. We used YouTube videos for gym classes, in which I participated as well, naturally. We did craft work and also made a video that we shared with Sverre’s classmates. My mother also taught arithmetic and gave drawing lessons to the children via Skype. A lot of fun, but a lot of work also!”

Time to contemplate

Since Mulders started to work from home, he no longer spends an hour travelling to and from work every day, like before. “I can use that time for other things now, but I miss riding my bicycle and driving my car, because I enjoyed spending half an hour by myself contemplating and processing things, and letting things sink in.” In retrospect, the time it took him on campus to walk from a lecture in Flux, for example, to a meeting in Atlas proved valuable as well. “Because it gives you some time to think. I miss that now, and I sometimes go for a walk at home as well.”

Mulders has a long history with TU/e. “Both my parents studied electrical engineering here, and my father worked at this university until his retirement. My brother and sister and myself studied here as well, management sciences and architecture, building and planning.” You can learn something from practically everyone at TU/e,” the lecturer believes. “To me, TU/e is a great place to work because of the special people at this university. Students with many talents and staff members who all have their own qualities. That makes it into a very interesting place with much diversity.”

In confidence

Mulders has been working as a confidential counselor at TU/e since December, and he emphasizes that he is still available for a meeting, just like the rest of the team. “So, when anyone needs us, our online door is open.” He had about one meeting a week before the lockdown, but that number has dropped to zero after the lockdown started. “That worries me on the one hand, because it could mean that people have more difficulty contacting the confidential counselor. On the other hand, it’s possible that unwelcome behavior takes place less often when people don’t meet physically anymore. But unwelcome behavior isn’t limited to the physical world alone, it can also take place online.”

The confidential counselor says that ‘sense of community’ is one of TU/e’s important strengths, but it needs to be actively reinforced though. That is why he said ‘yes’ when he was asked to take on this role. “I believe it’s very important that victims of unwanted behavior, such as sexual harassment, intimidation, aggression and violence, bullying and discrimination, have a place to go to where they don’t need to worry that the things they share will be spread. I listen, give advice and I support, but under no circumstance will I take action on my own without consent of the person who approached me. That’s what can make this work difficult sometimes, because I want to help people solve the problem. Sometimes I can’t wait to tackle a problem myself, but I won’t do it, because a confidential counselor’s discretion is of great important to the people who ask our help.”

Mulders hopes that prospective first-year students will feel equally at home at TU/e as he does. He will in any case provide students at the department of Applied Physics with accessible, educational videos - he has already acquired a blackboard for home use as an instrument for his own online lectures. “I will give lively online instructions, and I’ll make sure to take short breaks, so that new students will have an opportunity to talk to each other about other things as well. If they need to, they can let off some steam and complaint about the teaching material or about me.”

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