Perseverance Awards for go-getters at M&CS

Applying for a major research grant takes much time and effort, with no guarantee of success. A narrowly rejected proposal only adds to the frustration. That is why the department of Mathematics & Computer Science decided to cheer up a few unlucky but persistent scientists this Christmas with a new prize: the Perseverance Award. This prize allows winners Wouter Duivesteijn and Wouter Meulemans to recruit a PhD candidate or postdoc, so that they can realize part of their rejected Vidi plans after all.

photo Rien Meulman

The board of Mathematics and Computer Science (M&CS) gave the department’s Christmas party and extra festive touch this year: for the first time ever, the department handed out so-called Perseverance Awards to scientists who narrowly missed out on a major research grant in 2022. The department’s intention is to hand out the award annually from now on, each time considering which group is eligible, Joost Gabriels says. “This first year, assistant professors got to compete for the award.”

Gabriels is manager of the Project Development Office at M&CS, which provides support to researchers who apply for funding. He has seen with his own eyes just how much time and effort such an application can take. “Scientists go through that process with much commitment, alongside their teaching and management duties.”


M&CS invited assistant professors who missed out on a grant this past year to resubmit their applications, Gabriels says. “Accompanied by the review report and an explanation on how ‘close’ they got to obtaining a grant.” The jury was composed of representatives of the department’s three pillars: associate professors Olga Mula Hernández (mathematics) and Tim Willemse (computer science), and full professor Jack van Wijk (data science).

“They assessed the five applications, after which the department board decided to hand out two awards,” according to Gabriels. The prize consists of a budget for a five-year PhD-TA appointment, or a three-year postdoc-TA appointment (where TA stands for teaching assistant), including a €2000 travel grant for that PhD candidate or postdoc.

The winners of the first Perseverance Awards are Wouter Duivesteijn (Data Mining Group) and Wouter Meulemans (cluster Algorithms, Geometry and Applications). Both Wouters applied for a NWO Vidi grant and got as far as the interview round, but eventually narrowly failed to secure the grant.

Map of the world

Wouter Meulemans was unable to attend the award ceremony last Friday, which was held during the department’s annual Christmas party, due to the PhD ceremony of one of the doctoral candidates under his supervision. But that doesn’t make him less excited about winning the award. “Because of the department’s appreciation, which they show through this award. And because this allows me to realize part of my research proposal after all.”

His research takes place at the interface between algorithms and visualization. Meulemans searches for measurable properties of optimal data visualization. The aim is to use those properties to develop algorithms, in order to improve the algorithm’s ability to generate figures from data files. The assistant professor wants to recruit a PhD candidate and have him or her work on problems related to geovisualization.

“Imagine a map of the world, for example, on which data is visualized per country. It’s hard to do that in a comprehensible manner for Europe, which is a continent with a relatively high number of countries located on a small surface. You could choose to deform or schematize the map. To what degree of distortion (and how to measure that degree?) will the figure remain readable and understandable? And how to make sure the representation of the data remains correct and objective?”

This is not the first time Meulemans missed out on a major grant by the slightest of margins: he has already made it to the interview round of a Veni application twice. The Perseverance Award however brings new courage to persevere, the assistant professor says.


Unlike Meulemans, Wouter Duivesteijn did manage to collect his Perseverance Award in person last Friday. In the photo he is to be seen (on the left) next to dean Edwin van den Heuvel. The creation of the prize makes him “even happier” to be working at M&CS, he says. “It’s a clear signal that the department believes fundamental, curiosity-driven research to be of importance.”

Duivesteijn’s Vidi proposal can be summed up as follows: “to develop efficient search algorithms for Exceptional Model Mining for data that vary over time.” One possible application would be in drug research. Duivensteijn: “After a controlled experiment has shown the best variant of a drug, all the other variants are usually thrown out. But for a minority of patients, that best variant might not always help them as optimally as certain other variants. My project searches efficiently for subpopulations that benefit more from such an alternative, so that these subgroups too can receive the best possible medical treatment.”

Overall, Duivesteijn worked three summers fulltime and three autumns parttime on his Vidi application, the deadline of which is always in November. “My proposal consisted of task packages for two PhD candidates and for myself. The Perseverance Award allows me to appoint a PhD candidate for one of those task packages.”

“For the other components, I intend to sit down with my – highly valuable – colleagues of the Project Development Office to determine which funding instrument might be suitable. These kinds of subsequent applications have a greater chance of success because I can now add the Perseverance Award to my CV. In the longer term, I expect to be able to realize an even larger part of my research proposal, thanks to this prize.”

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