‘Opposition is a good sign’

Philosophy of Science expert Victor Gijsbers is one of the five nominees for the LSr Education Prize, the prize for best lecturer of the year. He uses humour and Lady Gaga, but the message is holy. ‘It’s not supposed to turn into a gimmick.’  


Victor Gijsbers

Victor Gijsbers

Victor Gijsbers (30) teaches courses such as Philosophy of Science at the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Philosophy. His specialisation is philosophical theorising about explanations. That sounds like a serious topic, but Gijsbers approaches it lightly. Students love his ‘clear lectures and effective humour’, says the Symposium Study Association in their nomination. Humour is an important instrument, says Gijsbers. ‘Talking about the philosophy of science for an hour and a half can seem long. I make a lot of jokes to keep the lectures light. I don’t think of these jokes ahead of time; they simply occur to me as I go along.’

Lady Gaga

Gijsbers also uses appealing examples. In a lecture on the interpretation of texts he uses fragments of Shakespeare but also, to his students’ surprise, the song LoveGame by Lady Gaga. But he only looks at the text; he doesn’t let the song resound through the lecture hall. ‘That would turn it into a gimmick. A good example is not supposed to take over; that would distract the audience from the matter at hand.’


Gijsbers has been teaching since 2005. How has he developed as a lecturer? ‘Lecturing for the first time in front of an audience of 250 people is of course nerve-racking. After a few times, the nervousness wears off, although I still get a kick when my message gets through. With my experience I now know better how to make sure it does.’ What is his advice for new teachers? ‘The most important thing is that you know exactly what is crucial. Usually, there are two or three basic points which you want the students to take home. I centre my lectures on these most important topics, and the rest is built around them.’

Arrogant questions

A teacher is never finished with learning, in his opinion. ‘I would like to learn a trick to ensure that all the students are on board. Often, two-thirds of them are enthusiastic and one-third is passive. It seems to be a law, one that I would like to break through.’ The Symposium Study Association praises the way in which Gijsbers deals with the ‘very critical and sometimes arrogant questions which philosophy students excel at’. Gijsbers: ‘Some students are very sceptical and ask questions simply to show that they are. I always answer these questions seriously. As a teacher, you are truly successful if students not only reproduce the material, but are also able to think critically. Opposition is a good sign.’   

(9 January 2013)

The winner will be announced by the Leiden Student Council during the Dies Natalis celebration (8 February). Until this time, every week one of the candidates is placed in the spotlight. The other four nominees for the LSr Education Prize are

- Martin Baasten (Hebrew)

- Tony Foster (English Language & Culture)

- Hendrik Jan Hoogeboom (Computer Science) 

- Maarten Kunst (Criminology) 

The jury, all members of the Leiden Student Council, selected five lecturers from the nearly thirty nominations of the study associations. The most important criteria are integrating research and current events in the lectures and greatly motivating the students. Coming up next: what is Tony Foster’s secret?

See also

Studying in Leiden



Last Modified: 14-01-2013