'I have always wanted to do something a bit more practical'

In this episode, we speak with Tirza Pulleman (GMD alumna and Trainee at Gemeente Rijswijk) about her initial motivation to study the GMD Master programme, her experience during the Scriptiewerkplaats (thesis project), and receiving the Han Entzinger Award for Best Thesis.

By Vanessa Ntinu

Tirza PullemanThank you for sitting down with us Tirza! First things first, congrats on winning the Han Entzinger Best Thesis Award! How did that recognition make you feel? Were you surprised with this award?

I was so surprised! I got a notification on my phone saying “Congrats!” and I thought, well this must be spam – I surely haven’t won anything. So, when I read it and realized it was legit, I was very surprised for two reasons. Firstly, I never knew the award existed and secondly, I did not know I was nominated for it. The award made me feel very proud, this kind of recognition for my work was very nice. Afterwards, I basically told everyone I know about winning the award and sent them a lot of screenshots!

What sparked your initial interest in the GMD Master programme?

Well, my Bachelors was in anthropology and I really loved it. However, I missed a more concrete/practical element in the programme. The only practical element was when we were carrying out research – which was great – but I knew I did not want to become a researcher. Therefore, after that programme, I was really looking for something more practical. I made the mistake of initially pursuing Child Studies – which is a very different path to the one I was on. I did three months of the Pre-Masters and soon realized that this is really not for me. This forced me to go back and ask myself why I started anthropology in the first place and what I hoped to gain. I realized I valued thinking outside the box and appreciated an altruistic approach within my studies. A friend of mine, who was pursuing Child Studies, made me aware of the GMD Master programme. I immediately booked a spot for the Open Day, which I believe was the next day. Maria Schiller gave a wonderful speech at the beginning, and I was convinced! The migration and diversity part of the programme resonated because of the altruistic requirements I had for the programme. I pursued the Public Administration track, and this gave me the practical elements I was missing in my first degree. It was the perfect combination.

I realized I valued thinking outside the box and appreciated an altruistic approach within my studies".

Why did you decide to pursue the Scriptiewerkplaats and what did you hope to gain from the experience?

I wanted to do research that mattered, and of course, every thesis matters in some way, but it usually ends up in a repository. I also think that the broadness of the different thesis groups made me want to pick something that was more specific. The Scriptiewerkplaats already narrows down the topics you can explore, and I think that was very useful for me. I also hoped to impress some people at the Hague municipality, ha! I think in the end I did impress a few people at Rijswijk when I mentioned the Scriptiewerkplaats in my motivational letters. I think the very practice-oriented thesis really complimented the very specific GMD programme.

What were the biggest successes and challenges of doing such a practice-oriented thesis? What advice would you give the new cohort of students?

The biggest success was that the project narrowed down the topics you could explore as a researcher – which I really appreciated. Despite this, it still gave you a lot of room to explore different interests and avenues. It was also very helpful that we were able to have an initial meeting with members of the municipality where they could help with practical questions. I really liked ending the process with a policy brief and more policy-oriented findings, which added an element of relevance and tangibility to our work. I think this is something others may have missed in their research work. It would have been better, however, to have had more contact with members of the municipality. I believe we only met once in the beginning and again when we presented our theses. I had quite a lot of contact with the people I researched, which was helpful, but indeed, more regular sessions with the civil servants would have been appreciated.

I advise this cohort to just enjoy it – it is a great opportunity. Secondly, make sure you have one or two contact persons at the municipality who are always willing to answer your questions. Finally, be a bit more direct in asking the municipality what their policy goals and objectives are ahead of designing your research question. Make sure your research goal and their policy goal are a well aligned.

I wanted to do research that mattered, and of course, every thesis matters in some way, but it usually ends up in a repository".

In the same breath, what can be improved to benefit new cohorts after you?

It would be beneficial to introduce the Scriptiewerkplaats during the methods course that precedes it which gives students the appropriate tools to carry out their research in the next block. It’s given by a different lecturer than your thesis supervisor, and sometimes the research expectations of your supervisor are not aligned with the requirements in the methods course. It would therefore be nice to initiate a meeting between interested students, the thesis supervisor, and people from the municipality where more specific research expectations are drawn out.

What was the biggest insight you gained from working on the Hague South-West?

I think the biggest insight was not research related. I really liked working on this local government level, which is why I started applying to local governments during the thesis writing period. Doing this kind of research and seeing the impact local policies have on local populations really inspired me to do more work on this level.

What is next for Tirza?

Big question! Well, for the next two years, I will be working at Gemeente Rijswijk as a trainee. Even though the thesis made it clear that I want to work for the local government, I still don’t know my particular interests or what I specifically want to pursue. So, this traineeship is the perfect opportunity to find out because every six months I go to another department and do another case. Now, I am working on policy related to participation, which is very similar to my thesis topic, which is great! I realize that this is still very much in my comfort zone, so for my next case, I am going for something completely different. What that is going to be, I don’t know yet, so what’s next remains a surprise for both you and me!