A year as a student assessor and beyond

We got the opportunity to do a written interview with Max Kanbier. Last year he was the student assessor who represented the students of the School of Business and Economics in the faculty board. Keep reading to find out what he did throughout this year.

Can you tell something about yourself (age, study, work experience, hobbies etc)?

I am Max Kanbier, a 24-year-old currently employed as a consultant at Zanders, specializing in financial institutions. I completed my Master's in Finance at VU in March, albeit with a slight delay due to dedicating four months to the ethics course. Currently, I am in the process of wrapping up my master thesis in Operational Research, having completed all the courses during the academic year of 2021-2022. Admittedly, my progress has been hindered by a classic case of procrastination, mirroring my experience with the ethics course in Finance. While I lack a sense of urgency, it would certainly be regrettable if I were not to finish it.

During my leisure time, I predominantly engage in activities with my girlfriend and family. Sharing hearty laughter over dinner with the entire family is a cherished experience for me. Additionally, a significant portion of my free time is dedicated to playing and organizing chess tournaments and cycling in natural surroundings.

My professional journey includes serving as a Teaching Assistant for the minor in Risk at VU for two years, acting as a student assistant for academic advisors, interning at the investment office of NN, contributing as a member of the VU SBE faculty board, and presently working as a consultant.

You were the student assessor in the academic year 2022-2023, can you explain what you did in this function?

In my role as a student assessor, the parameters were not explicitly outlined, providing ample room for interpretation and personal input in setting objectives and shaping the narrative. Throughout the academic year, the role gradually gained clarity. While my familiarity with most stakeholders was rooted in my roles and student status within the faculty, there remained much to be learned.

The role truly came to life during my involvement in accreditation support. It's often overlooked, but every 5/6 years, the SBE undergoes a process to renew its license, allowing it to confer formal degrees to students. At its core, my responsibility was straightforward: represent students in all faculty board meetings. Given that the faculty board makes decisions on promotions, new courses, departmental budgets, and the delicate balance between education and research, the role involved careful navigation. Various plans were considered, some more advantageous for students than others. For instance, hypothetically reducing professor salaries could increase budgets for student faculties, but it might compromise the quality of education. It illustrates the intricate balancing act, where decisions must weigh the interests of all stakeholders. In essence, the complexity lies in determining whether such decisions genuinely enhance the overall situation for students—a question that often lacks a clear-cut answer.

And we must never forget how well the SBE is actually organised already. Take a look at another faculty or university and you might face completely different problems we tackled a while ago. 

How was the contact with the faculty board?

The atmosphere has consistently been amicable. Collaboration occurs on a regular basis, ranging from daily to weekly interactions. While the majority of my communication is with the vice dean responsible for education, the entire board convenes every other week. Matters that lack consensus, require an official board statement, or involve a substantial financial component are brought to the table for thorough discussion. Ultimately, the goal is to arrive at a consensus that garners support from all board members.

You had a lot of contact with “older people” at the VU, did you also have contact with a lot of students?

Certainly! They are the individuals you advocate for—how can you fulfil that role without maintaining regular contact? I won't claim to have had the ideal amount of contact; there's always room for more. Nevertheless, I believe I effectively managed this aspect. I actively participated in classes, engaged in extensive discussions with the FSR and representatives, conversed with students who held distinct opinions, and closely monitored the complaints reaching the faculty.

How much time did you spend on this function? Did you also do other things beside it?

On paper, my commitment was eight hours a week, but truth be told, I often dedicated a bit more time, especially in the initial weeks, to get up to speed and familiarize myself with the material and the decision-making processes. The board operates at such a high level that catching up is crucial, and they have limited time to guide you through the intricacies.

In addition to my role as a student assessor, I managed to take on a teaching assistant position, leveraging the experience gained in the previous year. During the latter half of the year, I pursued an internship at NN investment office, gaining insights into the workings of professional life. This experience not only exposed me to the nuances of a corporate environment but also helped me identify aspects I valued in a potential employer and areas where I sought a different approach.

To round off the year, I embarked on completing a master's in finance, undertaking the challenge of crafting a thesis and navigating the ethics course. While the completion of the master's in Operational Research is still pending, I recognize that I may not align perfectly with the ideal student profile the faculty board might seek. However, I firmly believe that as students, we should strike a balance between academic pursuits, enjoyment, and personal development.

What did you learn in this position?

The primary focus is unquestionably stakeholder management. It involves mastering the delicate art of balancing the diverse needs and expectations of various departments and groups of people. Additionally, this role provides a comprehensive understanding of the organizational structure of both the faculty and the university. You interact with individuals shaping policies, coordinating events, and contributing to the marketing team. In this context, the emphasis is on considering the broader perspective—the so-called bigger picture becomes the sole focal point.

What was the most fun thing you experienced as a student assessor?

As a board, thorough preparation is essential. Achieving goals, especially those that merit celebration even at the board level, represents the highs of the experience. The informal moments following discussions with fellow board members, professors, and department heads are particularly enriching. These individuals possess extensive knowledge and contribute to engaging conversations. I highly recommend taking up any invitations for a drink—such occasions offer the chance to discover facets of their personalities that may not be immediately apparent, and some surprise you with their lively party spirit.

One amusing memory revolves around a conversation with Jeroen Geurts, the rector magnificus of the VU. While he is undeniably an outstanding and thoughtful individual, at times, his musings can veer into the realm of philosophy and creativity. A meeting with students seems to perfectly cater to this inclination. During one such gathering, he suggested an unconventional solution to the space shortage issue: cancelling lectures in lecture halls and instead opting for a leisurely walk with the professor. Just imagine the scene—50 or perhaps even 200 people strolling behind a professor, posing questions or earnestly trying to catch every word of wisdom being shared.

Were there also things you disliked?

To be frank, the aspect I found most challenging was organizing events for stakeholders. While some students might assume the board is flexible with meeting schedules, the reality is quite different. As an assessor, you swiftly learn that it's their schedule that takes precedence, often requiring you to make sacrifices, such as skipping classes. However, coordinating plans with other stakeholders adds another layer of complexity. Unlike students, you can't simply alter plans at the last minute without considering the impact on others.

Would you recommend other people to become student assessor next year? And why (not)?

I would certainly recommend this opportunity to students who already have some experience within the faculty. Ideally, the less you are entangled in ongoing commitments, the better. However, a certain level of knowledge is necessary to hit the ground running; lacking it might make the experience more challenging and less enjoyable initially. If you've previously participated in a SAM mentorship, held a student association (SA) position, or served as a Teaching Assistant (TA) within the faculty, you'll have a slight advantage and likely find the role more manageable.

Moreover, be prepared to invest time, sometimes at unconventional hours, to truly immerse yourself in the role. Nevertheless, I am confident that there is a student out there for the next year and the years to come. If you're seeking a prestigious job with excellent opportunities for academic connections, this is the ideal opportunity for you!

If you would describe the year in 3 words, which words would you use?

Challenging, amazing, (too) short

What are your plans now? (for the future)

Presently, I serve as a consultant at Zanders, detached to a renowned financial institution. Feel free to connect with me anytime through LinkedIn or email (I'll continue to use my VU mail for a while). In addition to my professional commitments, I'm in the process of completing my master degree in Operational Research. While the thesis won't write itself, the available hours outside of work are naturally limited.

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