Three ways to enjoy yourselves at the QuTech Uitje

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by Arian Stolk

CAUTION: This post will NOT contain any physics (ignoring any possible corny physics jokes)! That is right, no discussions about entanglement, (qu)-bits and/or crazy science in the coming story. It is not that I do not like to talk about these things, on the contrary. Yet, I thought it would be an interesting idea to talk about a more none-science-y aspect of QuTech. And I would like to do it using a yearly recurring event: the QuTech Uitje.

For the readers that are from outside QuTech (or have not yet had the opportunity to join one), the QuTech Uitje is a full weekend of fun and very much not research-related activities, organized by a committee consisting of Master students, PhDs and Postdocs from within the institute. The aim is to provide an atmosphere where everyone gets to know each other, from technical staff to Master students, and from Group Leaders to Support Staff. Every year the committee is trying to keep the location a secret, and everyone else is trying to figure out where we’ll go before the grand reveal. Because of the rapid growth of the QuTech family, these events are now more important than ever, and a great load of fun!

I have had the fortune to attend three Uitjes (not a record by any means but a fair number), and during each of them I had a different role. The first time I joined a QuTech Uitje it was 2015, and I was a complete QuTech newbie. I had just started a MSc project a couple of days before, and my supervisor made sure that I had a spot on the list (thanks Julia!). I had no clue what I was signing up for and it all sounded pretty obscure. All I knew was that, before I even touched a single thing in the lab, I was on a bus on my way to an unknown location. It turned out we were staying in a castle turned into a hostel, which was really cool.

The very first one

As a Master student, things can be a little overwhelming during the Uitje. But during the activities you get to know so many people that you quickly forget that you have just met them. I remember there was some cycling (in the rain of course, we were still in the Netherlands) and there was lots of great food and drinks involved. At some point, I managed to get myself stuck in a chair made for toddlers, which apparently impressed Ronald (my current PhD Supervisor) so much he offered me a PhD position many years later. This chair move, however, is completely optional of course, but it does show an important aspect of the Uitje: all the interactions are very laid-back and it is a great way to get to know your colleagues that you will have for the coming 9 months, or longer!

Arian stuck in a chair
Yes, I was not kidding. That is me, in a baby chair, with my colleague Norbert and supervisor Ronald in the back. And yes, I did need help to get out.

The quick-cycle-trip one

The next time that I was fortunate enough to go on the Uitje, it was a couple of years later, in 2018. I had returned to QuTech as a PhD student, and I was a few months into my first year. I had spent the last years on and off abroad in Singapore, which made me lose touch with some of my old colleagues. As a PhD student, you are probably already a bit familiar with the people in your group/lab and maybe you are tempted to stick to hanging out with them most of the time. But during the Uitje you are encouraged to really go out and interact with the whole of QuTech.

The location of choice this time was one of the northern islands of the Netherlands: Texel. Surprise, surprise, this Uitje also contained a lot of cycling. Free tip for the non-Dutch folk at QuTech: if you need to do any bike related activity in a group, and you have a couple of Dutch people telling you it will be a quick cycle trip, be prepared to cycle for at least three hours. I am guilty of this together with my colleague Sophie, as we dragged our poor friends over the island ‘because we felt like it would be a nice route’.

On the Island of Texel
Sophie and I dragged our poor colleagues on a quick cycle trip around the island of Texel.

The one I organised

My third and most recent Uitje experience was last year. It was a completely different experience than the other two times, because this time I was one of the organizers. This also meant that this experience started way earlier, already in January. We were in charge of surprising the whole of QuTech this year. Together with four colleagues, I had the duty to arrange… stuff… yeah… I had no clue where to even begin. Where should we go? Where can we go? Where do people want to go? What do they want to do? It was all very confusing at times. But after a while we got the hang of it, and we started to put the pieces of the puzzle together. During this time you really have to step out of your comfort zone and do stuff you would not normally do. A concrete example: I am one of those people who does not enjoy picking up the phone (just send me a text like a normal person…). I was sending emails to a company to get some information. After going back and forth five times with them, I was still not managing to get the information I wanted. Well at that point, as much as I hate it, I am on my phone dialing their number! It might seem insignificant but there were plenty of situations like these and I learned a lot from them.

Even more lessons were learned during the Uitje itself. Of course, we did our best to plan things as well as we could, but some things you just cannot control. One of those things is the weather, especially in the Netherlands. Because we wanted to have a barbecue (yes, in the end of September) we really wanted the Dutch Weather Gods to play nice. When the Friday morning started with a slight drizzle it didn’t look good, but luckily the sun broke out on multiple occasions during the day. In the end we gambled, and we came out on top! Another thing you cannot control, is when you have arranged 100+ bicycles (yes, again the bicycles) and they hand you a giant plastic bag of keys. ‘Here are the keys for the bikes. They are not sorted, good luck’, was the advice from the rental company. Instead of seeing it as a problem, very quickly a group of people got together to solve this challenge: how to find the key to each bike! We found a very practical solution where I would hand everyone ~ five keys, and they would go off searching. Once they found a match, they had a choice: either hand back the other four keys and cycle off, or get some more keys and find more matches. Very quickly, we managed to unlock all the bicycles, much faster than I would have done if had to match them, one by one, all by myself! I am pretty sure that if you try hard enough, there is some quantum parallelism analogy in there 😉.

In the end, I felt that the Uitje was a great success, and my co-organizers all happily agree (right Joshua, Gert-Jan, Lingling and Arno!?). I look back at the whole event, already several months ago, with great satisfaction and I am happy to have experienced the Uitje from this side. Also, many thanks to all the people that helped us in any way to get the program together (special mention to the QuTech band Q2 here!) and of course all those who joined, that always showed up ready to party and to have a good time.

Group picture at the end of the 2019 QuTech Uitje. We had just finished playing GlowGolf, mini golf in the dark with fluorescent paint everywhere!

This brings me to the end of my blog post, where I hope I have convinced you of the many ways the Uitje impacts the people at QuTech. As a newcomer, it is a great way to quickly get to know people. As a more seasoned participant a great way to relax and exchange ideas. And as an organizer, to step out of your comfort zone and give your colleagues something great to enjoy. It is a great way to try to prove yourself outside your lab work. In my coming years here at QuTech, I hope to experience a couple more Uitjes, and I really hope the tradition will be upheld long after that.

About the authorArian Stolk

Arian Stolk is a PhD candidate in the group of Ronald Hanson by day, and also by night… He does not know if it is day or night because the lab is always dark, like his double espresso breakfast. Sometimes, he also does other things, like working out, giving talks and postponing writing a blog post too often. He enjoys talking about almost anything and routinely annoys his colleagues by making bold, unverified claims about something he read on the internet. Oh! and in his work he is trying to generate entanglement between diamonds in two different cities, connected by telecom fibres.

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