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Leiden University Thesis Prize winners 2020

The Leiden University Thesis Prizes were awarded on Alumni Day on 15 February. The nominees came with their family and friends to the Kamerlingh Onnes Building for the award ceremony for these annual prizes for the best theses.

The Thesis Prizes are awarded to master’s students who graduated in academic year 2018-2019. Each faculty can nominate one thesis. The jury, consisting of members of the Leiden University Fund (LUF) Committee for Academic Expenditure and two Minerva alumni from 1965, professors Leonard Blussé van Oud Alblas and Jos van Roosmalen, assessed the theses according to three criteria: whether they were well-written and well-argued, and how original the research question was. 

Not one but two winners

The jury was impressed with the quality of the theses that were entered for the prize. All were well-written and, despite the often specialist material, cogent and appealing. They complimented all six students on their impressive theses. These are the crème de la crème of master’s students, and they undoubtedly have a dazzling future ahead of them. All graduated cum laude or summa cum laude even.

Winner Shirley van der Maarel with jury member Professor Jos van Roosmalen

In the end, two of the nominees, Shirley van der Maarel (Social and Behavioural Sciences) and Vincent Peeters (Law), were awarded joint first prize. What made their theses stand out were not only their innovative perspectives but also that they were so well-written. Shirley was awarded a master’s degree in Visual Ethnography. With the aid of a LUF International Study Fund grant, she conducted research into a group of refugees who had settled in an Italian village. What did they do to feel at home there? Her work resulted in an interactive thesis, a film and a PhD position at the University of Manchester.

‘These are the crème de la crème of master’s students and they undoubtedly have a dazzling future ahead of them.’

Vincent devoted his thesis to the emergence in criminal law of gezichtspuntencatalogi – lists produced by the Court of Appeal based on its judgments. These lists serve as a guideline to lower courts when they are interpreting the law. They are customary in private law but new to criminal law. Vincent was thus venturing into more or less uncharted territory and managed to document this in a most articulate way. He is now a member of the academic staff at the Court of Appeal.

Third prize went to Marissa Vacher (Science). She conducted research into Alzheimer’s in stranded dolphins, and found signs of Alzheimer’s in three of the five species. This may help explain why dolphins strand. Further research, in which she will compare her findings in dolphins with Alzheimer’s in humans, will reveal whether this could bring us a step closer to the cause of Alzheimer’s. The jury complimented Marissa for her unique research and academic flair. She has now started a PhD in England.

Winner Vincent Peeters and his supervisor, Professor Tineke Cleiren

Honourable mention

The jury emphasised that all the nominees had written appealing and impressive theses. It therefore gave an honourable mention to Carly Henkel (Archaeology), Alexander Elias (Humanities) and Max Trauernicht (Medicine). They each received a €250 book token.

The prizes were awarded by Carel Stolker, Rector Magnificus. He said a special word of thanks to the supervisors for their dedication, having provided a listening ear and inspired these students to reach such great heights in their theses. 

The photos of Alumni Day, including of the Thesis Prize ceremony, can be seen in our online album.

The Thesis Prizes are endowed by the Minerva Class of 1957/1961/1965 Alumni Fund. The first prize consists of the sum of €3,000, the second prize €2,000 and the third prize €1,000. The University and the Leiden University Fund (LUF) are very grateful to the Minerva alumni for their donations to the fund.

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