"Trend watching" in Paris certainly sounds like a glamorous occupation and is more likely to conjure up images of behind the scenes at the great fashion houses of Cacharel, Chanel, Dior, and Gaultier than the Netherlands Embassy. However, for Dutch national, Annemarie Nulle, who is currently working as the Netherlands' Technological and Scientific Councillor, "trend watching," albeit in science and technology, is indeed one of the key tasks in her embassy-based position in Paris. "It's all about spotting innovation," says the woman who serves as a contact point between the Dutch and French science communities.
Educationwise, Nulle has a broad and rather unusual background. Her first degree was an M.Sc. in business-to-business at the State University of Groningen. Taking a course on the chemical industry, towards the end of her business studies, sparked an interest in chemistry. This, combined with her business background, inspired her to look for a management position at a large chemical company. However, by the time she had graduated, the job market was tight. She had applied for a position at the Netherlands' leading pharmaceutical company, Akzo Nobel, but was unsuccessful. But her relatively young interest in chemical technology had made her even more determined to get into this industry one way or the other. "Every day, as I passed by the Akzo Nobel factories," she explains, "I wondered what was going on behind those walls."
So she decided to bite the bullet and began work on a B.Sc. in chemical technology, a radical change in some ways, but this turned out to be a pivotal career step for Nulle in more ways than one. Not only did she develop a technical and scientific background, but her subsequent decision to do a placement at the Ecole Nationale Superiéure des Ingénieurs en Arts Chimiques et Technologiques in Toulouse was the start of her ongoing affair with la belle France. So after being awarded her second degree in 1995, Nulle was set to launch her first career step in France and also back in management. She obtained a position with Dietsman Technologies, a Dutch oil platform company, and worked for it in both Marseille and Monaco. But something was missing: "Not using my chemical technology started to gnaw at me," she admits.
In the meantime, the job market in the Netherlands was in better shape and this time Akzo Nobel, was interested in Nulle. "My training in chemical technology certainly helped," she says. Over the next five-and-a-half years, she subsequently worked for Akzo Nobel in various positions, from technical marketer to sales manager. Technical marketing in particular allowed her to make use of both her chemical and business training, to work at the interface of the company's R&D departments with external market developments and to translate these into business solutions. Overall, she feels that her period in industry was a very fruitful one in which she learned a lot, especially developing skills in "strategic and analytical thinking."
A Switch From Industry to Government and to "la Belle" France
Even though she wasn't really looking for a new job, one day a newspaper ad for the position of Technological and Scientific Councillor at the Netherlands Embassy in Paris caught her eye. "It seemed like quite an interesting transition to me, going from industry to government," she recalls. The job description--creating innovative bonds between two countries--was extremely challenging and "innovation at a governmental level seemed quite appealing," she explained. So she successfully applied and switched from industry insider to industry watcher--and more.
In total, the Netherlands Embassy technological scientific department in Paris consists of Nulle herself and a colleague with a similar role. They both work closely with the office manager at the Netherlands Embassy. Together, they form a communication bridge between the Netherlands' and French scientific communities. Nulle also works closely with the Ambassador to promote the Netherlands in France.
She is mostly concerned with what she calls "technological trend watching" and keeps a close eye on any French development in one of five technology focus areas: life sciences, nanotechnology, sustainability, information and communication technologies, and transport technology. She mainly uses the information she acquires to keep the Netherlands Ministry of Economical Affairs up to date. But she also informs Dutch multinationals, small- and medium-sized businesses, research institutes, and universities of significant developments and answers their queries on various aspects of technology in France.
In addition, she is always on the lookout for French collaboration partners for her Dutch "clients." "I am a really good contact point for Dutch clients in France," she explains, "because I am in the know and have the often-relevant contacts they need." These contacts in France comprise mainly ministries, public research institutes, interest groups, and industry. Even though she has a good network within French industry, Nulle realises that "science in France is more focused on public research."
To keep her networks in good shape, Nulle spends a lot of time "out in the field." She attends scientific events, visits private companies and research institutes, and organises bilateral meetings. Her position at the embassy appears to be very useful in "opening doors," she admits. Her main responsibility is to promote Dutch science and technology in France. While she's out and about, she also comes across requests about the Netherlands from the French scientific world. Still, the technological scientific attaché at the French Embassy in The Hague is still the main channel for these requests. Nulle also takes an interest in what the next generation of scientists have to say. She keeps up to date with the latest activities of young scientists through her contacts at the French-Dutch Network for Higher Education and Research, coordinated by Utrecht University and the Pôle Universitaire Européen Lille Nord?Pas de Calais.
To get a more concrete idea of what her job entails, Nulle gives two examples of the kind of events she organises. First, she has just finished the conclusions of a colloquium entitled "Coopération franco-néerlandaise: la parole est aux experts" ("French-Dutch cooperation: the Experts Talking,") that just took place on 17 and 18 June in Paris. This meeting was set up to evaluate the present state of French-Dutch public and private research collaboration and to determine the significance of bilateral collaboration. Nulle set up the programme, invited relevant speakers, and facilitated lively discussions at this meeting.
At present, she's organising a "cluster-meets-cluster" event for October, to coincide with the Dutch presidency of the European Union. Her plan is to invite French "cluster" representatives to the Netherlands to meet their Dutch counterparts. A cluster in this case meaning a group of research organisations--public and private--within a certain field, for example biotechnology. By bringing the national clusters together, Nulle hopes to stimulate interaction and collaboration. And she's likely to get European support for this too, as EU Commissioner Philippe Busquin "sees it as a very promising initiative," she says.
Skills Required for an Embassy Technological and Scientific Councillor
According to Nulle, having time done "at the bench" and speaking the language of the host country are the most important obvious skills required for a technological and scientific councillor. But Nulle also stresses the importance of industry experience. Additional skills that would work in a councillor's favour are an excellent networking capacity, creativity, flexibility, and curiosity. "This is not a 'sitting-behind-your-desk job'," Nulle explains, "and you're working on 10 different subjects at the same time."
Nulle is striving for an even greater amount of Netherlands-French collaboration. She realises that "a lot of work still has to be done." The conclusions of the past colloquium provide a good starting point in achieving that. She believes that bilateral trust is important and forms the basis for multilateral collaboration. Clearly her enthusiasm isn't fading and she loves her job. "It's great fun," says the woman who fortunately has no regrets when it comes to her own career choices.