How does a civil engineer become editor-in-chief of the feminist magazine Opzij? This question is often posed to Irene de Bel (37). The groundwork for her remarkable career shift was laid during her university days.
One factor that undoubtedly played a role in this shift is the fact that Irene de Bel comes from a ‘female home’. After her divorce, De Bel’s mother raised her three daughters by herself, with the most important lesson being how to become financially independent. Despite high marks in science subjects and a father who had studied mining, De Bel wasn’t sure she was ready for TU Delft. ‘My mother told me, ‘if you can’t do it, nobody can’. I thought there would only be people with thick glasses at the university, and that I would not find any fun friends. ’
Although she chose to study industrial design, ‘playing with clay under the table and creating weird shapes’ simply proved too woolly for her taste. Just not enough technology. She changed to civil engineering and graduated with a project on vertical drainage in the catchment of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. She worked there for Royal HaskoningDHV for a while, but working abroad did little to help her relationship.
She started working for an engineering firm in Amsterdam, conducting research for municipalities, water boards and provinces. ‘Definitely not the place for me. Those senior officials adding awkwardly phrased sentences to my reports
really ticked me off.’ No, if she could do it all over again, she would become a journalist.
Wondering how she should approach this, she called Simon Rozendaal, a scientific journalist for the news weekly Elsevier. ‘He was on the editorial staff forTU Delft university magazine Delta.’ De Bel started a course in journalism. ‘It was great: learning a new profession in familiar territory. ’
‘I thought there would only be people with thick glasses at TU Delft’
After nearly six months with Delta, she started working for the magazine Cobouw, writing about national topics in the construction industry. When newspaper de Volkskrant and telecommunications company KPN started the free newspaper DAG, she was selected out of 1500 applicants. ‘I’m certain that my degree programme at TU Delft helped. In a sense it’s a certificate of intelligence. ’
In the wake of the demise of DAG, the editor-in-chief of Cobouw called her to ask if she would be interested in creating a new magazine for architects, property developers and contractors. For the first time, she was making a monthly magazine, and she became the editor-in-chief. Several years later, New Scientist asked her to publish a Dutch-language version of the science magazine. She merged NWT Magazine into the effort, departing three years later to join its neighbours in the same building:
Opzij. ‘In this magazine, I want to highlight the qualities of women, rather than their struggles. To me as a reader, this is essential.’
Name: Irene de Bel
Place of Residence: Bussum
Marital Status: married, two children
Degree programme: Civil Engineering
Student association: Virgiel