Caroline de Booij
Researcher, NeuroReality, Amsterdam
Do not be afraid to get uncomfortable.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
As a Biomedical Neuroscientist, I collect and analyse brain data during clinical research studies in order to show the efficacy of using Virtual Reality (VR) in health care. Eventually, I would like to work on implementing neurotechnology in VR (connecting human brains to machines), making our games even accessible for paralyzed individuals.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
During high school, I was really interested in Mathematics. However, I could not find a job within this discipline that I thought would suit me. I already knew that I was very interested in the human brain and, more specifically, in neurological pathologies. Therefore, I chose to study Psychobiology, but this included a lot of work at the lab (genetics and microbiology) and less in clinical settings with human subjects. At the end of my Bachelor's I found a way to combine my two great passions. By following the path of Translational Neuroscience, I am now able to both work with human subjects and analyze their brain activity by programming scripts from scratch. You don't always have to plan ahead and apply for a certain study based on career perspectives. As you grow older, you will still learn, grow, adapt, and your interests will often change along the way!
WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"
During my Bachelor's I always thought that staying in academia (obtaining a PhD/becoming a Postdoc) was the only logical choice. However, when visiting different conferences, I found out that there are a lot of cool research groups and start-ups that are engaged in applied research, finding solutions and developing new technologies that improve health. This was a real eye-opener for me and now I can't imagine nót working at a start-up anymore.
As achievement, I would like to address that I went abroad to the UK to set up my own clinical research for my Master thesis. Of course, a lot of things will not go as expected (having to deal with the unpredictability of new technologies and the drop-out of volunteer subjects). It is not your fault if something goes wrong, but it is up to you how you deal with such a situation. During projects where you are in control, you will definitely learn the most.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?
I get really excited about Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) that bridge the gap from research to real-world applications. Similarly, Stephen Hawking who had suffered from motor neuron disease was only able to communicate by using a sensor that he activated using a muscle in his cheek. With BCIs, completely paralyzed individuals are able to activate a machine (from playing a VR game to controlling their own wheelchair) by using their brain activity instead of their muscles. I look forward to the future of Neurotechnology and BCI in neurorehabilitation and health care in general.
BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?
For the next generation of girls wanting to enter the STEM field I would advise to not be afraid to get uncomfortable. Trying new things and sticking to a certain path when facing other people's opinions may be challenging. But when you eventually bring your talents and unique perspective to the table, you will most definitely succeed in STEM. Start networking (e.g., signing up for tech newsletters or attending conferences and webinars) so that you will get in contact with likeminded individuals, helping you to discover your strengths and interests within the field. And on top of that, STEM relationships are very meaningful for your professional career later on (I found my current job after following a workshop at a symposium organized by fellow students!).
INSPO / FUN FACT
"Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. Science, for me, gives a partial explanation of life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience, and experiment." - Rosalind Franklin, chemist, molecular biologist, and one of the key figures behind unlocking the structure of human DNA.