Postdoctoral researcher, Stanford University
Most good things happened because I dared to push myself every once in a while... 'what's the worst that could happen?'.
What do you do?
I am a neuroscientist and I am interested in how the brain works, makes us behave in the way we do and perceive the world as we do. Even more so, I am interested in what happens when the brain does not function optimally, and how we can change that. At the moment, my work focuses on chronic pain and pain rehabilitation. The brain plays a surprisingly important role herein, because without it you would not even feel pain. Your brain is the one who tells you that a certain movement or touch is painful. And in chronic pain, you could say the brain has become oversensitive. In our research, we for instance examine whether and how treatments for chronic pain change the way the brain processes painful touch. Or, we look at how stress changes whether we perceive something as painful. All in all, in my work I try to get a better understanding of what factors contribute to the development and the maintenance of chronic pain, and how we can reverse these effects to get people back to living their lives again.
Why did you choose this field?
As a high school student, I did not really know what I wanted. My best and hence favorite subjects were definitely biology, math, and physics, and I was interested in health and medicine, but I did not see myself practicing medicine. I did always have a fascination for the brain and therefore I decided to start a bachelor program in Biological Psychology at Maastricht University (Netherlands). I loved it, especially all topics that involved neuroscience. In my second year, we got the opportunity to perform our own experimental project in a research practical, and from that moment on I knew that I wanted to pursue research.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I have never been particularly self-confident. In fact, I chickened out of a semester in California during my Bachelor. But, most good things in life happened to me because I dared to push myself every once in a while, to ‘just give it a try - what is the worst that could happen?’
Why do you love working in STEM?
I just love so many elements of science: I love designing new studies to approach our questions, the excitement of analyzing our data sets that we worked so hard on to collect to see what the data tell us, to share our findings with the rest of the world. But also the smaller things, such as getting a code to finally run.
Science is not something you do by yourself, and the collaborative aspect is something I absolutely love about my work. I get to work with brilliant and interesting people - some more experienced than I am and others less experienced, but I learn from all of them.
The essence of it all is probably knowing that our work may contribute to changing people’s quality of life.
Best advice for next generation?
My advice would be to explore what sparks your interest and do it on your own pace. And, yes, it is OK if you have not figured it out yet. If you consider STEM, try to find someone who works in that field and just try to talk to them. In my experience, most people are very approachable (try Twitter!), love talking about their jobs and love inspiring the new generation. For me, having inspiring role models and mentors (all female!) has been a key part of my journey and still is.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
In a parallel universe I must be a detective: I absolutely love to binge watch crime tv shows and read crime novels, and to study people’s behaviors.