Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
Zoek in de site...

Freek Nieuwhof

Date of news: 1 December 2016

Freek Nieuwhof, PhD student at the Donders Institute/Radboudumc, worked on a study regarding the use of virtual reality to reduce fall risk in the elderly. For this month's "The life of...", we interviewed him about his life, career path, and his experiences during his PhD.

Freek_Nieuwhof What's your name, nationality, current function, and department?
Freek Nieuwhof, Dutch, PhD student, Departments of Geriatric medicine and Neurology Radboudumc & DCCN Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging

What did you want to be when you grew up?
My mom told me I always wanted to be a carpenter or a firefighter. Well, I didn’t achieve that.

What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?
I studied Human Movement Sciences in Groningen. After finishing that and doing some traveling I applied for a PhD position on the V-TIME project. Happily my supervisors thought I would be capable for the job so I came back to Nijmegen (where I also went to secondary school).

Who are you working with and what do these collaborations look like?
For my thesis, I’m working with Marcel Olde Rikkert and Bas Bloem as my promoters and Miriam Reelick and Rick Helmich as co-promotors. I also collaborate with Ivan Toni on the fMRI part of my thesis and Jurgen Claassen for the fNIRS part. Next to these internal collaborations, I work on a project funded by the European committee (V-TIME). In this project, we work together with research groups in Tel Aviv, Newcastle, Leuven, Genoa, Paris, London and Alghero. Such a large collaboration comes with some political and organizational challenges, but meeting many people and all the fun trips and do make up for that!

What does the Donders Institute mean to you?
I grew up about 20km from Nijmegen and went to school in Nijmegen. Thus, I was quite young when I first heard about the Donders Institute. I found it an interesting institute, but also thought I would never grasp the things that went on inside. During my study however, my interest in human movement extended and I became more and more curious about neural mechanisms underlying human movement. At that time I thought about the DI as a perfect place to work, but didn’t think I would be lucky enough to actually go and work there. Well, I’ve been around for about 5 years now (and still don’t fully grasp everything that is going on here, but at least a large part of it).

What does your perfect weekend look like?
Go for a beer Friday after work and have a nice dinner with some friends. Spend Saturday morning with my girlfriend and daughter (going to the market and for a walk), then meet some friends to go cycling and relaxing afterward. Saturday evening is perfect for visiting concerts (I really like the new building of Doornroosje, great sound system). On Sunday I prefer a very long and huge breakfast, I'll play some albums from my CD collection (I'm one of those old fashioned guys who still buys CDs) and read the newspaper. The remaining part of the Sundays we'll just do whatever we feel like.

What is your favorite book and why?
For a break from science, papers and work-related books I can definitely recommend Ken Follet, especially The Pillars of the Earth and/or the Century Trilogy. His books are very well written and hard to put down. They really nicely describe life during some key historical periods (end of the middle ages and during the world wars).

What is an important life lesson you have learned in the past?
I’ll need to quote my father here: ‘Life is easier if you only worry about things you can influence. And if you can influence it, there’s nothing to worry about.'

What are you looking forward to in life?
I’ve never really had clear goals. At the moment I’m very excited to raise my daughter with my girlfriend and see her grow up. And career wise, I’m looking forward to apply all that I’ve learned during my PhD in a post-doc project and any other jobs after that. 

Is there a project or anything you're involved with that you'd like to promote?
My PhD-project was on training older adults to walk safely and thereby avoid falls. We found that combing treadmill training with virtual reality can reduce the fall rate up to 40%, which I think is a great and relevant finding. It was recently published here: In this project, I also studied neural mechanisms underlying difficulties during walking, by using fMRI and fNIRS. If anyone is working on related topics, I’m always happy to share thoughts.