Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Michelle Jansen

Date of news: 29 June 2020

MichelleWhat's your name, nationality, current function, and department?

My name is Michelle Jansen and I am Dutch. I recently started with my position as PhD candidate at the Department of Neuropsychology and Neurorehabilitation Psychology, part of the Donders Centre for Cognition.

What is the topic of your PhD project and what does a working day in your life look like?

Overall, my PhD focuses on optimizing healthy aging. We all know that aging is a very heterogeneous process. At similar levels of age-related brain changes, some individuals maintain cognitive functions very well, whereas others start to demonstrate cognitive impairments. I am interested explaining this heterogeneity, and whether we can use that information to improve memory training efficacy.

As I only recently started with my PhD, I am currently very busy with setting up my projects and refining the research questions I want to study. In addition, I am supporting the organization of a second year Psychology Bachelor course. After the summer holiday, I am hoping to continue with the data collection of an ongoing project where we are using advanced imaging techniques to study brain changes across the lifespan.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

When I was in elementary school, I really wanted to become a veterinarian so I could help animals and was “very” involved as a member of Kids for Animals, a youth club of the animal protection. As you may have noticed, however, these ambitions have (slightly) changed as I got older.

What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?

Most of my studies took place in Nijmegen. I studied Psychology as I initially wanted to become a clinical neuropsychologist. However, during my study I realized that I was becoming increasingly interested in studying the brain itself; and especially the aging brain. Therefore, I went to the University of Glasgow to study neuroscientific research techniques in more depth and continued with a research master in Cognitive Neuroscience at the Donders Institute. During my internship, I mainly focused on pathological aging. In addition, I visited the University of Oxford to investigate predictors and consequences of late-life vascular brain burden in healthy individuals. When I noticed the vacancy of my current PhD position, I immediately became enthusiastic about the opportunity to combine diverse methodological approaches to study (healthy) aging and translating such findings to a more practical setting.

What excites you about working in science?

One of the things that excites me is the possibility to collaborate and connect with people from various disciplines and backgrounds. Through science, I met so many amazing and talented people. I truly believe that these experiences allow you to learn things that you can’t pick up from a course or textbook. Besides this, these experiences always give me a lot of additional energy and motivation, hence the excitement!

What aspect of your job is or has been a challenge for you?

Unfortunately, my first day as a PhD candidate coincided with the first day that we all had to work from home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Although my supervisors are doing a great job in supporting me and there are many options to stay connected online, I really miss having real-life conversations and brainstorm sessions with my colleagues.

What does your perfect weekend look like?

I think that I could best explain this with the following key words: no alarm, French toast for breakfast, a long walk in one of the nature reserves nearby Nijmegen, and catching up with friends and family.

What is the most important advice you want to share with Donders PhD candidates?

This sounds very simple, but I would recommend everyone to go for a short walk outside at least once a day. We are spending so much time at our desks while staring at our computers. A walk outside is associated with so many (scientifically proven!) benefits in terms of your mental and physical health. If you feel like you are too busy to go for a walk, remember that walks actually could help you to remain productive throughout the day (and you can definitely walk and think at the same time).

Is there a project or anything you're involved with that you'd like to promote?

I am personally not involved in this, but I recently read about the online platform Frisse Gedachtes (Fresh Thoughts). Here, students can talk anonymously to a student volunteer that is trained by a student psychologist to provide a listening ear and practical advice. I think that this is a great initiative that could potentially help out a lot of students.