Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Sjoerd Meijer

Date of news: 6 April 2021

Life of april 2021Foto interviewWhat’s your name, nationality, current function, and department?
Hi! My name is Sjoerd (do I even need to mention my nationality after this? You pronounce it like “should” and then you replace the ‘l’ with an ‘r’, so something like “shourd”. Amazing right?). I am a Dutch, first year PhD student and part of the Affective Neuroscience and Cognitive Neuromodulation labs. Although a monthly salary can in no time make you extremely ‘burgerlijk’, I am still very much a student when I arrive at ticket desks in cinemas and museums. I hope there will soon be a time when that’s possible again!

What is the topic of your PhD project and what does your work look like in practice?
How do humans learn about threats? This is the topic of my first PhD project. To answer this question, we will use transcranial ultrasonic stimulation to non-invasively modulate the amygdala during fear learning.
Recently, I have been spending a lot of time on obtaining the ethical approval for my first research project. There are sooo many forms. Fortunately, I am the daily supervisor of two awesome students, Jesse and Colette, who already started with practical lab work for their projects on fear conditioning and MR-based skull imaging. I am also working together with Bob, an amazing post-doc, on a project in which we use transcranial alternating current stimulation to alter social behaviour in socially anxious individuals. All this makes me even more excited to start on my own project! To make this a success, I get a lot of great advice from Linda, yet another amazing post-doc in my lab.

What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?
I was born, raised and educated in Nijmegen. I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and master’s degree in Cognitive Neuroscience. I came to my current position because of my interest in anxiety, the amygdala, and non-invasive deep brain stimulation.

What did you want to be when you were younger?
A biologist, until I was confronted with the citric acid cycle (NL: “citroenzuurcyclus”).

What is your favourite book and why?
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. The most important message for me: do not let your own hypocrisy hold you back from defending important beliefs and values. Nobody is perfect. As an example, you can be a feminist in many ways and still enthusiastically rap or sing along with songs that call woman “bitches” and “hoes”. It is probably better to have many bad feminists than only a few perfect feminists. I guess the same applies to discussions about eating meat, reducing waste, etc. Big changes come from a lot of people making a small change.

What is the most important advice you want to share with the Donders PhD candidates?
Your supervisor also writes 1st versions of papers and grant applications. Ask if they want to share those (in confidence). Believe me, it will become much easier to send your first version of anything.

What aspect of your job do you excel at?
Having fun! Do your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.

What aspect of your job is a challenge for you?
Not laughing too hard during our online meetings when my PhD colleague Benjamin makes one of his super inappropriate but hilarious jokes.