Universiteit Leiden

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Olivier de Winter

Psychologist Zsuzsika Sjoerds takes over the Twitter account @NL_Wetenschap

Zsuzsika Sjoerds seems to be busy with her research, her teaching, and open science advocacy. She will also take over the Twitter account for Dutch scientists. Folllow our cognitive neuroscientist at @NL_Wetenschap from 30 September till 6 October 2019.

'I think hosting this twitter account @NL_Wetenschap for a week fits with me wanting to reach out to society about science. I saw that this account is followed mainly by a lot of my co-scientists, but I hope I can also reach non-scientists or future scientists, like students. I want to show what I do, how my daily life as a scientist looks like. There are all these sides to being a scientist; I teach, I supervise students, I have to do a lot of administration, but I am also involved in committees and policy-making… and of course, the science and research itself. These things are all very important to me and my career, so I have to split up every week into all these different tasks, and I would like to show all of that.'

Could you tell us a bit about your research?

'I’m a cognitive neuroscientist and my main research area is cognitive control. Here at the Cognitive Psychology department I look at how healthy people control their behaviour. People can be really flexible or really persistent. How do they trade this off? Why do some people tend to be more flexible or more persistent in their behavior, and how can easily they switch between these states?'

Zsuzsika Sjoerds

So, how exactly did you end up as a researcher? Is that maybe something you’ve always dreamed of?

'Not really. I started studying psychology because I wanted to be a therapist. During my studies I even already had an idea about how to decorate my future practice! I was taught about the brain by Erik Scherder at the VU University in Amsterdam. He did it in such a motivating way that I really got interested. I think another factor that played a role is that during my childhood, I suffered from epilepsy. That also triggered some interest in what happened in my brain. When I followed these lectures on the brain I realized “Oh wow, I find this more interesting than being a therapist!”.'

'I did Clinical Neuropsychology at the VU in Amsterdam with the idea that I could also work at the more clinical side of psychology, but at the same time have expertise in how the brain works. But then I did a research internship, and became research assistant, and following that I kind of rolled into a PhD project the psychiatry department of the VU University Medical Center. During a PhD you learn to be a scientist, and somehow you don’t learn how to be anything else, so you kind of stick with being a scientist, I guess!'

'Afterwards I did a research PostDoc at the Max Planck Research Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences at Leipzig. When I came to Leiden afterwards, I also started teaching and coordinating education, which interested me a lot. So now I’m not only a researcher, I’m also a teacher, an academic.'

You also do quite a lot of science activism

'Well, it started a few years ago, around November 2016, when some very disturbing things happened in the world. That moment I realized that things were not looking well for science, as even policymakers and politicians denied scientific insights. Me and many of my colleagues started worrying. This is when we heard that March for Science was going to happen in the US, and that they wanted to turn it into a global movement.'

'So, in April 2017 we organized the Dutch March for Science to make clear that science is not just an opinion, that it’s also very important in policy and other decision-making. It was very successful! It took place in Amsterdam and we had around 3000 people attending. Of course, there were mainly scientists joining, but I believe about one fourth of the people attending were non-scientists. We had stands to inform people about the scientific method and they were really interested in that. This was a very big motivation boost that there is still interest in science and the methodology, and many more people worried with us. We continued the science advocacy, such as with Stand Up for Science.'

'People tend to not believe in science anymore and I am trying to find out why this is. Does the issue lie within science, or the communication of science? Is it because many scientific studies can’t be replicated? This last issue is also the reason why the Open Science Community Leiden (OSCL) was recently started, to facilitate open science and to be more transparent and aware of our own biases so that we can improve scientific conduct, scientific practice, and scientific communication.'

'With these initiatives me and many others are trying to improve scientific practice and the image of science in society, by reaching out to people who might be sceptical or who might be wondering and doubting about conflicting results or messages.'

(Text: Katarzyna Kołodziejczyk)
Mail the web editor of the Institute of Psychology

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