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Original ideas and risky research

Original ideas and risky research

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/Simone Golob

Carolien Martijn inspired by Piet Vroon

Carolien Martijn (50), senior lecturer at the Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences, came close to throwing in the towel when she was a student. “Choosing psychology was not a positive choice. I chose it because all other studies seemed more boring.” It was her lecturer Piet Vroon, the psychologist who has meanwhile passed away, who managed to convince her that she should continue.

His biography is on her desk. “Borrowed from a colleague to prepare myself for this interview,” says Martijn.

Vroon became famous in the nineteen-eighties and nineteen-nineties with his books and media performances. He presented a weekly radio programme for the VPRO and wrote ‘Tranen van de krokodil’. He included various theories and facts about evolutionary psychology in this book.

Martijn: “He had original ideas, did what NWO (The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) refers to as risky research and had a broad interest. He studied the connection between the IQs of fathers and their sons, he studied holy men, sadhus, in Nepal and India. He tried to come up with a theory for everything and in doing so was subject to a lot of criticism from fellow-scientists. That was his downfall.”

Vroon became depressed and combined pills and alcohol. This prompted the tragic end to his life. He was found dead at home at the age of 58. It is unclear whether his death was a deliberate choice. Presumably it was, judging by what he wrote in books in the last months of his life: ‘in memoriam Piet Vroon’. 

“It was through him that I discovered that psychology was more than just helping people,” says Martijn. “During his lectures, he spoke of empiric research and experiments, and I thought that was great. It appeared that psychology was also about asking questions and looking for answers. After his lectures, a small group of us would stay back in the lecture hall and Vroon would continue his teaching.”

She wants to be the source of inspiration for her students in the way Vroon was for her. Despite her enthusiasm for problem-based learning in her tutorials groups, she argues in favour of lectures. “Students need inspiring stories from experts. That is why TED talks are so popular. Students are always sharing links to interesting talks in my tutorial groups."

To inspire students for her field, she invented the “professor parade”. A series of 20-minute lectures in which various professors talk about their research and its importance. “These lectures are very popular, even though they are not compulsory for students.” She also managed to set up teaching sessions for secondary school students at the UM. “This programme, which is called the pre-university Teenz College, is meant for students with a broad interest. They take lectures at various faculties, create tutorial groups and carry out small research projects.” With this initiative she hopes to inspire students for the subject matter, so that they “briefly stop with their Facebook activities”. 

Ingrid Candel

This is a series in which scientists talk about a person that inspired them most

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