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“A few months before I was on my deathbed”

“A few months before I was on my deathbed”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes Fotografie

Dies: the university’s thirty-fifth anniversary

One of the winners studied collaborative art, another one placenta cells. Seven graduates recently received the 2010 Student Award for best thesis. Observant finds out what their thesis was about, what the low point in their research process was, where they’ll be in five years and what they actually wanted to be when they were kids.

Emiel Post Uiterweer (26), Dutch

Graduate of the master’s in Medicine

Explain your thesis topic so that your grandmother would understand: “I did research at the University of Florida into the early development of the placenta. Sometimes babies are born with a low birth weight or toxaemia of pregnancy occurs. It is a sign that something has gone wrong early on in the pregnancy: the placenta has not developed properly. Despite years of research it is still not known exactly how this happens, but it has been found that in many cases the blood vessels to the placenta are not properly remodelled, which results in an inadequate blood supply to the placenta. I have worked with the placenta cells that are responsible for this remodelling; I developed a new model to study those cells and their behaviour.”

Low point in the thesis process? “In particular in medical research, one spends a long time developing a good model, trying to simulate reality as well as possible. It took me almost six months to get a small model working.”

In five years time, I will be…“Recently graduated and training to be a gynaecologist. I will continue my research at the UMC in Utrecht from 1 March.”

Earlier, I wanted to…“Have a job where I could use my hands. I finished grammar school and took a look around in the academic world; to find out in which field I could be a construction worker. It turned out to be medicine.”

 

Marc Jacobs (28), Belgian

Graduate of the master’s in Dutch Law, specialisation toga master

Explain your thesis topic so that your grandmother would understand: “That is about the obligation of substantiation (substantiëringsplicht in Dutch). If you have a legal dispute with someone, for example with a customer who refuses to pay, you can have that person summonsed. The obligation of substantiation means that you must include in the summons not just your own story, the claim, but also the other party’s story, the defendant’s. It makes it easier for the judge, because he or she will be informed of both sides in one go. In my thesis, I first sketched a general image. After that, I looked at how it operates in practice: how lawyers deal with it. I wrote 15 thousand e-mails to all lawyers in the Netherlands. Ten per cent responded.”

Low point in the thesis process? “None. A few months before I was on my deathbed. That helps you put things into perspective.” On your deathbed? “I had finished my training with the UM Advocatenpraktijk and only needed to write my thesis. Out of the blue I contracted a nerve disease, an autoimmune disease. I was paralysed, I couldn’t even speak. I was in a coma for two weeks. Eventually I was completely cured. During my recovery, I could hardly do anything, which is why I decided to send all those e-mails.”

In five years time, I will be …“In the Netherlands, I think. At the moment I have a small company with a friend in which we put Dutch law into practice. We do debtor management. No, we are not a debt-collection agency. We take on all the risks, buy up the entire legal position and try to get the money afterwards.”

Earlier, I wanted to… “Be happy. Really. The profession is only one aspect of a person.”

 

Macarena García González (30), Chilean

Graduate of the master’s in Arts and Sciences

Explain your thesis topic so that your grandmother would understand: “I’ve analysed the cultural constructions in the global adoption of children from the third world by Westerners. To understand how it’s possible for Westerners to think that global adoption is a completely normal, even an admirable thing to do. In my case I’ve focused on the adoption of Chinese children by Spanish parents. Since the 1990s, Spain as a country has adopted the largest number of children in Europe, so it was a good place to start the research. I’ve analysed two types of texts: children’s books about adoption and weblogs written by the parents during and after the adoption process.”

What made you choose this topic? “I’m a journalist and have always been interested in socially important questions. There’s a lot of discussion about global adoption, about whether it’s good or not.”
In five years I will… “I hope I will have finished my PhD on the same topic. At the moment I’m preparing my proposal here in Maastricht, and I hope I get a scholarship.”
Earlier, I wanted to… “Become a writer of children books. I have actually written and published some, but it’s no longer what I want to do.”

 

Andreas Schumacher (24), German

Graduate of the master’s in Psychology

Explain your thesis topic so that your grandmother would understand: “I used the Concealed Information Test on groups. The Concealed Information Test is a method of detecting whether an individual is concealing information. It’s sometimes used at a crime investigation. The administrator tests the participant on their knowledge of the crime that would not be known to an innocent person. For example, if a murder has taken place in a room with a red wall, you ask: was there a coloured wall in the room? Before my research, these kinds of tests were only done on individuals. This is the first time it was done on a group.”

Why this topic? “We had some classes about concealed information. I thought it was very interesting and started talking with the project leader, Ewout Meijer. The University of Cologne was interested as well and joined in.”

Low point in the research process? “Actually, it all went pretty well. Thanks to the University of Cologne we had our 110 candidates tested in three weeks. That gave me a month to analyse the data and write my thesis.”

In five years I will… “I just started a career as a recruiter in Brussels. We work on the financial market, finding candidates for jobs at banks and big companies. It’s completely different from my thesis subject. I like the work I’m doing now, I might still be doing it in five years’ time – but who knows what might come along.”

 

Ana Raus (26), German

Graduate of the UCM bachelor’s

Explain your thesis topic so that your grandmother would understand: “My research was on collaborative art. I looked at collaboration between artists from different countries and artists with other people. First, I studied the field itself. There was no real definition of collaborative art yet. I interviewed artists involved in collaborative projects and came up with four classifications; artists working with artists, artists with scientists, artists with their audience – for instance with flashmobs – and artists with amateurs.”

Why this subject? “I’ve always been interested in the arts. If you look at the art scene, you see a trend towards more collaboration. Digital media plays a big role in this trend. People start exchanging ideas on Facebook or other social media.”

Low point in the research process? “It was quite hard to find a definition. You run the risk of not being able to apply it on all things involved. But you don’t want it to be too general either. So I had difficulties with how to phrase it in a way that was correct and made sense.”

Does intelligence run in the family? “Haha – well I think my parents are intelligent. They’re both chemists. My sister is studying computer science, so I’m the black sheep with my study of the arts. I’m now doing the research master’s in Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology.”      

 

Monique Luijten (24), Dutch

Graduate of the master’s in Clinical Molecular Sciences

Explain your thesis topic so that your grandmother would understand: “I worked on a study on Biert-Hogg-Dubé syndrome in the dermatology department. People with this syndrome have mild tumours on their face, cysts in their lungs which can cause a pneumothorax and a higher risk of kidney cancer. We know which gene causes this disease, but we know very little about the protein it codes with. I focused on cyst formation not only in the lungs, but also in the kidneys, liver and pancreas. These are all organs with a tube-formed structure.”

Why this topic? “During the master’s you have to do two internships. My first one was in microbiology, which was interesting but I missed working at the level of cells. In dermatology you work a lot with cell culture and the microscope. Also, in that department they used a lot of techniques that were new to me, and I thought that would be good to learn too.”

Low point in the research process? “I didn’t really have one. Although in the beginning, my supervisor was very busy so I had some problems getting started. But when I got going, it all went very smoothly.”

In five years I will… “I just started a PhD on the same subject as my thesis. I’m enjoying it very much so I’m confident that I’ll finish this process. What I’ll do afterwards, I don’t know yet. Although it might be good to leave Maastricht. I did my bachelor’s, master’s and now my PhD here.”

 

Observant couldn’t reach Maren Becker, a graduate of International Business. But we managed to interview her supervisor Elisabeth Brüggen, assistant professor at the Department of Marketing, about her thesis topic. “I’ll start with an example. You know the Apple iPhone. When it was launched on the mobile phone market, it had a novel function: a touch screen. Because it was so successful, competitors decided to copy it. Maren researched what the best thing to do for the competitors would be. Just copy it, or add additional features, for example an extra camera or other functions? She also wanted to know if this was the best way to copy it and make it better or add truly new functions. Think of a laptop you can charge by solar power and not only by plugging it in.”

Quite rightly a winner? “The topic is very interesting and relevant. She did a lot of work, analysed it very independently, has a good writing style and presented her research at a marketing science conference in Germany. I know she’s planning to travel to Australia and she wants to do a PhD.”

 

Wendy Degens and Cleo Freriks

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