Bernadette Jansma Bernadette Jansma Foto: Sacha Ruland

Bernadette Jansma: jack-of-all-trades at the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience

In Mind
Written by  Graziella Runchina Thursday, 13 January 2011 10:25

As dean of the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience (FPN), Bernadette Jansma is Maastricht University’s first and only female dean. She also recently delivered her inaugural lecture as professor of Essentials in Cognitive Neuroscience. Her specialisation: How do we speak and listen to one another, and how do we distinguish important from less important information in a discussion? In addition, she supervises the projects of young PhD and master’s students in her research group on the neurocognitive aspects of language processing. “I can live with the fact that all this shifts my own academic work to the evenings.”

Taking up her role as dean has certainly meant less time for scientific research by day. But Jansma had already learned this in 2004, when she became head of the Department of Cognitive Neuroscience. She was also well aware of it two years ago, when she seized the opportunity to become dean with both hands. “It’s a tradition in the FPN that academics take up this position at some point for several years. It pulls them out of their usual cocoon and offers them the chance to gain insight into what’s going on in our faculty, which links four strong but very different research themes –Clinical Psychological Sciences, Psychopharmacology and Neuropsychology, Work and Social Psychology, and Cognitive Neuroscience – with solid education programmes.”

International and interdisciplinary collaboration

In any event, Jansma is a strong proponent of the idea that academics should collaborate far more with other disciplines, institutes and organisations, and together capitalise on the opportunities that come along. She stresses the importance of the FPN’s cooperation with other faculties, such as its work on neuroscience with the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences (FHML), and its collaboration in The Maastricht Forensic Institute with the Faculty of Law.

And then there’s Brains Unlimited, the showpiece that is set to make Limburg a key player in the field of brain research. “With the grant that UM recently acquired, we can attract and retain experts and get them working together. And the Maastricht Brain Imaging Centre (M-BIC), which works together with the Forschungszentrum Jülich and the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMMR) in Minnesota, is developing hardware and software for advanced brain research at an international level.

“I’m really pleased that by conferring an honorary doctorate to Professor Kamil Ugurbil of the CMRR, and an honorary chair to Professor Jon Shah from Jülich, we’re forging relationships with top scientists who strengthen our expertise in the field of ultrahigh-field imaging. The MUMC contributes the clinical expertise, and makes it possible to transfer new diagnostics to the patient. Our ultimate goals are the prevention, faster detection, and better treatment of endemic diseases like Alzheimer’s, MS or Parkinson’s, but also problems like obesity, cancer and dyslexia.

“Along with its international projects, the FPN naturally also plays a role in important regional activities. For instance, we work closely with clinically oriented institutions like Rino, Riagg and Keerpunt; the involuntary commitment clinic De Rooyse Wissel; and the U-Center, which is a brand new clinic for treating addictions and psychiatric problems in Epen in South Limburg.”


With all these activities, Jansma has more than enough to do. “Still, every evening at precisely half past five, I put down my pen and switch off the PC”, she confides. “That’s when the home front needs attention.” Until about 9pm, that is, when she gets back to work. “Then I’ll answer the phone again, read reports and have some time to think.” In addition to her full-time job as dean, where she is ‘responsible’ for 1500 students and around 200 faculty staff, Jansma is still a regular course coordinator and tutor, including on the international research master’s in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience. What’s more, she is also a mentor for students not just at the FPN but also at the University College Maastricht. “When it comes to educating young people, the direct relationship between scientific and educational expertise is the most important aspect.”

Intrinsic motivation

“It does sound like a lot, when you put it that way. But I’m really happy with everything I do. My drive comes from a genuine, intrinsic motivation to be passionately involved in scientific research and to translate this into teaching. I love discussing things with the generation of the future, thinking along with them about how to make things better or different. I’m a caring type by nature, I suspect.”

Fortunately, her husband takes care of lots of things around the house, which also counts among its members two young children. “He’s a brain researcher himself, and luckily quite flexible in his working hours. He’s my number one partner in substantive discussions about brain functions, but also in parenthood. I’m very grateful for this – but he knows that.”

Bernadette Jansma (45) obtained her PhD from Nijmegen’s Max Planck Institute in 1998, and was the McDonnell-Pew postdoc fellow at the University of California (San Diego) in 1997/98. She has been working at UM since 1998, responsible for helping to establish the Department of Cognitive Neuroscience, the M-BIC and the research master’s programme. In 2002 she received an Aspasia, an award from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to promote the representation of women in the upper echelons of academia. She is also coordinator of the EU FP7 Marie Curie Initial Training Network ‘Neurophysics’ and the NWO graduate programme ‘Methods in Neuroimaging’. As professor of Essentials in Cognitive Neuroscience, Jansma now focuses on information selection in language processing, in addition to her role as FPN dean.

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