Dirk Jan Ardesch, alumnus Master's Neuroscience and Cognition (track Cognitive Neuroscience)

Alumnus Dirk Jan Ardesch in front of the Hijmans van den Bergh building

"My PhD involves a study of the wiring principles of brain networks, also known as connectomes. My work involves a lot of data analysis and the use of MRI datasets. Because the field of connectomics is rapidly developing, sometimes we need to create our own analytical tools and methods. This is very exciting work. My goal is to discover some of the network features that make the human connectome so special: how does the wiring of our brain allow for abstract thinking, language, and other complex cognitive functions? Connectomics allows us to look at the brain at this level between the function of cells and behaviour.

I am currently a PhD student at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. During my Master’s I gained experience in designing experiments, analysing data, and writing up the results – all skills essential for my work. The high level of interdisciplinary neuroscience research at Utrecht University made this an excellent programme – the interdisciplinary perspective, for instance, has proven highly relevant for the direction science is taking, where integration of different types of research and collaboration is becoming much more important.

One of the best experiences I had during my Master’s was organising Mind the Brain, an annual neuroscience symposium. This was an extracurricular activity, but it was invaluable in terms of how much it taught me about collaboration, leadership and the “real world” of science. It helped me to realise that to be a successful scientist you must be good at working with people and showcasing your work. Another advantage of this programme was the curriculum, which allowed me to explore different areas and discover which area interested me most. The two long internships gave me the opportunity to try different types of research. All these different aspects helped me to find my place within neuroscience research – and I’m confident that they will continue to help me during my future career."

Claudia Amboni, alumnus Master's Neuroscience and Cognition (track Experimental and Clinical Neuroscience)

Alumnus Claudia Amboni in front of the Hijmans van den Bergh building

"This Master’s is a great opportunity to find out which is the right career path for you – you are given the scope to find out what interests you most, the opportunity to experience it, and the chance to develop the necessary skills and networks to pursue it as a career. I currently work as a PhD student at the Brain Center Rudolf Magnus – a position I acquired thanks to a project I worked on during my Master’s. I am working on an extremely interesting project that aims to investigate the role of glial cells, the brain’s immune cells, following a Subarachnoid, Hemorrage (SAH), a bleeding in the brain.

As a PhD student, most days I work hands-on with science in the lab, where I look at how the brain’s glial cells react to a SAH and determine whether there could be ways to tweak the healing process and improve the recovery of patients. The most interesting aspect of my work is that I get to work in a lab, observing and measuring processes in our brain that are going on at the cellular or even molecular level. Being a PhD student also involves a lot of work on a computer and reading scientific literature: it is like getting paid to be a student and learn things!

This programme is a diverse and full opportunity. During my first year I participated in a Graduate Program, in which I was selected with eight other students to write a PhD project proposal with one of the top PIs at our university, with the possibility to get funding for two of us. I got to closely work with Professor Elly Hol, who gave me advice and guidance on how to plan a PhD. Unfortunately I did not get the funding – but this did not matter because the experience, together with my major internship, allowed me to get to know the Hol lab, and for them to know and mentor me. As a result, I started working with the Hol lab as soon as I graduated from my Master’s."