23 August 2017

Three coordinators evaluate their courses

Looking back at this year’s Summer Schools

This year, Dynamics of Youth was involved in three Utrecht Summer Schools. We spoke to coordinators Jeroen Pasterkamp, Carlijn van den Boomen and Heidi Lesscher as they looked back on their courses: "During the week some real friendships were formed."

Heidi Lesscher: Summer School 'Addiction'
Summer School participants at the Utrecht Underground tour
The Addiction Summer School at the Utrecht Underground tour

The Summer School is well under way. How is it going?

It’s very intensive! I’m organising it by myself for the most part, and I’m working on it from the early morning till late at night. That also makes it so much fun and very personal, I can add my own touch.

This is the second time I’m doing this and I am enjoying it even more than last year. New to the programme, and a big highlight this week, is the interaction we offer students with people who have actual addiction experience. We did a walking tour with Utrecht Underground, where a former addict showed us around various places from the Utrecht addiction scene. For example the infamous tunnel under the central railway station, which used to be one of the most dangerous places in Utrecht. We were also visited by someone from the Drugs Information and Monitoring System (DIMS). How can you keep watch on the drugs market in the party scene?

Meeting with former drug addicts reminds you of why you chose this field of study.
Dr. Heidi Lesscher.
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

What do the students think?

We’ve got 11 participants from India, Brazil, Ghana, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Greece and China. They are very enthusiastic and were surprised by the interdisciplinary content of the programme. They like how we shed a light on the subject of addiction from different perspectives. The students also appreciate the direct contact with experience experts. Especially for people from the world of fundamental research, this brings the subject alive. It reminds you of why you chose this discipline, which makes it a unique experience.

At the same time it’s also a reality check. We see and hear the perspective of people who themselves were in a position where they needed help. This way, we discovered that drug addicts want to be able to have influence on their own treatments. A wake up call for the participants, but also for me. We will have to keep asking people: what do you need to quit using?

Will we see you again next year?

There will definitely be a sequel, but I am not sure yet whether that will be next year or if we are going to organise the course once every two years. That is something I still have to decide.

Read more about this course

Jeroen Pasterkamp: Neural circuit development and plasticity
A lecture at Summer School 2017
A lecture at the Summer School

How was it?

Stimulating! We had a group of 33 students from all over the globe. This was the fifth time we organized this Summer School. Some research institutes now send students every year, and we are starting to see more and more nationalities.

Besides Dutch students, this year’s participants came from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Spain, Germany, Finland, Italy, the United Kingdom, Romania, Denmark, Poland, Switzerland, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Hong Kong, India, Japan and South Africa.

This Summer School is a unique opportunity for students to meet prominent scientists from the field.
Dr. Jeroen Pasterkamp.
Brain Center Rudolf Magnus

What did the students think?

The group was very motivated, the participants interacted enthusiastically with each other as well as with the scientists we had invited. They mainly appreciated the direct contact with top-level scientists. During 'meet the scientist', researchers talked openly with the students about their own personal experiences: how do you set up a lab? Which obstacles do you face in your research?

This Summer School is a unique opportunity for students to meet prominent scientists from the field. It often leads to collaborations, so it’s very valuable for their network and career.

Furthermore, the students connected with each other within the group. All those different nationalities put together created a lot of exchange - each country has its own challenges in research, for example. That way they could also learn from each other.

Will we see you again next year?

Definitely! We have been doing this for five years now and it is only getting more fun and more international. We’ve found a format that works, with a lot of interaction and a barbecue for the social aspect. Because of that, at the end of the week, we are left with a very tight-knit group.

Carlijn van den Boomen: Neurocognitive methods in infant and toddler research
Dynamics of Youth Summer School 2017
The 'Neurocognitive methods' Summer School group

How was it?

A lot of fun! Throughout the entire week I thought: wow, this is all so interesting! And it was incredibly interactive. We had four speakers in our programme: Jean-Remy Hochmann (eyetracking), Vincent Reid (EEG), Celeste Kidd (behavioural methods) and Anna Blasi (fNIRS). All of the speakers were very responsive to the participants' questions and needs, and there was a lot of interaction within the group as well.

There is no gold standard for the choices you make in child research, but you do have to be able to answer for them
Carlijn van den Boomen
Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

What did the students learn this year?

Apart from the lectures and the practical and plenary sessions, this year we created more time for the participants to come into action. For example, we let them design a study with the method we had just discussed.

That way, they experienced first-hand how many choices you have to make when you are studying children. This put a clear perspective on the struggles that come with it, while you don’t always see that choice overload when you read another researcher’s paper. Together we came to a very clear conclusion: there are many options, there is no gold standard, but you do have to be able to answer for the choices you make.

In total 25 students participated in the Summer School, from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, England, Italy, Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, Chile and Iran. I think that during the week some real friendships were formed. Despite the intensive programme, many people came to have a drink on Friday, so it was also the social aspect that the students liked to share with each other.

Will we see you again next year?

In two years! Because it is a very specialist field, every second year a group can participate that is large and varied enough to learn a lot from each other.

International exchange students
Photo: Kees Rutten


Dynamics of Youth is one of University's four strategic themes, and combines excellent child research from all seven faculties. Within Dynamics of Youth, researchers from different disciplines integrate their expertise to answer crucial questions for future generations. How can we help our children develop into balanced individuals, that are able to function successfully in a rapidly changing environment?