Learning while sleeping, it exists!


Cover photo: Llantwit Major

One moment you’re studying in Cardiff, the next you start a new job in Hoevelaken. Quite a change. Early this year, Anne Koopman stepped into our office at the Drs. W. van Royenstraat. That must have been a strange feeling, because the corona pandemic had led to it being almost empty. Only a small number of the 20 colleagues were present to welcome Anne.

Studying while sleeping

Anne obtained her Bachelor in Social Sciences, and two years later completed the Research Master Cognitive Neuropsychology cum laude at the VU in Amsterdam. That was the moment Anne and her partner Timo decided to travel. No sooner said than done. An eight-month tour of South and Central America was the result.

But the adventure abroad didn’t stop after that?

“No, Timo had the opportunity to do his Masters in Edinburgh. It occurred to me that it would be nice if I could do my PhD in the UK as well. That became a PhD at Cardiff University. I didn’t realise at the time that Cardiff and Edinburgh are really very far away from each other,” Anne says with a laugh. “Luckily Timo found a job in Cardiff after his Masters. I’m very glad he was able to, because the capital of Wales is actually a relatively small city with only about 350,000 inhabitants, where only a few companies are active in his field.”

What was your PhD about?

“My research was about the effect of sleep on memory. I did a number of experiments with people who came to my sleep lab. I presented sounds to them as part of a task where they had to learn something. Then, they went to sleep. I would replay some of those sounds during certain stages of sleep, trying to induce a memory in their sleep without waking them up. The idea was that if they did the task again when they were awake, they would perform better on those parts of the task that I stimulated with those sounds, compared to the parts of the task that I had not triggered. Sounds a bit like science fiction, doesn’t it? But the result was that people did indeed perform better on items that I reactivated in their sleep.”

Sounds a bit like the high school fable: put your textbook under your pillow if you have a test the next day, and then you’ll do well.

“There’s research like that with regards to learning other languages. For example, participants learn German to Dutch translations, and subsequently during sleep half of the German words are replayed. That investigation also showed that the translation of the reactivated half was better remembered the next day. But putting a book under your pillow? No, unfortunately that doesn’t help. You always have to learn beforehand, haha.

“There is also much good to do outside of science”

Did you not want to continue in science?

“No. I never went into academia with the thought that I wanted to become a professor. Working in science is also very uncertain. There are many temporary jobs of one to two years and that would be the outlook for the next 15 years. Until you are lucky and get a permanent position.” Anne also says that she and her partner wanted to settle in Amsterdam. “Then temporary positions from university to university don’t make sense. I also just enjoy a lot of different things. Four years of research for my PhD was fun, but also enough. I also wanted to do something different and I think there is a lot of good to do outside of science.”

How did you end up at E+M?

“I had been following Marlieke van Kesteren on Twitter for a while, because she had done research on a related topic.  She had taken the step to leave academia and I happened to see her tweet that you were looking for new employees. I approached her and asked about her experiences. The enthusiastic way she spoke about it, the daily things she was doing: it sounded really fun, so I took the plunge and applied.”

What appealed to you in the position and our company?

“Everything, actually. You work on various subjects, with innovative projects that are not yet in the newspaper. It is varied work. I like to explore new things, dive into new topics. And I was also looking for that bit of security that a job entails.”

Did your idea match reality in terms of work?

“Pretty much, yes. My idea that a consultant has a lot of knowledge of the various grants and that they know how to write a good application was correct. I also correctly expected that the consultant guides clients in how to improve their writing. What I didn’t know is that there are so many subsidy schemes. I had some idea with regards to scientific grants, but I didn’t realise that there are so many schemes for businesses as well. I also didn’t know that there are such large consortia with up to 30 partners. It’s a much bigger world than I anticipated.”

Discovering the world

And now you work in the medical sector at Evers + Manders?

Yes, but not limited to the medical sector. I am already broadening my view. For example, I’m currently working on a LIFE project with Erik Jan and Nina and the subject is far from medical. I really enjoy that, discovering new things.

Anne at a shipwreck in Aqaba (Jordan)

That’s what characterises Anne: discovering. Besides the world above water, she also explored the underwater world. She started diving in Wales. “Very cold, but great fun. In Wales you will find a lot of plant life under water, and seals, lobsters, dogfish. Dogfish are a type of very small shark, really cute. And shipwrecks, you will find them there as well. In Jordan where I dived last year, it is very different. More colourful fish, interesting corals, and turtles.”

The transition from Wales to Amsterdam is quite big. Don’t you miss Wales?

In Cardiff you are close to water and close to mountains. A short drive on the weekend and then you’re in an amazing nature reserve, I definitely miss that. But Timo and I wanted to relocate to the Amsterdam region because of family and friends. And maybe also a bit because we met there, while studying. More than seven years ago… What a strange thought.

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