Harriette Koop: Public outreach at the Donders

This post is also available in Dutch.

Harriette Koop has been the Donders’ public outreach officer and the manager of Donders Wonders for 2.5 years. Before she leaves, we asked her about her experience.

  1. What is your background? What did you study and what type of work did you do before coming to the Donders?

I originally studied neurobiology at Radboud University, but halfway through my research master’s I noticed that I didn’t see myself having a career as a neuroscientist. So I decided to shift to a master’s program at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam: Science & Communication. Via an internship at the Dutch Public Broadcaster (Nederlandse Publieke Omroep, NPO), I ended up working as a science journalist for the Dutch science radio program De Kennis van Nu (now called ‘Focus’). When the vacancy of public outreach officer at the Donders Institute came up, I applied immediately. It was very nice to be back at the Donders but in a totally new and different position.

  1. What type of work have you been doing at the Donders? What are some projects you were involved in? What were some daily tasks you performed?

My work at the Donders has always been very diverse. It has involved a lot of organizational tasks: I organized, for example, the Donders Open Day in 2016, and this year I organized several public lectures and activities for primary and high school students for the celebration of the 200th birth year of F.C. Donders. I was also involved in setting up the small F.C. Donders exhibition that will be on show at the Anatomical Museum until June 29th. But of course there were also smaller tasks such as writing news items and creating Donders promotional material. And, last but not least, I coordinated the Donders Wonder blog team, of course!

Harriette Koop, the (recent) Donders public outreach officer.

  1. What are examples of things you enjoyed about your work here and why did you enjoy them? And what are examples of things you didn’t enjoy and how could those things be changed for you to enjoy them more?

Actually, the variety of tasks and projects is something I’ve really enjoyed about my work at the Donders. I’ve never had the same day at work. Also, working together with passionate researchers to organize a great event for the general public or for primary or high school students and to see them enjoying the day is something that I’ve always found very rewarding. Furthermore, the Donders Institute provides a working environment that allows people to experiment (both in the context of science and science communication). I’ve always experienced this as a very pleasant working condition.

Something I enjoyed less in my job was that I was a bit isolated in my position. I had no communication colleagues close by as sparring partners, which sometimes made it hard to find solutions or see issues from a different perspective. But over the years this changed through more collaboration with communication colleagues from Radboud University and from Radboud medical center.

  1. What type of projects, media channels, events, etc. do you think a neuroscience research institute such as the Donders should focus on in the future? What is the “future” of public outreach for scientists?

Of course, (science) communication is a field that is constantly changing due to changes in our society. In order to stay connected to the non-scientific world, it is important for a research institute to keep track of this. Researchers need to reach out to all kinds of groups in new ways that fit how people currently communicate in society (including new media channels, festivals, debates, and other events). Also, because it often leads to new insights, I find it important that scientists get in contact with non-scientists and have a dialog about their work, no matter the channel or event. Of course, not every scientist may feel well-spoken or creative enough to be able to give talks or write blogs, for example. Therefore, I think universities and institutes can play a big role in helping find a suitable communication channel that fits each scientist personally.

  1. What advice or words of wisdom would you give to researchers such as Donderians?

No words of wisdom unfortunately, but maybe some advice: are you a scientist who would like to communicate his/her research but don’t know how? No need to worry: just contact the communication officers at your institute/university/organization. Those people are there to help you find a way to communicate that is comfortable for you.

And to the Donders Wonders bloggers especially I would like to say that I’ve really enjoyed working with this team of young, creative, and passionate researchers. You are a great example for your fellow researchers. Keep up the good work!

Written by Marisha. Edited by Monica.

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