Jasmijn chose biomedical research instead of a dancing career

During her high school years, Jasmijn Heijzelaar (21) was sure she wanted to apply for art school. But then she visited one of HAN’s Open Days and learned about Life Sciences. Four years later she is doing fundamental research on nervous system development in octopuses for her internship at KU Leuven. “They can camouflage themselves within milliseconds, that’s fascinating.”

Life Sciences-student Jasmijn Hazelaar loopt stage in Leuven

She had already begun her internship a couple weeks before the academic year in Belgium started, so there was a period of calm before the storm for Life Science student Jasmijn Heijzelaar (21) in the typical student city of Leuven. She didn’t mind, because it gave her space to get to know her new surroundings, start up experiments and hang out with her colleagues. “The people at the lab are really nice.

'Octopuses are very intelligent'

Jasmijn is currently doing an internship at KU Leuven, where she researches gene regulatory networks driving embryonic neurogenesis in octopuses. “This means I’m researching the underlying molecular mechanisms that make cells migrate and differentiate in certain directions, becoming optic nerves for example”, she explains. “It’s complex, but that’s exactly what I like about it.”

“In this research on octopuses, everything is new. It’s cool to realize you’re (one of the) first to unravel the mysteries of octopus neurogenesis. Octopuses have large brains, like humans. And they are very intelligent. They have problem-solving abilities and can camouflage themselves within milliseconds. I find that fascinating.”

Digging in the unknown

“Learning to understand neurodevelopment in an octopus can teach us more about this intricate process in humans as well”, Jasmijn explains. “An octopus’ newborn neurons are a good example of that. They undergo long-distance migration, just like in humans. This implies that cell migration is of great significance in the development of large brains.”

It’s the ‘digging into the unknown’ that makes Jasmijn so excited about fundamental research. She specifically chose this internship because of the expertise at its laboratory of developmental neurobiology, after an internship in Bergen (Norway) had sparked her interests in nervous systems and how they develop. “It’s interesting to see that cells can take specific identities, exert specific functions and together form a complete nervous system.”

Plenty of room for creativity

As someone who looked to be on her way towards a professional dancing career during high school, biomolecular research appears like a surprising choice. But Jasmijn has always had an interest in biology, and during an Open Day of HAN she learned about the study of Life Sciences.

She found out that there was plenty of room for creativity in this direction. “In order to find solutions to scientific problems, you need to think outside of the box and consider all possible angles. Also, I knew that I would love to study abroad, so the fact that this degree is in English fits perfectly!”

From bachelor to master to PhD

Jasmijn already knows that she’d like to continue her research career in the field of medical biology. “I want to come back to Nijmegen next year to start a master’s in neurobiology, and after that I think I want to do a PhD. That’ll be either in fundamental research or cognitive science.” Either way, it’s clear that she’s dancing her way through life anyway.

If you want to learn more about the bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences, click here

Photo David van Haren