Dieudonnee van de Willige

Nice to meet you!

I’m a science enthusiast with a talent for writing and other forms of communication.

After obtaining my PhD in molecular neurobiology and simultaneously working as a columnist, I’m now combining these skills in the science communication field.

At the moment I work as science communications advisor for Maastricht University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering. I’m also on the board of SciCom NL, a Dutch association for science communication.

Featured articles

Mind the pitfalls when recognizing and rewarding science communication

July 27, 2022

Opinion piece for ScienceGuide, the online magazine for Dutch higher education and research. 

It features recommendations on how to include science communication in Recognition and Rewards policies, and is largely based on my earlier pieces on LinkedIn.

How will Recognition and Rewards change communications departments of knowledge institutions?

May 24, 2022

The academic world is currently discussing a different way of recognizing and rewarding academic researchers. What does it mean for communications departments, if science communication becomes part of this new policy?

The answers are a reality check for the way we approach science communication and the researchers we work with.

3 conditions for recognizing and rewarding impact

January 31, 2022

Evaluating impact is complicated. If we are to evaluate researchers for their impact, we need to have a serious discussion about fair and robust ways of doing so.

This article is meant as a conversation starter. It presents three conditions to help shape Recognition and Rewards policies around science communication.

About me

There are three premises that shape the way I work as a science communicator and communications advisor:

1. I get science

Not just the content, but academia and its politics as well.

After completing my STEM PhD, I retained my close contacts with researchers and intrinsic interest in science policy. 

This provides an advantage in academic surroundings. My background removes the barriers researchers experience when interacting with communications professionals. 

Whether it’s about quantum computing or #WOinActie, about optogenetics or reviewer #2 – I not only understand what scientists work on, but also where they come from.

2. I get writing, too

Or so say a bunch of awards juries and newspaper subscribers.

I spent four years working as a Saturday columnist for De Telegraaf, the biggest newspaper in the Netherlands. In a reader survey conducted among 1,000 subscribers, 89% indicated they enjoyed my column.

Prior to being scouted for this position, I won two awards with my columns as a student. 

3. I never tried it before - so I think I can do it

Turns out Pippi Longstocking was right. I’m self-taught in everything except science. 

Projects I’ve spontaneously taken up include creating the two-day alternate reality game ‘MASA’, building websites such as this one, touring with a science theatre show, and single-handedly taking care of writing, editing, layout and print production for magazines.

As a result, I comfortably know my way around Adobe CS (Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, InDesign) and various content management systems (Drupal and WordPress, but also plain html/css). I also dabble in streaming (OBS Studio).

There are three premises that shape the way I work as a science communicator and communications advisor:

1. I get science

Not just the content, but academia and its politics as well.

After completing my STEM PhD, I retained my close contacts with researchers and intrinsic interest in science policy. 

This provides an advantage in academic surroundings. My background removes the barriers researchers experience when interacting with communications professionals. 

Whether it’s about quantum computing or #WOinActie, about optogenetics or reviewer #2 – I not only understand what scientists work on, but also where they come from.

2. I get writing, too

Or so say a bunch of awards juries and newspaper subscribers.

I spent four years working as a Saturday columnist for De Telegraaf, the biggest newspaper in the Netherlands. In a reader survey conducted among 1,000 subscribers, 89% indicated they enjoyed my column.

Prior to being scouted for this position, I won two awards with my columns as a student. 

3. I never tried it before - so I think I can do it

Turns out Pippi Longstocking was right. I’m self-taught in everything except science. 

Projects I’ve spontaneously taken up include creating the two-day alternate reality game ‘MASA’, building websites such as this one, touring with a science theatre show, and single-handedly taking care of writing, editing, layout and print production for magazines.

As a result, I comfortably know my way around Adobe CS (Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, InDesign) and various content management systems (Drupal and WordPress, but also plain html/css). I also dabble in streaming (OBS Studio).

Highlighted projects

A selection of projects that make me happy. 

Alternate reality game 'MASA'

A narrative-driven, cross-media puzzle game for 150 to 200 players.
Played over the course of two days in September 2020.
2020

City tour and photo exhibition 'Math/Maastricht'

Story collection showcasing mathematics research at Maastricht University. Collaboration with the UM Art and Heritage Committee (Mieke Derickx). With photos by Joey Roberts.
2019

ScienceBattle

Competitive science theatre show with a rotating cast of 4 PhD students. I performed in 17 shows across the Netherlands and won 6 of them.
until 2019

Rendition of Rembrandt's 'The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp'

Cover for the November 2019 edition of EMBO Reports and for my PhD thesis. Commissioned from Jasper Landman and featuring part of my PhD lab crew.
2018

Illustrated scientific conference poster

Featuring a full-size, hand-drawn 3D depiction of the model presented in my co-first author Neuron publication. Winner of the poster prize at the 2015 Science for Life Conference.
2015

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CV

Dieudonnée van de Willige

Contact me via dieudonnee.net

Science enthusiast with a passion and talent for writing, storytelling and natural/hard sciences. 

I combine my scientific background with a track record in communication.

Experience

2022 – current:

Science Communications Advisor, Maastricht University (Faculty of Science and Engineering)

I’m tasked with setting up science communication for the whole faculty. This includes setting up infrastructure and policy, as well as hands-on work.

2020 – current:

Board member, SciCom NL (www.scicom.nl)

SciCom NL is one of the main Dutch associations for science communication. I serve on the board as a general secretary.

2018 – 2022:

Communications Advisor/Editor, Maastricht University (Department of Data Science and Knowledge Engineering)

Broad communications support – including internal and external communication – with a focus on research communication.

2013 – 2018:

PhD student, Utrecht University

I completed my PhD research in molecular neurobiology under supervision of Prof. Dr. Anna Akhmanova and Prof. Dr. Casper Hoogenraad. During this time, I experimented with various forms of science communication as well.

2012 – 2016:

Columnist, De Telegraaf

During my master’s studies and PhD research, I wrote weekly columns for the regional supplement of De Telegraaf (print run approx. 25,000 copies). 89% of readers enjoyed reading my columns according to a poll among 1,000 subscribers.

2012:

Columnist, DUB

I won the first column writing competition of DUB, Utrecht University’s independent news outlet. My prize included one year of being featured as their dedicated ‘campus columnist’.

Diplomas and certificates

2013 – 2018:

PhD in Molecular Neurobiology, Utrecht University

PhD thesis: ‘Anatomy of the axon: dissecting the role of microtubule plus-end tracking proteins in axons of hippocampal neurons’. 

Publications cited >200 times as of 2022.

2011 – 2013:

Master of Science (MSc) in Molecular & Cellular Life Sciences, Utrecht University

Including a minor track in Science Communication and Education and an extracurricular honours track. Graduated cum laude with a GPA of 4.0/average grade of 8.68. 

2008 – 2011:

Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Chemistry, Utrecht University

Including an extracurricular honours track. Graduated cum laude with a GPA of 4.0/average grade of 8.29.

2006:

Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE)

Grade A. Written and spoken English at CEFR level C1.

Competences

Main skills:

Understanding and opening up complex science, working in scientific environments, writing and editing (native in Dutch and near-native in English).

Tools:

For graphics and print: Adobe CS (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign). For web: Drupal, Wordpress (Elementor, Wordpress editor). For video: Adobe Premiere Pro (editing) and OBS Studio (streaming).

Personal:

Sharp-minded, self-starter, engaged, analytical and creative.

Masa

A home-brew alternate reality game that tricked 150 first-year students into going on a wild ride.

I love games. And I love online communities. Luckily for me, our Data Science and Artificial Intelligence students do as well.

So when higher education moved online during the pandemic, I proposed to create an alternate reality game to provide a unique bonding experience for our incoming students.

Alternate reality game


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 

An alternate reality game (ARG) is an interactive networked narrative that uses the real world as a platform and employs transmedia storytelling to deliver a story that may be altered by players’ ideas or actions.

The form is defined by intense player involvement with a story that takes place in real time and evolves according to players’ responses. Subsequently, it is shaped by characters that are actively controlled by the game’s designers, as opposed to being controlled by an AI as in a computer or console video game. […]

01000001 01110101 01100111 01110101 01110011 01110100 00100000 00110010 00110000 00110010 00110000 00100000 01001101 01100001 01100001 01110011 01110100 01110010 01101001 01100011 01101000 01110100

Alternate reality game


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 

An alternate reality game (ARG) is an interactive networked narrative that uses the real world as a platform and employs transmedia storytelling to deliver a story that may be altered by players’ ideas or actions.

The form is defined by intense player involvement with a story that takes place in real time and evolves according to players’ responses. Subsequently, it is shaped by characters that are actively controlled by the game’s designers, as opposed to being controlled by an AI as in a computer or console video game. […]

The cool thing about an ARG is that you can’t tell anyone about it. You can’t even acknowledge the game’s existence as it takes place. Players are completely on their own: they have to find, and then act upon, the breadcrumb trail you hid in plain sight.

Much to my relief, that’s exactly what happened over the course of two days in 2020. 

“Through exploring the Error 404 Page we found the text ‘please free our colleague’ and sent it to an email which sent back the pastebin in binary. Once decrypted it needed to be decrypted again but there is a final decryption we still haven’t figured out yet….”

– First-year student

Narrative and execution

MASA reveals the story of a professor’s kidnapping just before the Introduction Days.

As the ‘regular’ Introduction Days start in the morning of Day 1, students are immediately primed to start investigating. A combination of visual and audio clues in the Zoom session hint at something going wrong behind the scenes.

01000001 01110101 01100111 01110101 01110011 01110100 00100000 00110010 00110000 00110010 00110000 00100000 01001101 01100001 01100001 01110011 01110100 01110010 01101001 01100011 01101000 01110100

Backstory


 

Office clerk Dolion McMitchell is a genius – or so he thinks.

In an attempt to trick his unspecified employer into paying for his bachelor’s education in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, Dolion tries to convince his boss that Maastricht University is a prime espionage target.

Unfortunately, Dolion’s plan backfires. Instead of going three years undercover as a student – like he proposed – he is tasked with assessing the threat during the Introduction Days and scaring Maastricht University into submission.

Backstory


 

Office clerk Dolion McMitchell is a genius – or so he thinks.

In an attempt to trick his unspecified employer into paying for his bachelor’s education in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, Dolion tries to convince his boss that Maastricht University is a prime espionage target.

Unfortunately, Dolion’s plan backfires. Instead of going three years undercover as a student – like he proposed – he is tasked with assessing the threat during the Introduction Days and scaring Maastricht University into submission.

Online group assignments take up most of the afternoon of Day 1. At face value, these assignments look normal. They contain relevant study information or a study-related group challenge. However, every assignment has a hidden layer: they lead to encoded text fragments and images, hide links and passwords guarding crucial files, point to secret Zoom sessions, disguise unlisted Youtube livestreams and more.

Put together, a total of nine different assignments hold both plot clues and the necessary tools needed to liberate one of our professors – who had been kidnapped and locked away with a bomb that very morning. 

Students could only uncover the whole story by exchanging these clues between groups and by interacting with fictional ARG characters.

“Screenshot with ‘proceed with mission’, we have those pdf files. (…) According to group 7 there is a bomb there.”

– Another first year student

The option to free the professor presented itself during the building tour on Day 2. 

Around 80 students were invited to attend on campus – at 1.5m distance in the new COVID-proofed lecture halls – whereas 90 students participated online. The online group controlled a camera via Zoom, which they directed towards the kidnapped professor’s office to indeed discover a bomb. 

The offline group meanwhile obtained the necessary information to defuse it, successfully freeing the professor via a Zoom-controlled wire-cutting sequence.

The greatest thing about all of this? Our students could have chosen to not engage. They could have decided to literally explode the situation. Instead, they went above and beyond. Students created fan theories, dumpster-dove for documents and uncovered about 80% of the story I laid out for them.

Math/Maastricht

Where would you go, if someone asked you to connect your scientific work to a spot in the city?

Math/Maastricht is the result of asking 12 mathematicians of Maastricht University that question.

Together with Mieke Derickx of UM’s Art and Heritage Committee, I sought for a way to reinforce the connection between Maastricht and mathematics.

Concept

Math/Maastricht consisted of a free photo exhibition and city guide.

The 56-page city guide bundles 12 stories. In each of these, a local mathematician relates their work to their chosen location. The accompanying photo series of Joey Roberts show the researcher on location and highlight details of interest, such as the ox heads in the Basilica of Saint Servatius and the blades of the Gronsveld tower mill.

The photo exhibition featured photographic highlights and custom artwork by local artist Jules Sinsel. It ran between March 14 and April 19, 2019. Visitors could freely enter Maastricht University’s flagship building to view the exhibition and pick up a copy of the city guide.

My contribution

For Math/Maastricht, I wrote all stories and designed and produced the city guide. 

Sciencebattle

ScienceBattle is a science theatre show in which 4 PhD students ‘battle’ to win over their audience. The show frequents both theatres and high schools.

Each performance elects a winner based on a VIP’s ranking and on data from an applause meter, which measures the audience’s enthusiasm following each 10-minute performance. 

ScienceBattle is a science theatre show in which 4 PhD students ‘battle’ to win over their audience. The show frequents both theatres and high schools.

Each performance elects a winner based on a VIP’s ranking and on data from an applause meter, which measures the audience’s enthusiasm following each 10-minute performance. 

In my 17 times participating, I managed to win 6 times with a blend of audience participation and storytelling. 

I’m extremely proud of this score: competition in ScienceBattle is fierce. Some of the country’s most talented science communicators were frequent competitors during my time on the show. 

Interpreting Rembrandt

I published my PhD thesis in 2019, which marks the 350th anniversary of the passing of Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn. As such, it was declared the Year of Rembrandt. 

For the cover of my thesis Anatomy of the Axon, it naturally made sense to gather a group of lab friends to reenact Rembrandt’s anatomy lesson with.

With the help of Photoshop wizard Jasper Landman, a Golden Age costume rental shop and a giant brain cell I crocheted the evening before the photoshoot, we managed an image that ended up on the cover of EMBO Reports as well. 

For the cover of my thesis Anatomy of the Axon, it naturally made sense to gather a group of lab friends to reenact Rembrandt’s anatomy lesson with.

With the help of Photoshop wizard Jasper Landman, a Golden Age costume rental shop and a giant brain cell I crocheted the evening before the photoshoot, we managed an image that ended up on the cover of EMBO Reports as well. 

Our interpretation

As cover

Behind the scenes

conference poster

This poster accompanies the following publication:

Kuijpers, M., van de Willige, D., Freal, A., Chazeau, A., Franker, M. A., Hofenk, J., Rodrigues, R. J. C., Kapitein, L. C., Akhmanova, A., Jaarsma, D., & Hoogenraad, C. C. (2016). Dynein Regulator NDEL1 Controls Polarized Cargo Transport at the Axon Initial Segment. Neuron, 89(3), 461-71.