Collaboration enhances research

Bringing together scientists to advance our understanding of child development⎮3 min read

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The Nature team were interested to know more about our meeting report: How to capture developmental brain dynamics: gaps and solutions which followed an international workshop discussing brain development and learning. Here is our interview for Behind the Paper. 


What is your main area of research? 

Maaike: My research interest lies in the field of neuroplasticity in relation to developmental (dyslexia) and acquired (aphasia) language disorders. 

Milene: I study cognitive and brain processes underlying learning and development of language and reading skills. 

Nienke: I study learning and motivation using a multi-level perspective, for example, looking at the developmental interplay of adolescents’ self-beliefs, learning outcomes and their brain development.  

Wouter: My main research interest lies in developing methods for neuroimaging analysis. I am particularly interested in how to incorporate individual differences in these types of analysis.  

Why did you decide to organize a workshop about developmental brain dynamics? 

Maaike: In our research group, we have multiple ongoing longitudinal MRI-studies in young children, and each time this confronts us with challenges in analysing and integrating longitudinal and multi-level data. I believe that multidisciplinary collaborations are vital to move our field forward, hence the workshop was a unique opportunity to bring together diverse researchers and to learn from each other. 

Milene: To bring together scientists from various disciplines in developmental brain research and learn about optimal ways to apply diverse research methods and integrate diverse research findings to improve our understanding of (individual variability in) brain development.  

Nienke: As many scientists would agree, collaborating across groups and disciplines is important to advance our understanding of child development, as changes occur and interact across so many levels. But although we all know it is important, it is also challenging! And it starts by bringing people with different expertise and perspectives together in a setting where everyone can be open and learn from each other. This is exactly what the Nias-Lorentz workshops facilitate so we were happy that we had this opportunity. 

Wouter: The way forward in any research field is sharing knowledge. Often knowledge is still only shared within respective fields. The Lorentz Center workshops are especially suited to bring together scientists from many different fields and share knowledge outside your own field of study.  

What were the key take home messages from the workshop? 

Maaike: Collaborations are key! Multi-site collaborations can scale-up developmental studies and collaborations across disciplines (engineers, neuroscientist, psychologists, statisticians, genetics) can lead to a true integration of developmental changes at the different levels.  

Milene: To truly improve our understanding of developmental brain dynamics, we need to find ways to optimize exchange and take advantage of research developments across diverse subfields. 

Nienke: We need unified frameworks for development that encompass all levels and different functions. Such frameworks provide a common language and create awareness of levels and influences other than the ones included in a specific study. 

Wouter: Science is hard! But alsoso much fun. It was very enlightening to see so many scientists from different backgrounds working together to solve a common goal. It was also good to see that there were not only dreams, but also very practical solutions: collaborating and working from a common framework.  

What was your personal highlight during the workshop? 

Maaike: The Open Space event was an eye-opener. Its unique format provided an opportunity to meet new researchers, as well as discuss some self-selected hot topics in the field together. Discussions happened in an organised but at the same time very informal way, with no hierarchy between junior and senior researchers. This type of event is something I miss during these COVID-times.  

Milene: The positive and inspiring interactions between participants throughout the workshop, starting from an Open Space event on Day 1, created a great opening for these interactions. 

Nienke: I found it fascinating to observe the mix of organized and open discussion formats (such as the Open Space event) worked out so well, that several topics and challenges (and potential solutions) automatically surfaced and gave the opportunity to dive into these topics even more. In the published Meeting Report, we have summarized these topics.  

Wouter: It was nice to see so many scientists from different fields and different stages in their career all working together to solve a common problem. This was really inspiring. 


Contributing authors: Nienke van Atteveldt, Maaike Vandermosten, Wouter Weeda and Milene Bonte.

Nienke van Atteveldt

Full Professor, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam