Stories#024 Janneke's biomedical technology

#024 Janneke's biomedical technology


Ideally, students should learn a lot from each other and from their teachers. And vice versa. Lecturer in cell biology, Janneke Alers, is continually inspired by the new ideas and critical questions presented by her students. This is exactly the interaction that Green Hub coordinator Alex Baker-Friesen is looking for. So, a great opportunity to ask her how she gets the best out of her students and herself.

Click for Dutch version

Monday 29 March 2021


Alex: 'Janneke, I want to know all about you, so let's begin immediately. For you, teaching is much more than just communicating knowledge, isn't it?

Janneke: 'Yes, I'm a teacher with my mind and soul. I'm strict and I expect my students to work hard. But I always challenge them on substance, not on peripheral matters. And if they get stuck, I'm there for them. I should say we are there for them, because I work with thirty amazing student assistants. We always look for the personal connection. What does this student need now? We build trust and create a relaxed atmosphere in which we can also laugh together. I really enjoy working with students. It's so inspiring to be involved in their development. Providing a safe environment in which they learn new things. Challenging and motivating them. And at the same time, I hope to communicate some of my love for cell biology too.'

Alex: 'You attach great importance to learning by doing, I read.'

Janneke: 'Yes. During practical sessions, students learn interesting insights - about the subject and about themselves. Sometimes they're nervous when they come into the lab, and I hear them complaining behind their microscope: 'It's so hard, there's so much to learn. Why do all my cells die?' But those cells don't all die. Or they manage it the next time. An experience like that gives them self-confidence. And the lab is a nice setting for me and my team to get to know the students better.'

Alex: 'At the Green Hub, I work with a team of students too. It's nice to hear that you work beside them, rather than giving instructions from above. That's how I work too.'

Janneke: 'That's really important: develop your own style. Students feel your discomfort if you're not being true to your nature.'


Alex: 'Do you have any more tips? My team and I only met in September ...'

Janneke: 'Give them a chance and create a safe environment where they can express their wildest ideas. They might think up a hundred mad plans, only ten of which are viable. But that's fine. So, now you have ten new, creative approaches. And it's really nice to get to know each other in a relaxed way.'

Alex: 'Sounds good!' Sadly, the Green Hub does not yet have an office, so, for the time being, we mainly speak to each via the screen. Sometimes I worry that the students aren't getting what they deserve because of that.'

Janneke: ‘I recognise that, it's harder to connect from a distance. But keep going – things can only get better. Thanks to the efforts of Student Laboratories Twente (SLT, ed.), I've been fortunate that our practical sessions have been able to continue. Under strict conditions and in small groups, but you can imagine what a difference it makes that we can meet up. And I've considerably shortened my lectures by replacing some of the theory by assignments. And for the positive vibe, for a blood and immunity lecture, I created a playlist of songs with 'blood' in the title. There are even students who login earlier on Canvas for it, lol.'

Alex: 'That's good feedback too.'

Janneke: 'I know. But students can also tell me if they don't like anything about me or my teaching. I take that kind of thing very seriously. It helps me improve the quality of my lectures, practical sessions and teaching material.'

Alex: 'Do you challenge yourself to keep learning too?'

Janneke: 'Every teacher should do that! Even if it's just to stop you getting bored of your own subject. How else can you keep stimulating and inspiring your students? Fortunately, I'm a very curious person. I always want to know everything about everything. I mean, in the past I wanted to be an astronaut ...'

Alex: 'Oh, me too!

Janneke: 'Really? In that case, you'll recognise this: when NASA recently released the first video images of Mars, I was totally fascinated. I wanted to know everything about the Mars landing. Unfortunately, time is always an issue ... Oh, I can see a basketball on your cupboard. Do you play?'


Alex: ' The past ten years, barely. Too much to do, too little time. But I've found a court on campus, so I've started again. Are you keen on basketball too?

Janneke: 'Absolutely! I trained fanatically for fifteen years, played competitions, coached and refereed. I miss it. Which makes me think: perhaps my love of basketball is why I like to add a competitive and game element to my teaching. For example, my team and I organise an annual 'Holland's next cell model': a lab assignment packaged as a talent contest. That's really fun and encourages the creative mindset of our students.'

Alex: 'Wow, you've given me a lot to think about'

Janneke: 'Thanks. Let's play some basketball soon and talk more. Sustainability is another subject that really fascinates me. I'm interested in your plans with the Green Hub.'

Alex: 'Let's do it! 'A final question: what inspiration would you like to give everyone at the UT?'

Janneke: 'I was at one of our public open days a few years ago, and I was surprised by all the talent, knowledge, creativity and innovation we have here. I was amazed. We ought to showcase that more. And Shaping2030 is helping us do that. It makes us aware of who we are and what we stand for.'


born and raised in England, studied Environmental Science (BSc) at the University of Manchester and Sustainable development (MSc) in Uppsala, Sweden. In 2014, he came to the Netherlands to do a PhD at the University of Maastricht. Besides his PhD research into organisational change for sustainability, in 2018 he set up his own consultancy for issues at the interface of sustainable development and organisational change. In May 2020, he was appointed the coordinator of The Green Hub.

Dr Janneke Alers (1967)

studied biology in Utrecht and as a PhD student and post-doc did research into chromosomal abnormalities in cancer in Rotterdam. She went on to work at the KWF Dutch Cancer Society where she was senior policy officer and research coordinator. Since 2008, Janneke has been associated with the faculty of Science & Technology faculty at the UT, initially as training manager for Biomedical Technology. Since 2011, she has been (among others) lecturer of Cell Biology and she coordinates three modules in the Biomedical Technology bachelor programme.