University of Ulm, Germany
What does your research focus on?
I have two research interests: First, the consequences of (traumatic) stress on the brain, the mind, and one’s molecular biology. Second, changes in the brain in aging and mild cognitive impairment as well as Alzheimer’s disease and the role of physical exercise and cognitive trainings in preventing age-related cognitive decline.
What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?
Both are major societal topics, and in both there is the potential to change something for the better if we are able to understand the relevant pathways better — either through treatment or interventions or lifestyle changes. And both fields are just really interesting!
Who were/are your mentors or psychological influences?
There were many people who influenced me and who should be mentioned here. However, some need a special thank you, and this select group certainly includes Thomas Elbert from the University of Konstanz. He was a fantastic mentor and inspired my research in many ways. He also always had the right words in all types of situations. Other important mentors were Brigitte Rockstroh of the University of Konstanz and Dominique de Quervain of the University of Basel, but also institutions such as the Zukunftskolleg of the University of Konstanz — a rather stimulating place where excellent postdoctoral fellows from various fields of research work freely and independently as fellows and exchange ideas across disciplines. Furthermore, we had great support in realizing our ideas — my time in the Zukunftskolleg was tremendous!
To what do you attribute your success in the science?
I am, through and through and with all my heart, a researcher. Furthermore, I have a high energy level, a high level of endurance, and a new research idea always in mind. Finally, my own enthusiasm is contagious.
What’s your future research agenda?
The molecular psychology of traumatic stress.
Any advice for even younger psychological scientists? What would you tell someone just now entering graduate school or getting their PhD?
At least in Germany the funding situation for doctoral students or postdocs is often uncertain. People hope for a new grant to be approved, and it may come or not. However, if you really want to go this way, there will always be — sooner or later — a solution! So keep on going!
Another important point I would like to share with younger psychological scientists: Do not be too overcritical a reviewer when you come into the position of reviewing journal articles or grant proposals.
What publication are you most proud of or feel has been most important to your career?
This is definitely the paper on the role of the alpha-2b adrenergic receptor in emotional memory formation:
de Quervain, D. J.-F., Kolassa, I.-T., Ertl, V. Onyut, P. L., Neuner, F., Elbert, T., & Papassotiropoulos, A. (2007). A deletion variant of the α2b-adrenoceptor is related to emotional memory in Europeans and Africans. Nature Neuroscience, 10(9), 1137-1139.
It fascinates me that something that is adaptive in one context (deletion-variant carriers of this receptor have better emotional memories) can be maladaptive in another situation (deletion-variant carriers also have more intrusions, i.e., a form of emotional-fear memory, after traumatic stress).