Anique started pioneering way back when she was a student

Het ComeniusNetwerk 26-07-2022
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As professor and vice director of a research school at Maastricht University, Anique de Bruin is always looking for innovative crossfertilizations between science and practice.

Portrait Anique de Bruin

Her specialization is selfregulation in higher education because students reap lifelong benefits from learning to learn.

‘In 1995 I discovered a whole new world. I started studying Psychology at Maastricht University. In secondary school I had taken a rather minimalistic approach to learning. I passed my courses, but I wasn’t interested in working hard. And why was one teacher good at explaining things while the other wasn’t? In university I was finally allowed to explore a field that I had chosen myself: the human psyche. I experienced an enormous sense of freedom and for the first time I realized that reality is not black and white. Scientific insights are nuanced, especially in psychology.’

Pioneer, pioneer and keep pioneering

‘I was in the unique situation of being part of the first cohort of psychology students at Maastricht. We were a small group, had intense contact with our teachers and were allowed to actively contribute to our own education. I quickly realized that I wanted to stay in academia, and to my great joy I became a PhD candidate in the department where I had been an undergraduate. After three months, however, I was asked by my doctoral supervisor Henk Schmidt to join him at Erasmus University Rotterdam, where he was setting up a brand new programme in psychology. From first cohort student in Maastricht I became first cohort lecturer in Rotterdam, where I again felt I had lots of freedom. We worked according to a problembased, studentcentred, smallscale teaching methodology. In Maastricht that had been customary since the seventies, but Schmidt introduced it to Rotterdam. I learned so much in those years. (With some disbelief) I was an assistant professor at the age of 24: I lectured, coordinated the progress test and chaired the curriculum committee for the incoming student cohort. In between teaching duties I worked on my dissertation on the psychology of education.’

Those doing fundamental research are still a source of inspiration for me, but my own focus changed: from then on I wanted to build bridges between theory and practice.

Building bridges

‘When I started with my own research, I was especially charmed by fundamental insights into human cognition. Time passed, I had children, missed a few years of conferences, and when I returned I realized that the focus of the discussion was still the same and concentrated on what I call the “square centimetres” – for example, to the difference between presenting stimuli for three or five seconds. Does this still say something about how people learn or is it really about how you design an experiment with the minimum amount of noise in your data? These researchers were doing wonderful things and are still a great source of inspiration for me, but my own focus had changed: from then on I wanted to build bridges between theory and practice.’


‘I was given the opportunity to combine research, teaching and innovation at the Maastricht University Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences in the School of Health Professions Education. The great thing about this school of research is that we work closely with the lecturers of different study programmes to improve teaching and learning methods. I was successful in winning a Veni grant, which was unusual in those days; I think it was the third Veni that was awarded for research into the psychology of education. I was totally fascinated by selfregulation, which was an upandcoming subject at the time. That’s easy to explain, because there is an increasing need for flexibility in education. If we are going to give students that freedom, we also have to teach them how to handle it.’

Study Smart project

‘We discovered that many insights about selfregulation had not yet been applied in educational programmes. We also saw that students sometimes think that they are using effective strategies for learning, but are actually working inefficiently. This is because many effective strategies feel counterintuitive. Moreover, there are huge differences between individual students. We see individuals who have heard for their whole young lives that they aren’t capable. They get off to a different start than students who are getting support at home and who’ve had the wind in their sails. Offering a training course at the start of their study programme was something that we saw as potentially fostering equality. That’s how we created Study Smart, a learning strategy training program into which we poured thirty years of research into selfstudy skills training for students. We involved lecturers and student counsellors from every faculty at Maastricht University in developing the course. Their enthusiasm strengthened my conviction that we are doing something that’s really meaningful.’

Comenius grant and follow‐up projects

‘In 2017 we received a Teaching Fellow grant from the Comenius programme for Study Smart. (Smiles) I was in the first cohort of teaching fellows, so you see that I was a pioneer again. This was significant recognition for my ambition to become a teaching innovator. I also found the contact with other lecturers and educational innovators enriching. At the time they were setting up the ComeniusNetwerk and I joined the board. I had input into the trajectories (now circles), and ways we could meet to exchange initiatives. It’s fantastic to see how the ComeniusNetwerk has developed over the years.

Since then, the first phase of the Study Smart project has been completed, and the training course has been implemented in nearly all the faculties at Maastricht University. Other universities, universities of applied sciences and secondary professional education institutions in both the Netherlands and abroad are using the course we designed. I can see lots of possibilities for expanding it. For example, I want to encourage selfregulation skills not just in the first year, but throughout the curriculum. We started a project to design a blueprint to support these developments based on scientific evidence. The project has received university funding. There’s also a focus on the longitudinal development of selfregulation, including after graduation. How do you support students who are choosing courses, deciding on areas of study or making career choices? How can you help them make lasting changes to their study, sleeping and exercise habits? I’m going to be dedicating my Vidi grant to those issues.’


‘The pressure of work in science is gigantic, whether you’re dealing with research, teaching, administration or innovation. A major research appointment such as I have now looks like (and is) a luxury, partially because it gives me time for teaching innovation projects. I wouldn’t be able to obtain this time otherwise because the bridging function is not formally recognized as workrelated. At the same time, there are a lot of uncertainties associated with this approach. Whether I will be able to continue my line of research depends on subsidies, and I’m applying for grants that have an award rate of about ten percent. And yet I’m seeing good developments. In recent years an enormous amount of space has been created for innovation, and real teaching careers have been created. As far as I’m concerned, we need more diversification and specialization so that we don’t need to keep all the balls in the air while remaining scarce as hen’s teeth.’


Name Anique de Bruin
Positions Professor of SelfRegulation in Higher Education, Assistant Director of the School of Health Professions Education
Institution Maastricht University
Departments Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences; School of Health Professions Education
Work experience in higher education  Almost 22 years (‘half of my life, I now realize’)
Total appointment 1 FTE (‘but I’m well above that, just like the others in this series of portraits’)
Time devoted to teaching  About 20%
Other activities Research (officially 70%, thanks to a Vidi grant, but actually less); administration (officially 10%, but actually more); teaching innovation (officially 0% because it is not a recognized activity, hence for the innovation project Study Smart Anique mostly uses time allocated for research)
Relationship with the ComeniusNetwerk In 2017 received one of the first ten Teaching Fellow grants to develop a training course in selfstudy skills; member of the founding board of directors from 2018 to 2019.


This portrait is part of the publication 'Dedication to education - Ten portraits of inspired teachers in higher education‘. You can download the publication in English and Dutch.  This publication was created in collaboration with members of the Duurzaam Docentschap circle of the ComeniusNetwerk.



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