Alumni Spotlight: Nadine van der Voorde on behavioral science and her first novel

Name: Nadine van der Voorde

Year: 2018

Major: Global Public Health

Currently: Behavioral scientist and author

Did you know? During her studies, Nadine worked in a special day care center for people with intellectual disabilities

We are talking today to Nadine van der Voorde, a class of 2018 alumna who majored in Global Public Health. She is currently working as a behavioral scientist in education and recently wrote a novel, which is going to be available this month. Nadine, what is your favorite memory from LUC?

This is a hard question! I think one of my best memories is when I joined a board game day of Ludens in my first year. I always felt like I did not fit in and when I came to LUC everybody seemed so terribly smart and strong, which made me feel intimidated. Super unnecessary, of course! But after being a bit more on my own I decided to take a leap of faith and join a board game day. Everybody was so kind and relaxed and we were all in pajamas. For me, that was a starting point to become more active in Ludens and outside of it, and I started to enjoy the LUC social life a bit more.

After LUC, you decided to pursue further studies in the field of psychology. Did you immediately know what you wanted to do after LUC? And if not, how did you orient yourself for potential jobs or Master’s programs?

I always kind of knew what my interests were, but I did not know what the next step would be to pursue them immediately after LUC. I had always been interested in psychology, mental health, and education, so it followed quite naturally I wanted to major in GPH with a minor in psychology. For my Master’s, I wanted to focus on psychology more, so I visited an open day. I knew I wanted to go to Leiden because I liked to continue living in the Hague and their social science programs were highly ranked.

The Health and Medical Psychology program had considerable overlap with what I had been studying, so it felt like a good choice. The other programs seemed to be more narrowly focused, for example on school psychology or on the development of children, and I was not ready for that yet. I did know I wanted to help youth with mental issues or intellectual disabilities, so I knew it was an unorthodox Master’s to choose in that sense. However, I figured my job experiences in that work field would probably account for some credits. After graduation, I started working as an assistant behavioral scientist and later on as a behavioral scientist for people with intellectual disabilities.

Nadine’s Bachelor’s graduation portrait

How was it to do an MSc focused on health and psychology after an interdisciplinary program like LUC? I can imagine it was quite a switch to make.

It was a lot of fun because it was also quite diverse! It overlapped with clinical psychology in the sense that I learned basic conversational skills and I focused on cognitive behavioral therapy. I remember that we focused a lot on patients who experienced mental problems due to physical issues and how to empower those patients. Then there was also a focus on prevention strategies, the promotion of healthy behaviors, and development of e-health interventions. Thus, it was a really nice mix of courses and perspectives and there was a lot of room to choose your own topics for your essays or projects, just like it was at LUC.

Did your premaster help you with making the switch?

The premaster helped upgrade my statistical knowledge, but not so much my theoretical knowledge about psychology because I did not follow the theoretical courses. I even wrote a statistical Master’s thesis later on, which got integrated into a published article, and I think I was definitely able to do that because of the premaster.

Can you tell us a bit more about your experience with your Master’s degree? What did you like and not like about it?

Looking back, I think it was a really good Master’s program. It was small-scale, there was guidance in finding a thesis topic and there were enough options for extra courses which you needed to do if you did a research internship instead of a clinical internship. Perhaps the one thing I would change was to delve deeper into the material sometimes. To me, it felt that some courses or classes were a bit too general and it could be improved by going more in-depth or adding more challenging readings and discussing those a bit more.

 Nadine during an LUC project about portraying the effect of eating disorders

How did your job search go after graduating? Was it impacted by Covid?

During my studies, I worked in a special day care center for people with intellectual disabilities and I aided them in their daily activities and work. After a few months, I got the opportunity to become an assistant behavioral scientist and I started doing psychodiagnostics. When I graduated, I applied to about ten jobs that seemed interesting and within a month I started working as a behavioral scientist for ‘s Heeren Loo. Covid did not impede my job search as far as I can tell. It did impact how I could do my job for a long time because I could not do as many face-to-face treatments and talks as I would have liked. Also, I did not see some colleagues in real life for over half a year.

What does your work as a behavioral scientist entail?

I have recently quit my job at ‘s Heeren Loo and I am starting a new job this month as a behavioral scientist at a high school for youth in need of some extra assistance. However, in my previous job, I worked mostly with young adults with mild intellectual disabilities and secondary diagnoses such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. This meant working together with the health care professionals and the client to make a plan of what the client wants to get out of the time he/she is living here.

Most of the time, we made a plan on the skills someone wants to learn such as cooking and cleaning up one’s room, going (back to) school, learning how to maintain or get a job, learning how to regulate emotions or how to behave in a relationship with others. I did intakes, so I was involved in the process of determining which type of housing and care would be best for the client. I also did psychodiagnostics and had talks with clients who wanted to have some extra support in overcoming fears or depressive feelings. Sometimes I was involved with other health care instances such as Veilig Thuis, the police or Jeugdbescherming, to work together in order to provide the best care to the client.

When a client showed behaviors we did not understand, I would observe, come up with hypotheses and I would make a plan together with the health care professionals to test these hypotheses. For example, a 21-year-old young adult with a mild intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder really did not want to participate in doing some tests to measure his intellectual abilities and practical skills, which we needed to do in order to ensure he could remain living there. I asked if the healthcare professionals had asked him why he did not want to do it. They said they did not, but that he was very set on not participating. I had known him for a while so I asked if I could come into his room and sit down. After we chatted about his games, I asked what the reason is he does not want to participate. He answered that last time a computer had calculated his test scores and that those were wrong, so he never wants to do it again. I made a deal with him that he could first drink a cup of coffee with the researcher and then he or she would calculate the score by hand. He was fine with that and so the behavior was explained and we all learned how to approach a problem the next time.

Nadine visiting the Harry Potter museum in Edinburgh

What are the biggest challenges you encounter at work?

The biggest challenges were definitely to maintain the balance between private life and work, to accept that I cannot do everything right, and to accept that there is not always enough time for the things I feel I need to do in order to deliver high-quality work. Regarding the problems I encountered with clients and health care professionals, I think the most challenging parts were the times when I just ran out of hypotheses, where I already asked specialists to observe and we still did not know why someone was behaving a certain way. It was frustrating to deal with.

And now, while also starting a new job, your first book is being published! Very exciting. Can you tell us something about your novel, ‘Down the rabbit hole: A female-centred short-story novel about the dark and twisted lives of girls and women’?

‘Down the rabbit hole’ is a gripping short-story novel about various gruesome aspects of the lives of girls and women. It explores themes such as coming-of-age, family relations, trauma, mental health, and substance use. The female gaze adds a realistic touch, meaning various stories can be emotionally challenging. Some stories air a dark fairytale-like feeling, others employ an activistic tone, while most make you feel like you are stuck in a very twisted version of Alice in Wonderland. It’s a raw and thought-provoking novel and, while humorous at times, the ominous darkness will follow the reader through every story.

Where did you get the idea to write a book?

The idea developed over time. I like to write and before I realised it, I had already written two short stories. Then I decided to pursue this project more seriously and continue writing short stories and bundling them. All stories just kind of presented themselves to me, I did not look for inspiration, I simply wrote down the character that had formed itself in my brain.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

This book is fiction, but the feelings the characters experience are known to me and I just wanted to write them down. Maybe the book worked cathartic for me or maybe the book just provided support into a world of feelings I felt like I was the only one to experience. Writing them down came naturally, almost effortless until I needed to pick out all of my billion spelling mistakes.

I get inspired by the feelings I personally have, the things I have seen occur in society and with close friends and authors such as Margaret Atwood, Ester J. Ending, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I also get inspired by my favorite films such as ‘Donnie Darko’, ‘The Runaways’ and almost every film from Quentin Tarantino.

Do your experiences as a behavioral scientist or even LUC alumna influence your writing?

I believe my experiences as a LUC alumna and psychologist/behavioral scientist shape my voice as an author and sometimes shimmer through in the characters. For example in the story ‘Rapist, rapist oh where are you?’, I let the experience of me being a LUC alumni shape the character and her academic experience. In another short story ‘A letter to my first therapist’, I employ an activistic tone, sometimes even scientific as I do in my work as a behavioral scientist.

How do you find the time for such a huge project next to your everyday work?

It is a project which I started years ago and because it is a hobby, I enjoy spending working on it in my free time. Also, I had a complete Covid pandemic to sit on my ass so honestly working on something like this kept me sane. The most challenging part was when I handed in my manuscript and the publisher told me one story could not get published because the theme pedophilia was present. Even though I was definitely not advocating it, merely exploring the implications of it, I needed to write a new story within four weeks so that was hard work. Especially because it turned out to be a very long short story, perhaps almost a novel on its own. At that time a major coping mechanism was coffee (sometimes with Baileys…).

Is there anything you’ve learned over the past years you wish you had known as a student or recent graduate?

You can try and make everybody happy for a while, but at some point your body will just shove all of the consequences of this behavior in your face and you will be forced to look at yourself and what it is you need. So why wait for that? Start prioritizing your mental and bodily health, and start giving yourself the same treatment you would give your best friend. You deserve it as much as anybody else.

What would your advice be for anyone reading this interested in pursuing a career in psychology?

To current students I would say, check out the minor and if you like that, visit an open day or start smaller and join a volunteering activity where you need to for example engage in social contact with the elderly or children and really observe what you like in that interaction. To recent alumni, I would say there are a million ways to end up where you want to end up. If you do not have all the qualifications but you are really passionate about following a career in psychology, just try it. In my experience, institutions such as ‘s Heeren Loo, attach a great deal of value to your motivation and your skillset overall.

What would your advice be for current students and/or recent alumni who would like to write a book?

I would advise looking within yourself to what your interests and strengths are and what brings you the most joy to write about. Then I would choose the language you feel comfortable with. If you can write more lively characters in your native language, then I would always recommend doing that. Personally, I cannot find Dutch words easily to convey my feelings and thoughts thus English is my preferred language. To find a publisher I would look online, focusing on the country you think is the best market for your book. Perhaps it is also best to focus on modern publishers instead of traditional ones since traditional publishers take a lot of risks buying thousands of your book in one go and they overall do not tend to take those risks with debuting authors.

Curious about ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’? Nadine’s book is available from March 10 on the website of Boekscout and on her own blog. She will also be present at LUC on April 12 to talk about her book.

This post was part of a larger series of “portraits” of Alumni. Want to be featured, have questions for Nadine, or about alumni in general? Do not hesitate to reach out to Evolucio via our website, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, or

Interview by Lone Mokkenstorm

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