Dr. Jan-Willem Romeijn, Ph.D. visited Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics in late August 2017 from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. His broad area of study is the philosophy of science, specifically focusing on probability theory and the scientific method. Dr. Romeijn emphasizes the need for researchers to approach questions from a fundamental perspective. Thus, a key fundamental question for him is whether or not research methods are correct, with a key application being the classification of psychiatric disorders.
When asked how this “fundamental” way of approaching research could impact those just beginning their research careers, Dr. Romeijn discussed the importance of shifting one’s perspective. “Critically reflecting upon our system and seriously looking at what we have here is key for students and young faculty. Fight the system of making more money, novel inventions, the business side of it. Science has been wrapped up with the academic system for so long now.” He was clear that asking fundamental questions will only serve to help a researcher’s career, not hamper it. By doing this, there will always be a well of questions from which to choose and the fear of what to do for your next project or grant will dissipate. Focusing on fundamental questions brings a shift that is naturally motivating and opening.
Thus, it seems that every researcher – no matter their field – can benefit from a dose of philosophy in how they approach their work. After discussing how academia shifts the focus and clouds the altruism of research, Dr. Romeijn stated that “the idea of academia is that of curiosity and desire to know and genuine desire to be of value and to help … A true intellectual attitude is being open and not defending yourself. Philosophy can help with that.”
To realize the relative validity of one’s convictions and yet stand for them unflinchingly is what distinguishes a civilized man from a barbarian.
Such a perspective shift can influence all aspects of one’s life, not just their research career. As Dr. Romeijn pointed out, not knowing what you want to do is a good motivator. Asking yourself if what you’re doing is of value is a simple, fundamental question. It’s one that should be asked regularly as a way to check in with yourself (not a way to have an existential crisis).
Outside of research, Dr. Romeijn enjoys spending time with his kids, co-running the household with his wife, and cooking every night. Being a true philosopher, though, he did admit that he feels “very at home in my mind” and spends much free time talking about concepts/issues with friends and family over wine.
Article by Jessica Bourdon.