Anna Katharina Spälti

Spaelti
  • Study program: Research Master Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Nationality:a dual US-Swiss citizen

My name is Anna Katharina Spälti, but most people know me by my nickname Nina. I am a dual citizen of both the United States of America and Switzerland, where I spent my childhood and completed the Gymnasium. For my undergraduate education I decided to attend Allegheny College, a liberal arts college in Meadville, PA, in the United States. This is where I discovered my love for social psychology, which I chose as my major. Additionally, I completed a minor in communication arts, specifically media studies.  Currently I am finishing my first year of the two year Research Master in Social and Behavior Sciences program at Tilburg University.

Why did you choose Tilburg University? And can you describe your experiences with the University so far?

My decision to join Tilburg University is the result of many conversations I had with the supervisor of my Bachelor thesis, my mentor. He informed me that the universities in Netherlands are front runners in social psychology, particularly Tilburg University. Naturally, I then spent hours on the Tilburg University website trying to learn all I could about the social psychology department and Research Master in Social and Behavioral Sciences program. It was exactly what I was looking for.

Since I came to Tilburg University I have had many wonderful opportunities and experiences. Tilburg University prides itself in having a very international student body and faculty. Since I have been here I have made friends with students from many different nations and worked with professors from many different backgrounds. On top of this I have been encouraged to participate in many groups and committees to help make Tilburg University the best it can be. The faculty and staff’s efforts towards helping the students and challenging us intellectually are extraordinary.

What was your first impression of Tilburg University?

Tilburg University is has a beautiful campus. Most of the main buildings are spread along a wide promenade that is surrounded by trees. There is a wonderful lake and forest right next to the University where students like to spend sunny afternoons studying and chatting with friends. But the universities beauty is simply a bonus. The universities facilities are wonderful. There is a large library with student computers and most buildings have computer labs. The staff has always been extremely helpful, especially in integrating international students like myself. Finally, the faculty in my department seems truly enthusiastic about teaching us.

Why did you choose this study program? And what have been your experiences so far?

Coming from a liberal arts and interdisciplinary background, I was intrigued by the interdisciplinary composition of the Research Master in Social and Behavioral Sciences program. While giving me a wide range of knowledge in the social sciences it also allows me to focus on my main field of interest, social psychology. The program is geared towards preparing students to do research and continue on in an academic career. We not only learn how to do research, but also how to evaluate the quality of research being done by others. Additionally, the program has a very intensive curriculum for statistics and methodology, the tools necessary for research.

Since I have been at Tilburg University I have not been disappointed. The program has given me everything I had hoped for and more. In The program is geared towards preparing students to do research and continue on in an academic career. We not only learn how to do research, but also how to evaluate the quality of research being done by others. Additionally, the program has a very intensive curriculum for statistics and methodology, the tools necessary for research. Particular, I have come to appreciate the wide variety of courses that we are required to take, since it has given me new insights and a passion for topics I had not previously known about. However, my favorite part about the program is the opportunity to work on research together with PhD students and professors. The entire department has always been extremely friendly, open to questions, and is genuinely excited to be working with the research master students. I couldn’t have imagined a better place to gain the knowledge and skills I need to succeed in the academic community.

How is this master related to you previous bachelor?

I have a bachelor in psychology. However, my main field of interest has always been social psychology. The Research Master in Social and Behavioral Sciences gives me the opportunity to minor in social psychology. This means that, in addition to the core courses of the program, I have a variety of social psychology courses. Also, most my traineeships, my first year paper, and my master thesis will be completed in the social psychology department.

However, what I cherish most about this program, is that it is interdisciplinary. I believe that by learning about theories and research methods from different social sciences it give me more tools and skills for my future research interests. Moreover, I have always simply enjoyed learning new things.

Which courses are most interesting?

In my first year here, at Tilburg University, I had so many fascinating courses that I cannot seem to decide which were the most interesting. I feel that each course taught me something new and made me become interested in a new field of study. Rather than narrowing my range of interests during this program it has broadened to include topics I had never thought of before. For example, behavioral decision making, interpersonal behavior, and psychometrics. However, I think that so far I enjoy the traineeships the most. While I have only started my first one (the others begin in the second year), they give you the opportunity to work together closely with many different researchers on many different topics. Most students, myself included, end up spending much more time on their traineeship than the credits suggest, simply because they become so engrossed in the topic.

How is the contact between you, your lecturers and fellow students?

I could not have wished for a better group of classmates. We are a very small group and we are a combination of both Dutch and international students. The amount of time that our program has required us to spend together has allowed us to become very good friends. We help each other with our studies, but we also do many recreational activities together.

The lecturers of the classes we have had so far have all been very enthusiastic about teaching us. They have been open to questions and are also available to discuss course content and exam results with. Additionally, everybody has been very friendly and have expressed interest in working with us.

In what do I have to be interested when I want to study your master program?

If you want to study the in the Research Master in Social and Behavioral Sciences program you need to be interested in research. This may seem obvious, but it really is the main focus of this program. Many classes teach theory and then have us design research projects based on the theories. Similarly the traineeships consist of working with PhD students and professors on their research projects. Also, I would encourage people who are interested in methodology and statistics to join the program. Even if this is not your chosen minor, you will still have many methodology and statistics courses. This is something that I enjoy a lot.

How is your student life?

I have had a wonderful student life at Tilburg University. After the initial difficulties of moving to a new country and trying to learn a new language, I have finally come to feel at home in Tilburg and at the university. While at first coming here by myself was very lonely, I have made friends for life and have gotten to know people from all over the world. In addition to my studies, I have learned about many cultures and have had many new experiences. However, the research master program is very challenging and takes up a lot of your time. It is in trying to balance my academic life with my social life that I have also learned about what is important to me and what kind of person I wish to be.

Do you take part in sports or any other activities?

Unfortunately, I do not take part in any sports. However, I have made the resolution to buy the sports pass next year so I can take Yoga classes again.

My other activities include a number of groups and committee’s on campus. For example I am currently in the program committee and the group that is working on the Scholar Network yearbook. Also, as part of the international student’s organization, I am part of buddy group. I was assigned to the buddy group during the university orientation week in August. Since then we meet every two weeks to have dinner or do other activities. It is definitely a highlight. Other than that I love to go to the cinema in the city center.

What do you think of Tilburg as a city? And of the Netherlands as a country to live in?

I like Tilburg very much. Since Tilburg is a relatively young city, it does not necessarily have the typical Dutch look which I associated with water. But I still think that it has charm, especially the city center. It is a relatively small and quite city, but there are still many things to do. There are a lot of restaurants, cafés, and shops. Also it is wonderful how easily accessible the entire city is by bike. It never takes me for than 15 minutes, 20 minutes at most, to arrive somewhere.

For me, I think the Netherlands are a wonderful place to live. As a dual citizen of Switzerland and the US, there are things that remind me of both my cultures here. For example, the Dutch are very out-going and friendly, which reminds me a lot of the US. On the other hand, their mentality and the efficiency remind me of Switzerland.

How do you experience living in Tilburg?

I think Tilburg is a great city to live in, especially when transitioning into the Dutch culture and life in the Netherlands. As it is smaller than many of the larger cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, it is much less overwhelming when you first arrive. I know that for me it was the encouraging interactions with the Dutch at the grocery store, in the city center, and at the university, that gave me the courage to explore the Netherlands more. Also, Tilburg’s is location is ideal for travel, it is close to the boarder to Belgium and it only takes about an hour to reach Germany. You can easily travel to many places in Europe by train and only half an hour away, there is the Eindhoven airport.

What is your master thesis about?

I will not start my master thesis until the second year of the program. However, right now I am working on my first year paper. For this paper, I will be examining the effects of political ideology compared to group membership (e.g. race, socio-economic status, religion). The idea is to see which has a stronger effect on people’s judgments of groups, especially when group membership and ideology are combined in unexpected ways. This is still a work in progress and I hope to make this a more extensive project.

What are your plans after graduation?

Next year, after graduation, I hope to continue on to obtain a PhD in social psychology. I believe that the Research Master in Social and Behavioral Sciences is preparing me very well for this goal. It is giving me the necessary skills and knowledge to exceed in an academic career. My hope for the future is to become a professor at a university. However, along with research, I also wish to teach. I hope to one day have the same impact on students that my professors had on me.

What is the difference between Holland and your home country?

The most obvious difference are all the bicycles. Everybody in the Netherlands uses the bicycle as a means of transportation, no matter the weather. It can be raining or snowing and people will still be on their bikes. However, there is nothing nicer than biking through the city on a warm sunny day.

Another thing I have noticed is that the Dutch love to sit outdoors. Most of the restaurants and cafes in the city have heating lamps out front. This way you can sit outdoors even during cold weather. This is of course only small differences between the countries, but coming from a different country it is many times the little things that are noticed first.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I want to be honest: The Research Master in Social and Behavioral Sciences program is very challenging. There have definitely been moments when I have asked myself “Why am I doing this?” These moments of doubt usually arose when I was having trouble adjusting to the new culture or when I felt homesick. All of these emotions are normal and I think most international students and research master students experience them. But it does get better. I would describe my experiences so far as some of the best in my life. I am actually very glad that this program lasts two year, because in the first year you spend so much time adjusting, that you barely get any time to really enjoy your experience. I can’t wait to see what next year will bring!

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