Heidi Jacobs obtained her master’s degree in Biological Psychology from Maastricht University (Netherlands) in 2002. She then worked for several years in a clinical setting as a psychotherapist and neuropsychologist and in 2006 started her PhD. She completed her PhD in structural and functional brain changes in Alzheimer’s disease at Maastricht University in 2011. After her postdoctoral training at the Research Center in Jülich (Germany), she received the prestigious VENI-independence award allowing her to return to the Netherlands in 2014. In 2015, Heidi started working at MGH with Dr. Keith Johnson to learn more about PET-imaging in aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, Heidi is an Assistant Professor of Radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital of Harvard Medical School and visiting associate professor at Maastricht University. She directs the Jacobs Lab, also referred to as the blue spotters, with a focus on improving the early detection and treatment of sporadic Alzheimer’s disease by targeting the earliest brain sites of pathology (“ground zero”). She is a co-investigator within the Harvard Aging Brain Study and vice-chair of the “neuromodulatory subcortical systems” professional interest area of ISTAART. Her work is currently supported by the NIH-NIA and Alzheimer foundation funding.
I was born in rural Belgium as a daughter of two hard-working entrepreneurs and at the age of 18 I moved to the Netherlands to study Biological Psychology. I was and still am the first person in my family to obtain a university degree, and to move to another country. After finishing my master’s degree in 2002 I moved back to Belgium and landed a job as a cognitive behavioral psychotherapist during which I was mentored by two terrific clinicians. I combined this with a position as neuropsychologist in a cognitive rehabilitation clinic of neurologic patients, which was further stimulated my amazement for the brain. However, slowly I realized that I wanted to learn more and also contribute to our knowledge. Because of my fascination for the brain, I applied for PhD-positions focused on neuroimaging but was rejected because of a lack of MRI experience or training. Not taking no for answer, I decided to pay for a two-week intensive course in MRI-physics and got accepted into a PhD-program on brain changes in Alzheimer’s disease at Maastricht University. I still remember my conversation with my supervisor after one year: “I have found my purpose, this fits with me”. My PhD was a wonderful time, I learned a lot, had the freedom to pursue my own research ideas. Unfortunately, my first postdoctoral period was difficult, ranging from language barriers, cultural differences, being lonely in my specific field, and having to set everything up from scratch as a young postdoc to a negative work climate. As my parents taught me to put in the effort, I tried hard and fought to make it work. But after four years, I was very fortunate to obtain two grants that brought me to a much happier place: one supporting my assistant professorship at Maastricht and one supporting me to work at MGH. Coming to MGH and working with Drs. Sperling and Johnson were eye-opening and inspiring. The warm, open, and supportive culture and at the same time the push to not be satisfied too quickly, to work on understanding and keep learning is exhilarating. My husband changed his career from an at-heart clinician to a researcher to allow me to build a career in the US. The last four years have been a dream, building my group has stimulated my excitement for research and has taught me that I love supporting and mentoring young researchers. I probably work too much, but in my spare time, I love watching good movies, eating sushi, traveling, and dancing.