Session 3: Diversity in Data

Our third event featured a talk and workshop in the theme Diversity in Data. A 2008 study found that 96% of psychology studies were conducted on populations from Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) societies. Therefore, while psychology, neuroscience and even biology purport to uncover universal understanding of human functioning, we often only test a narrow slice of humanity. The conclusions we make as scientists are therefore highly limited, though this not often acknowledged. What are the consequences of using such a limited data set?

In our third event, Diversity in Data, Dr. Tara Thiagarajan  addressed these questions, giving a talk on the importance of using a diverse data set in behavioural and neural science, and her insights as founder of Sapien Labs.

Following Dr. Thiagarajan ‘s talk, Alfie Martis and Janissa Jacobs lead a workshop on diversity in data, bringing in elements of creative writing and poetry.


Dr. Tara Thiagarajan is Founder and Chief Scientist at Sapien Labs a nonprofit research organization with the mission to understand and enable the human mind. Sapien Labs overarching goal is to monitor and understand the interplay between life experience, brain physiology and our cognitive and mental health outcomes, and put forth insights that can help us manage it for more positive outcomes. 

Dr. Thiagarajan is a scientist and entrepreneur and has built and managed multiple companies. She holds a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Stanford University as well as a BA in Mathematics from Brandeis University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.  She was also a post-doctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Section on Critical Brain Dynamics and a Visiting Scientist at the National Center for Biological Sciences in India. 

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Alfrida Martis (Alfie) is an Afro-Bonairian writer, public speaker and community organizer. In the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) team at the University of Amsterdam, she is a researcher and educator, and a project leader for the Homework Hub. She also teaches and coordinates workshops with her colleague Janissa Jacobs, while advising on inclusive pedagogies and diversity literacy. She holds a BA degree in Media & Culture Studies, and an MA degree in New Media & Digital Culture, both from the University of Amsterdam.

Outside of academia, she works as an independent advisor in the cultural and arts scene, specializing in anti-racism, intersectionality and decolonization work. With her partner Daudi Cijntje, she co-founded and co-organizes Caribbean Ancestry Club: a platform that unites and amplifies the voices of afro-indigenous ABCSSS islanders.

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Janissa Jacobs joined UvA’s Chief Diversity Officer’s team in August 2019 as management assistant to Anne de Graaf. Her tasks include strategic advice, administrative activities, facilitating workshops, and providing the Diversity Team with logistic and planning support. In her role, she co-facilitates tailored diversity workshops with Alfrida Martis for UvA students and staff.

Prior to this, she specialized in business development and strategy at a global leadership advisory firm. Janissa has a MSc in International Public Management and Policy and she speaks Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu; sometimes at the same time. As an avid lover of poetry, literature, and writing; Janissa is interested in exploring the role of creative outlets as a tool for healing past pain and trauma. Janissa goes by she and her pronouns.