It’s Thursday morning, just before nine o’clock. Seventy children and their teachers assemble in the main hall of Erasmus MC for an unusual class outing. Today they are going to attend a virology lecture.

As part of the Erasmus Junior Lecture series, primary school children (between the ages of 10 and 12 years) from districts near Rotterdam attend lectures at the university. This introduction day is followed by a teaching programme where the children in the class explore the subjects covered in the lectures in more depth together with students.

Junior College
At the end of his lecture Professor Charles Boucher answers a few last questions

Cowpox and German measles

The morning kicks off with a lecture by Professor Charles Boucher, who gives an introduction to the subject of virology. The professor has prepared a PowerPoint presentation with all kinds of trivia about viruses and vaccines, but after having presented a few slides he realises that this isn’t particularly interesting for the children in the lecture hall.

The professor has barely said a word when the children start raising their hands. An avalanche of questions descends on the professor from the lecture hall. He answers all the questions in detail. “What is the worst virus you can get?”, “What is AIDS?”, and the question “What is a vaccine?” in particular please the professor very much.

He explains that ‘vaccine’ comes from the Latin word ‘vaccinia’, meaning Cowpox, and that Edward Jenner developed the vaccination by first infecting people so that they would then be protected against other diseases.

Much to the children’s disappointment, the professor can’t answer the inevitable follow-up question. The children want to know if rode hond (‘red dog’, the Dutch term for German measles) actually comes from a red dog. At the end of the lecture the professor has the opportunity to ask a question of his own to the young listeners: “Who wants to be a doctor when they grow up?” More than half the class enthusiastically raise their hands.

Junior College
Medical student Ernest discusses the lecture with 11-year old Willem

'They’re very polite when speaking to me'

The medical students accompanying the school classes also raise their hands enthusiastically when Professor Boucher asks this question. Demi (20) eagerly relates her experiences with Erasmus Junior Lecture. “Some of the children taking part are know-it-all types, but there are also children who are very quiet or introverted”, says Demi.

When I was small I always thought I would be a paediatrician, but I’ve had a change of heart. “Not because of these children”, she quickly adds. Medical student Ernest (23) does plan to  go into paediatric medicine, but he doesn’t know what specialism exactly. He wants to continue participating in these types of activities alongside his studies.

Teachers Hanny and Els are impressed with Ernest’s calm and confident demeanour. “When I’m teaching, the children see me as sort of a big brother. But I don’t let them walk all over me and sometimes they are very polite and even address me formally.”

Junior College
Mees and Tom enter the Erasmus MC hall looking for Pokémons

The discovery

At the end of the morning, Tom (12), Willem (11) and Mees (11) from Capelle aan den IJssel are sitting in the lecture hall eating their sandwiches. Mees is watching the films he secretly recorded with his telephone during the lecture and enthusiastically tells how he found the lecture to be interesting and informative.

His friend Tom is also very impressed: “It wasn’t boring at all!” Willem isn’t quite convinced that he wants to be a doctor when he grows up. He wants to do more than just conduct experiments, he wants to discover things: “That’s what Steve Jobs does.”

Upon hearing that name, the boys immediately pick up their smartphones (according to Willem also discovered by Steve Jobs) to play Pokémon Go. They can certainly see themselves studying in Rotterdam when they’re older because a few seconds later they all exclaim in unison: “Wow! There’s also a gym here!”