I am in Tayrona National Park, making my way back from the Lost City, ruins of an ancient settlement, discovered in Colombia in 1976. I am with a group of travellers from Colombia, the US, Canada and Europe. A big lad in his early twenties is attempting to cross the river using a pulley rope bridge. He is huffing and puffing, making the show of it, but never quite leaving the bank. Most of us have already crossed the river barefoot, which was mildly inconvenient but relatively fuss-free. A fit young woman next to me says to no one in particular: “He is just waiting for someone to tell him not to do it.” Sure enough a moment later we hear “Oi, leave it, they probably need the pulley this side of the river” and the grateful backpacker runs down to the stream, his bravado gone, his relief barely hidden.
Perhaps it does not take an overqualified psychologist to read a man’s mind but Tamara was spot on, so forgive me the side story. Please meet Tamar van Dijk (not her real name), a 28-year-old Dutch investigative psychologist who helps the police profile murderers and solve crimes.
Tamar grew up and lives in Haarlem in the Netherlands. “It is a very charming medieval city close to gorgeous beaches and sand dunes – it’s nothing like Harlem in New York!” After finishing school, she decided to become a cook and got a job in a restaurant. Tamar spent about six years cooking in some high-end restaurants in Haarlem, and at the same time she enrolled to study first economics, then psychology “to keep the brain cogs in motion.”
“I got a Masters degree in Psychology as well as a Masters degree in Criminology, covering law, psychology and sociology. At that point I realised I was more interested in criminal psychology and a career with a greater sense of purpose, so I stopped cooking and applied for a job as an investigative psychologist.” 200 other graduates applied. Tamar got in.
She took an additional course in investigative psychology at Utrecht, and was also sent to study Violent Criminal Behaviour with the FBI Academy in the US. “I had a plenty of theoretical knowledge straight after university but lacked practical experience. The FBI course was very helpful, although some of their methods seemed obsolete in comparison with what I had studied in the Netherlands!” I ought to mention that Tamar has decided to get a Law degree as well and is now half-way through the curriculum.
So what does an investigate psychologist do?
“I study files, help to investigate cases the detectives have trouble with. The work varies: murder, threat, stalking, sex offences etc. I often assist criminal interrogations, watching interviews with a psychotic suspect on a murder case. I analyse allegations of sexual offences, advising criminal prosecutors on such aspects as false memories, false denials or false confessions. I am also one of the three psychologists on a team that works on stalking cases against public figures, like the Dutch royal family or politicians. They get threat letters, and we read and analyse them. In many cases the writers are delusional, and we assist in getting them the right medical care. Finally, I advise local police on their efforts to prevent murder or violence from happening. For me it is the most rewarding field of work.”
Tamar enjoys a mental challenge, and having both a challenge and a sense of purpose are the most important aspects of her life.
Speaking of challenges, Tamar is a bit of an adrenaline junkie. She has always been active and adores being outdoors, but her idea of fun is perhaps of a kind some of us would refer to as ‘insane’. “Since I spend a lot of my time sitting in an office, after work I go out to race my motorbike or rock climbing.” Tamar spends her weekends mountain biking, kayaking, kitesurfing, wild camping or skydiving.
In early 2014 Tamar was on holiday in South Africa where she went sky diving in tandem. She loved it, and she also wondered how it would feel to jump solo… Back in Haarlem she saved up some money to start a sky diving course in the summer. Tamar got her sky diving license in August after theory lessons and seven qualifying jumps. At the 20th jump she broke her foot at landing, but naturally she cannot wait for the summer season to resume diving.
“Flying in the air is the best feeling ever. Every morning I wake up hoping I have been transformed into a bird. Sadly, that hasn’t happened so far.”
In case you are wondering, extreme sports do not take up all of Tamar’s time. “I also play saxophone (in a tango orchestra), read about astronomy, philosophy and neuroscience, I attend lectures, go to concerts, and I love spending time with friends and family.” Incidentally, Tamar has a twin brother, who is her opposite. “He prefers staying within his comfort zone…”
Tamar’s plans for the year is to go travelling on her bike. She is planning to cycle all the way to South East Asia, wild camping along the way. “I’d like to meet new people, perhaps help them out and, at the very least, make them smile.”
Meeting Tamar reminded me once again what Ladies Who Impress project is all about: to celebrate insanely impressive women and inspire all of us to aim higher and to challenge ourselves.