Jan is a Cognitive Neuroscientist, originally from a small town called Erkelenz, located in rural Germany, near the Dutch border. He’s a first generation college graduate and has recently received tenure as a newly-minted Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychological and Brain Sciences & Neurology at the University of Iowa. His lab website can be found at wessellab.org and he’s sporadically on twitter at @Wessel_Lab

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Night Owl

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?


3 Do you have any pets?

We have a puppy mutt named Freddie.

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?


5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?


6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?


7 Do you speak any other languages?

I lived in Germany until I was 26, so I speak German.

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

Cabinet maker

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?


10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

Germany, to see my folks. Else San Diego, CA.

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Flight. Hands down.

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

Everyone should:
watch “The Big Lebowski”,
read “The Conquest of Bread” by Kropotkin,
listen to “Relationship of Command” by At the Drive-in, maybe.

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

Sleep in, then either mess around in my wood shop or go to a large body of water with my wife, a few friends, and a grill.

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

My wife, a few friends, and a grill.

15 What beverage gives you life?

Laphroaig and PBR. And Bitburger when I’m in Germany.

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

“The good person of Szechwan” by Brecht.

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

“Environmental activist”, to my parents chagrin.

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

Trying to make sure that my trainees are as successful as they want to be.

19 What got you excited in science?

Hilde Haider, a Professor at the University of Cologne

20 What excites you about science now?

It’s a cool job to have if you like learning new things.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Rewatching the Mission Impossible and Jason Bourne movies. Over and over and over.

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

I am categorically untalented, but I guess I’m probably a better carpenter than most other scientist at least.

23 What is your favorite game?

Texas Hold’em. And Baseball when the A’s are good. So just Texas Hold’em.

24 What is the last book you read?

“Empire Falls” by Russo. Phenomenal!

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

“Don’t go to Journalism school”, by the only guy on our street that had been to college.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Change careers and do something else for a while.

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

It’s gonna get better. Also shut up.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

For me: creating something with your hands with immediate tangible payoff, like furniture making.

29 What is the last thing you watched?

I am currently rewatching all of “Justified” but I can’t wait to watch The Bourne Trilogy again.

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

Underwear that I forgot I owned.

31 What is your favorite animal?

Freddie, of course. But sloths as far as other animals go.

32 What is your favorite book?

Probably “Less than zero” by Ellis but it’s been a while since I’ve read it and he’s become quite tedious.

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Any and all creole food.

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

Any given Saturday or Sunday in the summer.

35 What is your favorite plant?

The only plant I own, a palm-like succulent I bought at Ikea when I moved to the States about 10 years ago.

36 What is your favorite science fact?

All that is here will be sunlight.

37 What is your favorite season?


38 What is your favorite smell?


39 What is your favorite sound?

The first two minutes of “Birth” by Stephan Bodzin.

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

Phew. Well, I guess I think have a good sense of ethics and like fairness, maybe?

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

Morgenmuffel. (German: A person that is grumpy in the mornings)

42 What is your proudest moment?

Maybe when I finished building our kitchen. Or when I got hired as a prof.

43 What kind of tree would you be?

Something with cool looking grain. Maybe a maple tree with a fungal infection.

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

It’s just two flights away from San Diego.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

You probably don’t know about team handball, which is a phenomenal sport that I played all the way through college, but most Americans have never heard of. So do go watch some of that if the ’21 Olympics do take place.

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Ian Greenhouse, @greenhouse_lab on twitter.