News - April 6, 2017

Self-help group for highly gifted students

Being highly gifted has its uses but it can also land people in psychological or social problems. That is why dean Ruur Boersma has set up self-help groups for highly gifted students.

Photo: Sven Menschel

‘One third of highly gifted adults get into a fix at some point,’ explains Boersma. ‘They have a burnout, they are dissatisfied or they are off work because of conflicts with their employer.’ The same goes for students, Boersma thinks. In her consultation hours she regularly sees highly gifted students who are dissatisfied or overworked. She decided they needed more guidance. She took a look at what is done at Leiden University, where extra guidance is already provided, and decided to organize lunchtime meetings for groups of four to six highly gifted students. Sixteen students have already signed up for the meetings, all of whom had previously been to see Boersma. The students set their own goals they want to work on over the five time they meet. They help each other achieve those goals, with guidance from Boersma. Besides the lunchtime meetings, there is a dinner once a month that is open to all the students. ‘It is not just about development, but also about meeting each other and recognition,’ says Boersma.


One of the obstacles which highly gifted students run up against is the Bachelor’s thesis. ‘This can have to do with the feeling that it is never good enough,’ explains the dean. ‘I also notice that the students find it hard to ask for help. So it is a combination of perfectionism and fear of failure.’

Another problem is that highly gifted students often take on too much and therefore end up with a burnout. Boersma: ‘You often see that highly gifted people are also highly sensitive. That means they get overstimulated, and they need to process that and take time for it.’ Time which they often don’t have or don’t take.


Motivation is another tricky issue. ‘To begin with, courses are often very nice, but if it goes too slowly, students can lose their motivation,’ explains Boersma. ‘And if something doesn’t work you often find they give up. Or they don’t even start because they are convinced it won’t work.’

Highly gifted students often lack study skills too, because they didn’t have to work hard enough at secondary school. There was already a study skills course at the university, but for the first time in January there was a group made up exclusively of highly gifted students. That is worth doing, says Boersma: ‘They often don’t know many people they really get on with and therefore tend to feel they are out on a limb. They really want to have deep discussions on all sorts of topics, and not everyone is up to that.’

Tip of the iceberg

Increasing numbers of students have been knocking on the doors of the WUR’s deans and psychotherapists in recent years. This may be partly to do with highly gifted students, says Boersma. She hopes to offer this group a solution through the lunchtime meetings and dinners.

The sixteen students who have signed up now are just the tip of the iceberg, she says. She hopes more highly gifted students will overcome their embarrassment and come to the meetings. ‘Once you understand that your problems are related to being highly gifted, many pieces of the puzzle usually fall into place.’

If you would like more information about the lunchtime meetings for highly gifted students, or would like to sign up, you can email