May 2018 – The training month

I named this month the training month, because I attended two training courses:

  1. fMRI-training: 3 sessions in the 3T MRI scanner in the Scanexus facilities of Maastricht Brain Imaging Centre (M-BIC). I entered the certified user (CU) training, so that I can scan without supervisor. The last step of this training is a supervised scanning session and I will do that when I will be piloting my experiment in August.
  2. Problem-based learning (PBL) training: two intensive sessions on the teaching/tutoring method in Maastricht University,  led by Wladimir van Mansum. A couple of things to remember from this training:
    1. An extended introduction helps the group to become one team, even though it might seem like a waste of time in the beginning.
    2. The tutor assists the discussion, doesn’t give the answers.
    3. Whatever happens, be transparent about it and focus on building team spirit.
    4. Students learn by explaining things, let them do it.
    5. Do not guide too much, do not moderate the discussion, stay in the background and interviene only when they are side-tracking.

Update on the stimuli

This is not the best news, as it was not possible to find enough material on the public domain, which would satisfy all my exprimental conditions (stories, isochronous poems) and control parameters (clear audio, 2 male and 2 female speakers).

We are now exploring the option of hiring speakers. But first, we need to find the appropriate texts to be read out for the experiment materials. The good news is that I have help from a motivated student who is doing an internship in our lab. She’s called Anna, she’s German and she is at the age of my prospective participants. These features qualify her very well to help with the selection of the texts, so that they are not familiar to the target population. Lisa Goller, a PhD student in the BAND-LAB, helped with clarifying the kind of poems we are looking for, as she is very knowledgable in German literature and meter in poetry. I am very happy to have this help, as I didn’t feel adequate to choose poems in German, just by listening to them, as I previously did on librivox. I did hear some beautiful poems, though, see Unverwüstlich by Kurd Laßwitz (I note just a part of it):

“Ich glaube, daß du neben mir
Zum Zentrum dich gerichtet
Zuerst, da als Atome wir
Zur Sonne uns verdichtet.
Wir flogen dort schon Arm in Arm
Beim ersten Gravitieren,
Und wurden so gemeinsam warm
Und konnten oszillieren.”

It talks about oscillations, how relevant! 🙂

Questionnaire on musical background

I will use the Montreal Music History Questionnaire (Coffey, E. B. J., Herholz, S. C., Scala, S., & Zatorre, R. J. (2011, June). Montreal Music History Questionnaire: a tool for the assessment of music-related experience in music cognition research. In The Neurosciences and Music IV: Learning and Memory, Conference. Edinburgh, UK.), in order to asses musical expertise (and the lack thereof) for the experiment participants. For NERHYMUS, we will include language background information. I have planned a skype meeting with Emily Coffey (13th of June), in order to get acquainted with modifying the online version of the questionnaire to include a section on language background.

Ethics application (GOOD NEWS!)

The Ethics Review Committe of Psychology and Neuroscience (ERCPN) reviewed my ethics application on May 14th and they had some questions and comments. I had a friendly and very useful meeting with two members of the committee (Felix Dücker and Fren Smulders), in which they clarified the committee’s comments. Then, I did the suggested modifications in the application, resubmitted the application in the portal and (bam!) received the approval on May 30th. Perfectly on time, according to my timeline. I am very happy about this.

TMS application and equipment

In the meeting with the representatives of the ethics committee I was advised to modify the procedure of the fMRI session, so that I have the TMS right before they go into the scanner. The EEG cap needs to be fitted before TMS, too. The question was then, which equipment I would use. I was advised to contact Lars Hausfeld, who has relevant experience with TMS an fMRI. In our meeting he advised me not to use the EGI system of Scanexus, because the electrodes are too thick and the TMS pulse does not reach the cortical areas. He recommended using the equipment of the NIBS lab, which is MRI- and EEG-compatible. I still have to check with them, whether they have 32 or 64 electrodes, though. A pleasant surprise in this meeting, Lars is also working with modeling continuous auditory signal, so we can collaborate in data analysis.

My computer arrived on May 7th! BUT I am now using Windows.

Interview for promoting FPN research projects

In the beginning of May I met with Thom Frijns of the FPN Marketing & Communication Department, in order to promote the research that is going on in the department. The questions were about the funding scheme (MSCA), my research history and the project itself. He came to the meeting with a cell phone to record speech and with a camera with a huge lense. I was scared of the camera at first, but then the interview went smoothly that I was happy to pose for a couple of pictures (phew, so vain). I am looking forward to the online article.

Trying to stay serious for the picture. (Credit: Thom Frijns)

Meeting about school visits

In mid May I met with Ellen Krijnen, who works at the central marketing department and is responsible for the recruitment of Dutch (mostly Bachelor’s) students to Maastricht University, and Isabelle Grosch, my colleague from the FPN Marketing & Communication Department. I explained them the plans for school visits, which were included in my MSCA proposal. Ellen can be the link to local schools and we will follow up on this later in the summer. The first meeting was very inspiring and I am looking forward to sharing the scientific knowledge on rhythm with high school students. I am especially excited about the possibility to inspire young generations to think like researchers.

Preparation for the 1st Empsy summer school

The last couple of days I am madly preparing for the 1st Empsy summer school on the 4th-8th of June 2018, in which I am teaching Introduction to Eye-tracking. There are two reasons to be nervous: 1. I have never taught a whole-week course before, it’s going to be intense, and 2. I will be teaching in my old university and I feel responsibility in making the course attractive and useful to students. I hope to see a couple of enthusiastic faces along with sparkling eyes for research; that will be enough to keep me going for the week. In this course, I have invited my best friend Vassilis Krassanakis to be a guest teacher for one of the five sessions. It is a pleasure to work with good friends. I am also bringing advertising material for the prestigious MSc programmes of Maastricht University (UM) to the students of the 1st Empsy summer school. Who knows, maybe some will choose to do the Research Masters in Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience at UM.


April 2018 – The first month

In my first week I met with my professor, Sonja Kotz, in order to kick-start the project. The agenda included:

  1. Ethics application
  2. Stimuli and sample population
  3. Training

For each of these, up to this date I have achieved:

  1. Ethics: I submitted the application on 23rd of April. The application included documents such as the information letter for subjects (including both EEG, fMRI and TMS), statement of consent form (for EEG, fMRI and TMS), debriefing form, and advertisement. The application form was submitted online through the Ethics Reveiw Committee Psychology and Neuroscience (ERCPN) of Maastricht University. The application is planned to be discussed at the next meeting of the committee, which is on May 14th. In order to prepare the documents for TMS I had a meeting with Sonja and Alexander Sack at FPN day. His assistant sent me the TMS forms that I needed to include in the ethics application; the TMS ethics application is dealt with internally in their group and there is no extra application needed with the ERCPN for this method. He also invited me to his group meeting, which is on May 8th.
  2. Stimuli and sample population: The main question was whether we run the study in Dutch or German. This decision is dependent on two factors: a) the availability of the targeted populations in Maastricht (both musicians and non-musicians) and b) the availability of high quality audio samples in German or Dutch on the public domain Librivox.
    • On the populations: I have contacted the Conservatory via email twice, but they have not responded up to this date. I have had a meeting with Niels Diesbergen, a PhD student of Elia Formisano, who has collaborated with musicians from the conservatory befoe. We will try to establish the contact with Elia’s help.
    • On the stimuli: I have been listening to various stimuli from Librivox. There is 10x more material in German than in Dutch. I contacted my collaborator in Berlin Thanos Lykartsis in order to discuss about how to model the linguistic rhythm from the auditory signal. This led to a joint meeting with Sonja, Ben Schultz (currently post doc in the BAND-LAB) and Thanos, in which we discussed how to approach the analysis of the speech signal in order to correlate it with the EEG and fMRI data. Also, we decided to employ Ben’s adaptive beat perception task in the behavioural part of the study. We then discussed how beat tracking algorithms (Ellis, 2007; Böck & Schedl, 2011; Lykartsis & Lerch, 2015) work, what are the strengths of each algorithm and how these strengths might suit well or less well to speech auditory signal than to music auditory signal. In order to avoid turning the rhythm identification task into a speaker identification task, we decided to choose stimuli from two male-voiced and two female-voiced speakers. This way, the timbre differences will not be tagged as rhythm differences by the beat tracking algorithms.
  3. Training: I have registered for two training courses to take in May.
    • On the 2nd and 9th of May I am participating in Problem-based learning (PBL) training, which is a novel method of teaching used in Maastricht University. I will be trained to become a tutor, in order to complete my teaching tasks, as included in my MSC fellowship timeline and in my contract with Maastricht University, which poses that 10% of my working hours need to be devoted to teaching.
    • On the 7th, 14th and 28th of May I am participating in fMRI security and certified user training in the Maastricht Brain Imaging Centre (M-BIC).

Last, on April 30th, last day of the month, I presented my proposed project to the BAND-LAB meeting. Here is my presentation: NERHYMUS_plan_30042018

On a slightly different note, on April 17th, I took part in the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience Day, in which I met many of the people of the Faculty, from PhD students to Professors. Participants were informed about the ongoing PhD projects and entertained with fun workshops on several topics such as Mindfullness and Games as interventions in teaching and learning. Some pictures:

On this event I also met Isabelle Grosch, a new colleague from the Communication Department. She brought me to contact with her colleagues and we have scheduled an interview in order to promote NERHYMUS. More on this to come in May.

April was creative and fruitful. Things are starting to roll in Maastricht. I am focused on work and I plan to keep this pace until the first deliverable in August. Then, and before starting the measurements, I will have to take a little break into the sun and the sea of Crete.