September 2018 – Delays and disappointments, BUT Pint Of Science

This month’s progress can be categorized in advances, delays, teaching and outreach.

Advances

In research, I made the experimental lists of the materials, in order to assign the text material to the four different speakers. The lists are here. In these lists I have estimated 30min of auditory material, of which roughly half is poems and the other half is stories. Also, in each list, each speaker is heard 2-3 times, which assures that every list has at least 20% auditory material for each of the four speakers. Given the naturalness of the stimuli, and the speed of the speaker, I cannot have a more precise estimate yet. This will be finalized when the audio files are finalized.

Delays

The construction of the speech labs was delayed up until the middle of September. In the BAND-LAB meeting I was informed that I could use the EEG lab for my recordings instead. So I informed the speakers and organized meetings for recordings. I was in need of a mic stand, as there was no proper support for the microphone we have in the lab. I went to Instrumentation to ask for help, but it was difficult to solve the issue on the spot. I had to rely on them to find a solution with mic stand, which took another couple of days. When finally a provisional stand was there, clearly not ideal for the mic, but for the moment suitable enough, I could start the recordings. I started with the female speakers, as they are based in Maastricht. Here is a little video of recording a funny story.

In the first couple of meetings with the female speakers, we realized that the speed of the speech was quite fast. I asked my colleague’s opinion as a native speaker (Michael Schwartze) and he confirmed my suspicion. The poems were consistently too fast to visualize for the listener. The stories were on the boarder of being too fast, as non-metered speech sounded more natural in faster speed. However we decided to re-do everything, in order to assure a listener-friendly pace. In the beginning of October I am planning some more recordings.

Teaching

As I had decided to become a mentor for first year bachelor students, I went to the mentor instruction meeting on the 11th of September. In that meeting all mentors were instructed about their role in the course “Skills II: Observing Others and Yourself, under which the mentoring takes place. We were instructed that our main task is to listen and, if necessary, refer to the academic adviser (Aimee Coenen: UM link, better link). I was assigned a group of 13 perople, group number 21. Before October 2nd, I had to meet individually with every student in order to get to know them a bit. Before the meeting they were required to send me their portfolio, for which they were encouraged to be as creative as they liked. I received a variety of portfolios, which included a website, a poem, graphical art and some philosophical reflections.

I met with each student for about 30min in the last two weeks of September. Some of them were shy, some didn’t know what to expect, some others were already overwhelmed with their studies. Some have extended international experience, some others have difficulties with the language. Most of them live in Maastricht, but the one or two who don’t live in town, are a bit more distant also within the group. In every meeting I did my best to create a safe and comfortable environment and I was very thankful for their openness and trust. Even though this mentoring task took a lot of time, I liked the process of meeting different students and understanding their backgrounds. I am very motivated to support them with their study-struggles, especially in their first few months at university, because I know that I would have welcomed such help in my first few months in every new study (and new university).

Outreach

We are bringing Pint of Science to Maastricht in 2019!

Pint of Science is an international science festival, which takes place every year in May in pubs/bars. The friendly and relaxed atmosphere of a pub, along with the consumption of a pint of beer (or other alcohol) is making science accessible to the public. Our team in the official Pint of Science Netherlands page.

In this initiative, I am City Coordinator for Maastricht and Lena Liapi is Communications Officer, assisted by Claudia Spierings and Thom Frijns of the Marketing & Communication Office of the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience. We are planing two events, one main event in May 20-22 2019 as well as a taster event in February 2019.

Stay tuned by following us on twitter (@pintofscienceNL or @KaterinaDKand )!

I already have 7 volunteers, after a short announcement in our department, and the team is planning the next actions. I am looking forward to launching this event in Maastricht and thereby fulfill another of my plans, as written in my MSC application.

These were the most important things that happened in September.

KDK

August 2018 – Change of plans

This month I officially changed the timeline of the project to include two experiments (1. EEG+TMS, adn 2. fMRI+TMS) instead of one, which would combine all three methods.  The reasons for that are documented in the July blog post “NOT concurrent and why”. The developments during August can be categorised in research, outreach, grant writing, and teaching. Let’s get this going.

Research

  1. Order of experiments: We decided to start with the combined EEG and TMS experiment.
  2. Stimuli texts: Anna and I selected the stimuli texts, and this is our final selection. There is a variety of poems and stories, both serious and amusing, from old time classic writers like J. W. von Goethe, Heinrich Böll, and Heinrich Heine, as well as more contemporary writers like Jorge Bucay, and Petra Müller. I then continued into making the experimental lists in order to assign the stimuli to the different speakers. Each experimental list contains 50% of each stimulus condition poem/story and 25% of each of the four speakers (2 female and 2 male voices). The order of the stimuli will be as much as possible counterbalanced, only between stories/poems but not within a story/poem.
  3. Online questionnaire: Anna and I also worked on the modification of the online questionnaire (MMHQ). We included Sonja’s previously used language background questionnaire, which comprises of how many languages one speaks, understands, writes and reads and documents at which level for competence and language. Anna then had to leave the project, because of her study obligations.
  4. Speakers: I had a meeting with an actress, who responded to my advert for professional speakers in the theater mailing list. In the beginning I was positive that this collaboration is meaningful. However, after I realized how precise I need to instruct the actors on how to speak out the stimuli, how prompt they were to express them with strong emotion, as well as how much the costs would be for 4 speakers, I was discouraged to choose that path. A rough estimate showed that the costs would rise up to 800-1000 euro per speaker, and that was definitely way out of our budget. Sonja and I decided to go natural and just employ native speakers who have good voices. Lisa Goller and Francesca Bolk were the ones that came to mind immediately and they also agreed to perform this task upon payment. Anna offered the solution for the male voices by suggesting Tobias and Johannes Weinhold. They sent me sample recordings and I agreed to have them as the male voices of the NERHYMUS experiments.
  5. Audio recordings: Since the speakers were found so miraculously and we also had the stimuli texts, I could proceed to the audio recordings. However, the speech lab(s), in which I was supposed to record the stimuli were under construction, so I couldn’t start the recordings immediately. The construction was first delayed to the end of August and then further to the middle of September. I therefore could not start the recordings in August.
  6. EGI system training: on August 28th I participated in a one-day training on how to use the EGI system for EEG recordings, which is compatible with MRI scanner. I found very interesting that they do not use caps but nets, which are called geodesic sensor nets. This following picture is a closeup of the net, which comprises of sealed wet sponges for each of the 128 sensors. Definitely a promising setup, but I am not sure until I actually test it in my own experiments.
Closeup of the Geodesic Sensor Net of the EGI system.

Outreach

  1. Talks at schools: I had another meeting with Ellen Krijnen and Isabelle Grosch in which we discussed the specifics of my visit to schools. We decided to target the age group 15-18 years, which covers grades 4th, 5th and 6th of secondary school. We decided to frame it as an interdisciplinary talk, which combines the arts (language) and the sciences (neurobiology) and would be interesting to pupils of different directions (arts and sciences). I have stated my availability from February on and I have sent an email with a catchy title and some sentences that explain my talk.
  2. Pint of Science (PoS): I contacted Pint of Science Netherlands in order to start organizing how to bring this festival to Maastricht in 2019. On August 31st I met with Taichi Ochi, the director of PoS Netherlands, Lena Liapi, an enthusiastic Cardiology PhD student, Claudia Spierings, head of Marketing and Communications at the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience and Thom Frijns, a colleague of Claudia, in Dadawan for lunch. Thaichi explained the roles that are needed in each city and the timeline of the events and organization.

Grant writing

In the last two weeks of August I spontaneously decided to apply for the VENI grant of the NWO. Even though I didn’t want to apply in the first place, I reconsidered because this year would be my last chance, given the eligibility criteria. There should be no more than 3 years after PhD graduation date and on 28th of January 2019 I would complete 3 years. This process took one whole weekend, half a working week and another Sunday to complete. I enjoyed the creation of the new ideas and hypotheses, based on Sonja’s recent TICS paper and on Alex’s 2017 paper on new advances on stimulation technologies. I was happy with the end result and with the smooth communication with the involved people (Sonja, Alex, and Rense). Let’s see what comes out of this attempt, fingers crossed, and hopefully more news in October.

Teaching

  1. Mentoring for skills II Observing yourself and others: for my teaching hours, I have decided to become a mentor for a group of bachelor students. This entails 5 group meetings within 3 years of their study, as well as individual meetings with the students and support in their questions or concerns with their studies. On the 29th of August I participated in team building activities together with a group of students, as part of my mentoring duties.
  2. Tutoring for Skills IV Writing: I am passionate about teaching people how to write properly and how to structure their thoughts, texts and paragraphs accordingly to formal instructions. I want to use this passion in tutoring 2nd year bachelor students in their writing skills.

In the end of August I had to say goodbye to my dear “sister sealy”, who was accepted for a PhD in the South of France and left Maastricht to start her new adventure. You are greatly missed, Giusy, hope you can visit us!

Giusy in watermelon shirt eating watermelon.

That’s basically all for August. Bye bye summer.