Jan-Jun 2019 – Delays, creative days, and piloting

Six months seems like a good amount of time to look back and document the progress of NERHYMUS. Besides, procedures, finances, other research and outreach activities have slowed this project a tiny bit down.

Research

In the beginning of the year I applied for 30 hours of MRI scanning, in order to cover the planned anatomical and functional MRI parts of NERHYMUS. It turned out that the research budget available was not enough to scan 40 participants (20 musicians and 20 non-musicians) for the functional MRI data. It was a disappointment to realize that, but my professor and I were flexible and managed to come up with an alternative plan. Since the fMRI study flew out of the window, we decided to include one more session for the EEG study. This would be supported by the NIBS lab team, who suggested to not only have sham as a control condition but to include a control site as well.

In February I started with a few anatomical MRI sessions, including control participants. These sessions continued until May. In order to start with the EEG measurements we also had to create a third stimuli list for the third EEG-TMS session. This meant some more work on cutting audio files and normalizing them, which was done by my students and myself in March and April. When we were finally ready to start acquiring EEG data in May, there was a research practical occupying the lab for a month. I managed to squeeze one EEG session within the research practical, but there were some issues with the playing of the audio files. There was a hardware issue, which was later solved by Instrumentation, and a software issue, which I fixed myself. These times of delays and technical issues are very consuming for the researcher. I got demotivated and disillusioned about research. I got particularly frustrated because I realized that the project that I had envisioned, planned, and got funding for was not realistic after all. I guess this is how things run in research. I am trying to now make my peace with it, even though I still don’t see how I was supposed to wrap up this project within the time of 2 years funding. I am now saying, keep calm, carry on, doing the best you can.

Well, enough wining and reflecting. When we finally managed to run our first pilots in June, my motivation climbed back up rapidly.

Now, the only thing I am a bit worried about is how I will manage to supervise my master students so that they finish their thesis on time, but that’s at least not a fundamental issue with research. I am very thankful to Teresa Schuhmann, Sanne ten Oever, Stefano Gallotto, and Felix Dücker from the NIBS lab, who have helped me through the first sessions with EEG and TMS.

Also very thankful to my first participant and student, who’s patience and resilience have allowed us to complete the first few sessions and acquiring the pilot data sets.

Next steps are: pre-processing and analyzing the new data, so that we optimize the analysis on the single subject level, before we proceed to the group level.

On the ground of recruiting musicians for NERHYMUS, in May I met with Hanna Kesseler, a lecturer in the Conservatorium Aachen, and she is helping us to recruit some of her students. I have sent her a poster advertising the study and she has distributed it among her students.

About the collaboration with Thanos Lykartsis on the audio content analysis for my speech stimuli, in April we submitted a poster for SNL 2019 in Helsinki and we are going to present our latest findings there. The reviewers suggested that we show some correlation to the EEG data, with at least a few data sets, and I am now working towards this goal by analyzing the pilot data.

In April the editing work of about 1,5 years came to an end with the publication of the special issue “From Story Comprehension to the Neurobiology of Language”, which I edited together with my PhD thesis supervisor Prof. Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky. Finally holding the special issue in my hand was a very special moment.

Teaching

The last months I wrapped up my teaching duties for this academic year. First, I gave individual feedback to each of my Writing Skills students. They all seemed satisfied with the level of detail and delivery of the feedback. Most of them implemented the feedback in its whole, others were a bit sloppier. I then graded their final papers and that was done!

I also had a second individual meeting with all of my mentoring students. Most of them succeeded in passing their exams and were satisfied/happy with their progress. One dropped out because she realized that she wants to study physics. A few others are taking their re-sits in summer and hopefully they can stay on board, since they really want it.

Outreach

During these months I worked really hard, sometimes feeling that I am doing two jobs, on organizing the Pint of Science festival in Maastricht. I co-ordinated a “taster” event in February, which was aimed to introduce Pint of Science to the Maastricht people and advertise for the festival in May.

In March, April, and until the 22nd of May I was busy planning meetings, putting up posters, updating all involved volunteers about workshops, meetings, dates, venues and so on. It was an amazing experience, to be at the heart of the biggest science festival! I am so very thankful to all the Maastricht team for their willingness, energy, inspiration and their bright volunteering eyes! Here is a pic of the event managers.

And here is the director of Pint of Science Netherlands, Taichi Ochi, and I, in the last event managers meeting in mid May.

On May 22nd I gave a talk at the Pint of Science festival in the event “Of beastly brains and brainy beasts” organized by Xan Duggirala. I was thrilled to share my research with the public and also watch the (almost classic by now) video of the dancing cookatoo. People enjoyed this and we shared our enthusiasm for science, very rewarding! In this picture we are performing a rhythm activity.

In February and May I also visited two local schools and gave two workshops on “Asking questions to the brain”.

I first introduced EEG, fMRI, and TMS in simple terms, then I presented insights about rhythm, and finished with the NERHYMUS research question. The kids looked curious and interested, even the ones that were “too cool for school” in the beginning, by the end of the workshop they were asking questions and were involved in the activities. Very inspiring to talk to children/teenagers about my research and see their curious faces!

In the first workshop we even included a demo of the mobile EEG lab!

Dance stuff

In June I gave a dance workshop for students at Maastricht University, to help them connect with their bodies, breathe, relax and express themselves through movement.

This workshop was very well received. People were especially happy that I am also a UM researcher and I have been through my own PhD path as well. I am planning to repeat this in the Well-Being week 2019 in November and possibly set up an 8-week course of Modern Movement within the scope of the Well-Being Movement for students.

That was it for now. Some good, some less good updates, but I’m keeping up the good spirit and the highest of standards in research. Plan is to focus on streamlining my scientific publications. More on this hopefully on the next update!

Cheerio, K.