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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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 librivox.org, 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.

KDK

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.

KDK

Road to grant: 2. The agreement preparation

29 January 2018. I read the email half-asleep in the morning, “Congratulations. Your proposal has reached the stage of Grant Agreement preparation.”

“High five” by Brian Abeling, used under Creative Commons license, no changes made

I thought YEEEEES! We got it! That’s what congratulations must mean. What’s this other thing, the “stage of Grant Agreement preparation”? I didn’t know that a marathon of European Commission jargon was expecting me. When the project passes the proposal phase, there are a few essential processing steps before the project can actually start. In what follows, I will outline these steps, in order to clarify the at-first-confusing terminology.

In total on that day I received three emails, with the following titles: 1. evaluation results and start of grant preparation, 2. request for additional data to prepare your Grant Agreement and 3. Declaration of Honour.

  1. The “evaluation results and start of grant preparation” is just saying, “yes, you passed, well done, prepare for the burocracy”. When I logged in on the portal (link provided in the email) and clicked on the Manage Project button I saw this line with tasks:

    Step 1 of grant preparation process – Preparation of the agreement
  2. The “request for additional data to prepare your Grant Agreement” asks for completion of details, e.g. start and end date of the project, “Justification: Katerina Kandylaki decided to come to Maastricht on April 1th 2018”. These details are important for the administration of the project. They should be easy to decide upon in a short meeting/call with your collaborating professor. I completed these details on the participant portal myself (link to the portal is provided in the email), after a short skype meeting with my professor.
  3. The “Declaration of Honour” is a document that contains legal confirmation on behalf of the host university (else known as “the beneficiary”). In my case, the project coordinator assigned a Project Legal Signatory in the host university, who completed and signed the declaration. I didn’t have to do anything for this step. At this stage the project coordinator also assigned the role of the Project Financial Signatory to another representative of the host university.

The previous tasks were completed by 12 February 2018. Then we waited.

  • On March 14 the EU proposed the Grant Agreement for signature and I received an email entitled: “request to sign the Grant Agreement”.
  • On March 15 the Project Legal Signatory signed the Grant Agreement and I was notified with an email entitled: “Coordinator has signed the Grant Agreement”.
  • On March 19 the EU signed the Grant Agreement as well; the title of the email I received about this was “Grant Agreement has been signed by the Commission”.

At this stage the line of the grant preparation process in the participant portal looked as follows:

Step 2 of grant preparation process – Signing of the agreement

On March 23 I received an email with the title “pre-financing payment”, which meant that the EU has processed the pre-financing payment for my project. In the process history it was written “EU performed a payment”; also, the line of tasks looked like the process had reached the end stage:

Step 3 of grant preparation – Payment

Shortly thereafter within the same day the EU closed the process of grant preparation.

The money is there, I have a desk in the university and a flat in town. I cannot wait for the project to start. Happy Easter!

KDK

Road to grant: 1. The proposal

Road to grant (photo actually taken in Zion National Park)

It was mid July 2017 when I decided to apply for a Marie Sklodowska-Curie (MSC) individual fellowship (2 months to the deadline). The decisive moment came during a post doc meeting on MSC individual fellowships at the Postdocs and Fellows Development Centre (PFDC) of Imperial College London. I was in the second stage of a Sir Henry Wellcome fellowship application from the Wellcome Trust (WT), so I had the main idea and possible experiments. I thought it should be easy to take the the WT proposal and re-formulate to match the MSC requirements. That was not entirely true. Even though it was helpful to have the main idea, I had to create a project that adapts to the requirements of the MSC fellowship scheme, specifically:

  1. I had to find a professor that would be happy to support this project within the EU.
  2. I had to reshape the project to fit into 2 years, instead of 4 year which was the WT proposal.

I had met an inspiring professor (Prof. Sonja Kotz of Maastricht University) who had presented a new theory of timing in the brain the Music, Language and Cognition summer school in June, so I decided to contact her with a draft of my ideas. I sent her an email, in which I didn’t only shortly present the project but also asked for her help to shape these ideas into a project together. I wanted her to bring her expertise in and also suggest ways how to adapt the project to the research enviroment and facilities. Last, I stated the timeline, which basically gave us two months to prepare. I think that this first email was important to show initiative but also respect of the other person’s expertise and time management.

She agreed shortly thereafter and we had a first skype meeting, in which we set a general plan with internal deadlines for writing, reviewing, re-writing and submitting the proposal. During writing (and re-writing) I followed the guidelines of the European Commision and some example MSC fellowship applications from friends. I also received great help from Mr Ermo Daniels, Funding Advisor at Maastricht University, who had compiled an extensive document with instructions explaining and developing the guidelines of the European Commission. Every well-organised University usually has some kind of service to assist in aquiring grants, e.g. for prospective post docs and fellows at Imperial College London it would be the PFDC, so it is important to get in contact with them via the professor.

Part of my gantt chart, for demonstration purposes

I cannot stress enough how crucial my friends and colleagues revisions were. It is important to see yourself and your project from your friends eyes, who might admire you, or might have questions or suggestions that clarify aspects of the proposal and thereby make it more accessible to the smart but non-expert reader. I also had access to two previous MSC fellowship applications along with their decision letters; this helped to understand what the assessors of the proposal are looking for. Then I creatively adapted my project ideas to these induced guidelines.

Last, do not unerestimate the involvement of multiple experts in such a proposal. As a general rule of thumb, the miminum I would suggest is: one expert in the theory, one expert in the method, and one expert in grant proposals of the specific scheme. This worked amazigly well for me.

The last couple of days before the final submission (14 Sept 2017) were stressful. I lost my sleep for a couple of nights but I was satisfied with my proposal. And as cliche it might sound, if you are satisfied with your proposal, give your best and do not underestimate the assessors, you’re on the right track. The assessors evaluate proposals professionally; their comments on my proposal were spot on the minor unclarities. Don’t be afraid of the amount work and of the possibility of failure. Either positive or negative the result, you will get excellent feedback on your proposal with very specific comments on what to improve in order to make it next time.

Update from 14th June 2018, this is the presentation I gave at the info session on Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowship applications at Maastricht University: MSCA_info_session_KDK.

KDK

Yellow world

In this blog I will document my fellowship project “The NEurobiology of RHYthm: effects of MUSical expertise on natural speech comprehension” NERHYMUS.

This project is funded by the European Commission, within the Marie Sklodowska-Curie individual fellowships scheme. The project is based at Maastricht University, realised within the BAND-LAB (Basic and Applied NeuroDynamics Laboratory) in collaboration with Professor Sonja Kotz. It starts on 1st April 2018 and ends on 31st March 2020.

I will start categorising the blog posts in the following topics: Theory, Data analysis, Admin, Motivation/Inspiration, Teaching, Public. If there is need for more, there will be more.

My intentions are:

  1. to log the progress of this project,
  2. to share the challenging and inspirational moments with fellow researchers and students,
  3. to inform scientists and the public on the progress and findings.

KDK