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.

 

 

 

 

June 2018 – The traveling month

This post comes a little bit delayed than normal, because during this month I was traveling a lot and I needed time to settle back at the end of the month. From 2-10/6 I went to Athens to teach a course entitled “Introduction to eye-tracking for psycholinguistics” at the 1st summer school of Experimental Methods in Pscycholinguistics (Empsy).

The students of the 1st Empsy

Then, I worked one full week in Maastricht 11-15/6. The next traveling for work was on the 18/6, when I was on my way to the 1st international Workshop on Predictive Processing (WoPP).

View from the workshop location, Miramar Palace.

From San Sebastian I flew directly to Crete for my friend’s wedding, which was a real blast. And when I came back on the 27/6 and worked for the last two days of June, there was only as much time to re-calibrate and get back to my list of tasks for NERHYMUS. There are therefore not many developments on the practical aspects of NERHYMUS this month, but more on the development of my own research agenda and personal character.

My impressions and reflections on my first intensive teaching experience at the summer school will be the topic of a separate post. I am therefore moving on to the developments on NERHYMUS, which happened the week of 11-15/6.

On June 12th I gave a presentation in a project proposal meeting of the fMRI group lead by Elia Formisano at the Cognitive Neuroscience department. The main comments on my proposal were:

  1.  Why do concurrent EEG-fMRI? If we want to go through the hassle of noisy EEG data and complicated set up, we should have a hypothesis that can only be answered with a concurrent design. Our design up to now does not motivate concurrent data acquisition.
  2. Think about how to model the fMRI response with the beats extracted from the audio signal, because of the different time resolution.
  3. Check sparse sampling as a possible solution to comment Nr. 2.

On June 13th I skyped with Emily Coffey in order to get a short overview of the Montreal Music History Questionnaire, which I will use for quantifying musical and dance expertise. I will add one section on language expertise and a clarification about ethics and data management, according to the EU GDPR.

Update on the Stimuli: Anna (the intern who is helping select the stimuli texts) has chosen poems that should suffice for 50 minutes of poem materials for the experiment. In beginning of July she is going to select stories and then I will take it from there on, to find speakers and calculate the budget for recording the audio stimuli.

Concurrent or not

Since the fMRI PPM I have been thinking about the pros and the cons of concurrent or non concurrent EEG-fMRI data acquisition. I have summarized these in the following table:

I discussed these points with Lars Hausfeld on Skype while I was at the WoPP in San Sebastian. His advice was similar to that which came up at the fMRI PPM; unless there is a clear hypothesis to be answered only with the concurrent design, there is not enough motivation to go for it. He favored a step-by-step build-up approach, in which I would combine EEG and offline TMS first and then continue with the combination of fMRI and offline TMS. With regard to comment Nr. 2 from the fMRI PPM, he suggested averaging the BOLD response within 1 minute, thereby creating a mini-block design.

The first WoPP was very interesting and scientifically stimulating. There were experts of different fields, who discussed their research of predictive processing under their understanding and following different frameworks. I observed inconsistencies in the terminology, which essentially arise from the adoption of different theoretical frameworks, but I would have welcomed a critical summary of all the presented approaches, at least of the ones that were included in the Symposia. It seems easy to me that each speaker tells their own story, but the most interesting part would have been an amalgamation of the available expertise into conclusions about predictive processing.

So this was June, in short. In July I aim to develop the experiment in more detail and progress on the stimuli and questionnaire. Also, I have planned a Dutch course which will take a significant part of my time, but it will be a good investment for the future.

KDK

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