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.

 

 

 

 

November 2018 – Finally the EEG experiment

So, it’s beginning of January and only now I have time and energy to write the wrap up of November (and December). In general November has been very creative in research, teaching and outreach. But let’s take it from the top.

Research

November started with unresolved issues in the Matlab script, related to stimulus presentation. I have extensive notes of the first couple of days, because I had to keep track of the solutions I’ve already tried, in order to avoid losing time on re-trying things that didn’t work out. Looking into Matlab code generally makes me dizzy, but at least I managed to navigate and eventually solve the issues. I ran the whole experiment on myself and discovered some missing files and some typos that needed to be fixed. One of the audio files needed to be re-recorded, as it included a mispronunciation of a name in only one part of the story. Luckily, the speaker was available in Maastricht, so he passed by and we wrapped up the recording in 15 minutes. Then I normalized that file and included it to the list of audio files. I also fixed the typos and balanced the correct answers to half option a and the other half option b.

My initial experimental script was doing the normalization in the stimulus presentation script and the resulting normalized files were only peak-normalized. This ended up not having the same loudness across files. With the valuable help of my collaborator Thanos, who explained how to do a two-step normalization, I made a short script which normalized the files in peak and loudness externally from the experimental script. Then, in the experimental script I only load and play the files without needing to normalize them anymore. In mid November I sent the normalized files to Thanos, so that he runs his auditory analysis algorithms on the signal.

We then determined how to analyze the audio signal, based on Thanos’s previous research and its relevance for cognitive functions. In my email to Thanos I wrote:

I see that the most prominent features given the theory on speech rhythm, such as the period of the strongest peak (beat), do not perform so well in the automatic language identification task in all the corpora you tested. This might at first be surprising, but the difference should be viewed, as you already discussed in the paper, under the task performed by the classification algorithm and the fact that the algorithm might not be reflecting cognitive processes.

Given these, I would like to suggest that we take all the beat histogram features for our analysis and use them in two ways:

  1. to test whether the algorithm can discriminate between conditions, poem vs. story and which features are the most prominent in this classification.
  2. then, to take the most cognitively motivated features, e.g. amplitude and F0, and compare their fit to the EEG data.

We decided to compute all the novelty functions based on the beat histograms, as laid out in Thanos’s 2015 paper. We would then discuss that we can do with features like spectral flux or spectral flatness, which do not seem to be relevant for cognition, at least for the moment, but seemed to contribute very much to the classification between languages.

On November 20th, I had a second project proposal meeting with the TMS group, in which I outlined the details of the experimental setup. The group recommended me to be cautious about: preparation of the subject (the gel would dry out when applying the TMS), how to optimize procedures so that we are fast and effective, use a TMS compatible cap, how to localize the pre-SMA for each participant. In my meeting with Teresa on November 23rd, she stressed that the most important thing is how we localize the pre-SMA, whether we need a structural MRI and look in each brain for the specific co-ordinates, or whether it is an easy area to localize, such as other motor regions, and does not need an MRI scan. She advised me to look into previous studies which have targeted the pre-SMA and check the methodological details. I have to complete and send back the NIBS Project Proposal Form before we start measuring for NERHYMUS.

Teaching

Most of the students of the writing skills course submitted their Introduction on time on November 9th. I was amazed at the general low quality of the essays. However, after I visited the course on how to evaluate and give feedback for writing skills and theses, I realized that the students are just starting to understand how scientific writing is expressed and how to write in this form themselves. So, I re-evaluated my initial evaluation, and made an effort to give my students meaningful feedback on how to improve, rather than dismissive general comments. From the individual short meetings for providing this feedback I had the impression that the students truly appreciated my effort and that it helped them understand what they did wrongly and how to improve.

With regard to the mentoring course, I had the impression that the second mentor meeting was a disaster. Even though I did my best to follow the instructions of the course administrator, I felt that the students were not interested, as the session was very much just repeating the content of the first session. The general impression was that what we did in the scheduled 2 hours, could have easily been done in 1 hour without needing to overtire the students with repetition. Maybe it was also the wrong time of the day for such a task, as 4-6pm in the late afternoon is quite late. I have forwarded this feedback to the colleagues who planned the course and hope that this session will be planned differently for next year.

Outreach

We’ve made a lot of progress with Pint of Science Maastricht. In mid November, Lena and I met with Danielle Vogt and Flore Clerx from the Marketing and Communications of the FHML, who really helped us to pitch our call for volunteers in a fun manner. They were also very supportive of Pint of Science Maastricht in general and they suggested to hold a general info session in the Turnzaal in January and have media coverage and possibly interviews to spread the word about the festival. Lena worked with them on the text for the university-wide call for participation and we sent it out at the end of November.

On November 27th I held the first info meeting in a small circle with people from NP&PP and CN. The goal of this meeting was not only to inform, but also to recruit volunteers for the taster event, which will introduce Pint of Science to Maastricht on February 27th, 2019.

On November 28th, I went to the Societal Engagement event, organized by the University of Maastricht, representing Pint of Science Maastricht with my own stand in the “market”.

Many people showed interest in the initiative, especially because they found the idea of bringing science to the pubs cool. I also got some important contacts, such as the organizers of TEDx Maastricht Gonny Willems and Sophie Kells. Sophie works in the press office of the university and came to my stand to offer her enthusiastic support to Pint of Science Maastricht. I approached Gonny at the bar and we decided to meet in January in order to discuss collaborating on the level of training speakers for public speaking and on organizing an event with the topic “Redefining Europe” for the Pint of Science festival in May.

Last, on November 13th I went to the launch event of the Female Empowerment Maastricht initiative. This album has some amazing photos.

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

I took part in the Work-Life balance workshop, together with my colleague and friend Alex Emmendorfer, see us both in the picture.

Photo by: Brian Megens Photography (www.brianmegens.com)

That was a decent summary of November.

KDK

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.

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