So, we went to see the Maas from the other side. Please meet our guest, miss Laurien Nagels-Coune who is also the first intern at Researchista, you probably heard about her before 😉 This story is not so much about a Research topic, since Laurien is in her first year of PhD. This story is a personal story about the start of a junior Researcher.
For those who are unfamiliar with Researchista-fashionista project, this aims to bring Researchers to model on the streets of Maastricht to bring some light on both, the Researcher and a street (or two) of this serene medieval city. On top of that, Researchista-fashionista is concerned with some aspects of the fashion industry and wishes to promote eco-healthy clothing. So, in this shoot we wear 100% biological and organic materials produced 100% in Europe and provided by the shop, called ‘EcoLinea’ from Platielstraat 10 (Vrijthof), where honestly, everything you find in that shop, like.. every-single-wool/cotton/allmaterials-thing is organic (and they still have sales on!).
First, a little something about the location of the shoot. Tadam! This is the center of Maastricht. You see on the left, the central train station and then few central locations. I marked with a red and orange line the streets and place of our 3rd shoot at this idyllic river bench. Taking pictures with Mr. Mullenberg Peter and his assistant is always a lot of joy, the atmosphere is relaxed and the jokes are funny. This helps everyone to get in the mood to shoot the story.
It was December, it was winter and it was cold on Maaspuntweg (from ‘Maas’-the river, ‘punt’ – the point, ‘weg’ – the way, now you also know some Dutch!). We went directly to the back of the Bonnenfanten Museum, in the yard of the cafeteria ‘Ipanema’, where we plan to shelter ourselves for tea. Wrong day, the place was closed 😀 I leave it to yourselves to admire how Laurien is being impervious to cold! She was on the table for almost an hour pretending that winter never happened and here is her story…
PhD life in Maastricht: a first impression.
Dear readers, join me at this delightful location. During my master, I would often bike via this path after crossing the Sint Servaas bridge. Biking to the Randwyck campus was always quite a journey because I lived on Maastricht’s Belgian side, almost close enough to the border to receive the Belgian network on my phone.
Don’t get me wrong though, I did not mind the bike ride at all. My favorite part was this path. I am fond of watching the water from the Maas. When thinking about it, it might be all the fun times at the Belgian seaside that installed this love of water in me. Nevertheless, three years ago I started riding my bike via this path all the way to Randwyck. I was over the moon with getting accepted in one of the neuroscience programs at the faculty of psychology and neuroscience.
The courses were immensely interesting and intense, resulting in a flow like state most of the time. Admittedly, there were also some times that it got too intense for me. I had to get used to problem-based learning (PBL) for starters. Coming from the University of Leuven, PBL was quite the opposite of what I was used to. A wonderful advantage was that I had to keep up with the material. The perfectionistic procrastinator in me had to get on with it. A downside – that was especially hard to adjust to – was the compulsory attendance. I used to travel a lot during my studies in Leuven, as I was in a long-distance relationship. During those trips, I studied the manuals and the course materials. Sometimes I would ask friends to record an important lecture. This more introverted type of learning also worked for me.
Nevertheless, PBL made me keep up with the work, and perhaps that was just what I needed to push me into a flow state. When left on my own, I often want to fully understand all the material that is given to me. That might sound like a positive trait, but in all fairness, dissecting an entire methods section meticulously is not very efficient in every course. Maastricht’s educational system forced me to step back regularly and look at the big picture…… and then step back in and read another article.
After this Master my cravings for neuroscience grew stronger and I decided to apply for a PhD grant together with my mentor. At the time of the grant application I was doing an internship in California, so I had to fly back to defend my project. I felt like a million dollars when getting on that plane. The mere thought that someone else thought I was important enough to fly me back to Europe was thrilling. Even more thrilling was actually getting this grant of course.
What makes neuroscience such a good match for me is its interdisciplinary nature. Neuroscience is the biology of psychology, the biology behind our mind… In cognitive neuroscience we often measure the brain activity during specific tasks or mental activities. These psychological experiments are elegantly designed and intensely piloted to answer very complex – and sometimes even philosophical – questions that touch the core of our human mind. As a neuroscientist, you can delve into psychology, biology, mathematics and computer science all at the same time.
The first year of my PhD has passed now. I am sure that many other PhD students would agree with this statement: time flies by so fast. The past year has been a small success for me as I got to experience the thrill of data collection in living human beings and I presented a poster at my first conference. I often ruminate about what I could have done better or about slow progress, but I force myself to ban those thoughts and be content. I learned a lot and developed quite some skills, and that is all that really matters in the end. In addition, I am trying this mantra ‘I did my best and that is good enough’.
One personal tendency that helped me in the past year is systematic organization. My need for agenda’s, planning and to do lists is never satisfied. Notebooks and cute folders clutter my desk. I note everything down and I date every note. Paper beats not only rock but also technology. A fountain pen and a blank page do the trick infinitely better than an empty word document in my world. When it comes to creative experimental design or writing that is, of course. I could not miss my computer when it comes to data analysis.
But hej, I am for sure not the archetype boring office mouse. Next to my OCD-like organization attempts, I also enjoy socializing with my colleagues. I feel blessed to have a few of my former classmates as colleagues because it made the transition from student to PhD-er so much easier.
I have always been a talkative person over a good coffee. Time spent enjoying lunch or coffee with my colleagues is an energy boost for me. Also it is time spent exchanging ideas, supporting each other and having a good laugh.
In conclusion, the past few years here in Maastricht have been wonderful, a challenging but also quite a rewarding adventure. I am looking forward to the next few years of my PhD …..
When we went to EcoLinea to choose the clothes for the shoot, we got this combination…. it felt like we were mirroring each other, myself as a graduated PhD and Laurien as a first year PhD who is really in her very first months of a hopefully not very long journey. I felt very inspired and wrote these verses that do not rhyme 🙂 but who cares, I just wanted to pass on a message. It is for you, Laurien! and all other starters in the PhD/Research world.
Clothing: Ecolinea, Maastricht.
With love for Research,
So, here we are sister,
Passing on the (PhD) flag with care,
In the little heaven of Maastrich.
Not much rhymes with what you are about to face.
And I do not mean to dramatize,
Neither to remind you of the sleepless nights,
But no matter how smart and strong you are,
Get ready to face it.
Hard work, discipline, dissapointment and again.
It might brake you down,
But you have passion and compassion to glue yourself back.
It might cover you in that extra layer of glorious pride,
But you have kindness to remind yourself of who you are.
It might take you down to unvisited inside depressive places,
It might take you up to ego heavens,
It might be the biggest dissapointment,
It might be the best thing you have done in your life,
It might be your worse decision.
One thing is certain, in time all struggles remain aloof,
The skills you will acquired, your hard work and the Dr. in front of your surname,
will undust your memory from time to time,
and will remain with you for(ever?) a long time.
It will stay part of you, Research & you.
Even if you change the colour of your hair,
The surname in your passport.
And one day,
When you are done,
The world is yours.
Till you become unemployed.
Ah, Maastricht, you keep on surprising us all,
You little bubble of heaven,
Placed at the river bench,
Embracing us at the Bonnenfanten wander place.