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fashionista #3: Maaspuntweg & Stenenwal.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 
..

Laurien

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.

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Photo credit: Photostique, Peter Mullenberg

Models: Laurien and Researchista

Clothing: Ecolinea, Maastricht.

With love for Research,

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“Bonefun!

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.

White verses,
Researchista’s muse”

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Academia first years of PhD knowledge research Researcher Special Guest stereotype struggle

(34) Impostor Syndrome in Academia.

Dear Researchista friend, allow me to introduce you to Laurien, our ‘intern’ (is unusual to call a PhD, an intern), whom I had the pleasure to meet through Maastricht University’s Alumni Office (thanks to Guido Vanderbroeck). In the light of Researchista’s strong encouragement for Researchers to get creative, please welcome this PhD post. This is Laurien’s first creative-writing-with-academic-flavour post, support and enjoy!

audio-post: 

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 ‘I just had a whole lot of luck’

Whilst I am sitting here writing this first post for Researchista, various dark thoughts run through my mind. Did I bite off a bigger piece than I can chew? Are people going to think this is a dull piece of text? Can I combine blogging with my PhD work? Self-doubt and critique are a pretty common phenomenon that many of you are familiar with. These feelings are quite normal and adaptive because they make us go the extra mile. They urge us to practice that presentation one more time before getting on stage or to repeat those materials a last time before the test.

A far worse feeling is feeling like a real fraud, feeling like you do not deserve the job/title you currently hold. People afflicted with the ‘imposter syndrome’ are truly convinced that they are frauds in their job and that they just had a lot of luck. These anxious individuals worry that their boss and/or peers will soon discover they are not capable or intelligent after all. Once discovered there will be a fall from grace and complete humiliation. There are plenty famous figures that suffer from the imposter syndrome. One of them is UN Women Goodwill ambassador Emma Watson. She admitted feeling like an imposter and stated that she could never meet the expectations the public has from her.

When digging into the plenty of popular science articles and YouTube videos on imposter syndrome, I came across a video lecture from Chris Lema. His definition of imposter syndrome speaks to me: imposter syndrome is the inability to internalize success. It is the inability to respond to an accomplishment with the feeling ‘I did that’. It is the person immediately diminishing his/her efforts when receiving a compliment: ‘Oh that was just luck’ and ‘Oh I have great colleagues’. I like Lema’s definition a lot because it accounts for the paradox that is the imposter syndrome: the ones feeling like a fraud are often immensely successful at the same time. I would dare to say that having success but not internalizing it, not owning it, is the same as not experiencing success at all 
. ?

Many blogs and opinion articles claim that imposter syndrome is rampant throughout academia. When looking in my personal circle of academic colleagues, I tend to agree with such statements. Of course the syndrome is not exclusive to academia, but what makes academia such a fertile ground for the development of fraudulent feelings? Here are a few potential reasons:

Academia is a competitive There is a limited amount of grants, tenure positions, etc. You are competing with peers for the same position. Comparing yourself to peers is thus inevitable, especially when you know that admission committees will compare you directly either way. When we observe our peers, we see a ‘filtered picture’. Just like on Instagram, we see our peers publishing articles, shining on a stage when presenting, etc. What we do not see is the behind- the-scenes grind of last minute work, procrastination, failure and emotional turmoil. No wonder we feel like an imposter when we experience all the flaws that we do not see in our peers.

1. Academia has a clear hierarchical structure with the tenured professor on top, followed by non-tenured assistant professors, postdocs and graduate students. Because of the clear division between positions, it somehow seems that you need to be ‘a lot smarter’ to move one step up. The process can be perceived as non-gradual and therefore employees might feel like an imposter when taking on a new position.

2. In addition there is also a ‘timing issue’ because of expectations from our environment (and also from ourselves) arise: A PhD should finish in 3/4 years. A postdoc should roll out a few first-author papers a year. Certain grants can only be attained in a certain time frame (x years after getting the PhD). Whenever we fail to meet a ‘deadline’, we feel inadequate and somehow less capable than our colleagues finishing ‘in time’.

3. Academia is a personal strive. Even though researchers are embedded in research labs/ groups, at the end of the day only your work counts. Only the papers that proudly carry your name count. Your teaching evaluation is looked at and your progress is looked at. You cannot hide behind a team. This much responsibility might be too overwhelming to handle for some of us. There is no way that you can handle all of that responsibility.

4. Academia has an ‘elite’ feel to it. Academia still is a bit of an ‘ivory tower’, there is no reality check. I am comparing myself with genius people, and therefore feel stupid. I think it is good to get out of the academic bubble now and then to realize that you have many strengths. It is good to distinguish your personal worth from your researcher’s worth. One has nothing to do with the other, even though it might feel like it.

5. ‘Universitas’ means broadening your knowledge, yet more often universities enable specialization in one field. Because of the specialization, you might feel inadequate when a colleague talks about his research and you do not understand a single word of what he/she is saying. You might feel like an imposter: ‘How did I come so far without studying more biology?! .. what a fraud I am!’. I myself often suffer from the ‘knowing more is knowing less’ phenomenon. When I delve into an undiscovered neuroscience topic I often feel confused and overwhelmed. There are so many articles and studies out there that a seemingly simple paradigm turns into a three-headed dragon.

6. Academia attracts high achievers, and in turn it is known that high-achievers are more prone to the imposter syndrome. These high-achievers might have certain personality traits that predispose them such as perfectionism, anxiety, etc.

Even though imposter syndrome is not an officially recognized disorder in the DSM, there are some real consequences. A study from Gent University found that employees identifying themselves with the imposter syndrome, report to be less likely to volunteer for tasks that are beyond their job description. This adds another layer to the riddle of imposter syndrome: suffering from it doesn’t make you work harder, but perhaps even less hard. So, dear readers, we have to combat the imposter syndrome. The first step, as always, is recognizing one has a problem. Step two is talking about it to a colleague or a friend. Especially friends outside academia might give you some perspective. A small tip that I am practicing daily is this one: Next time you get a compliment, own it. Stop yourself when you feel ‘I had a whole lot of luck’ rolling out of your mouth. Celebrate even the smallest accomplishment. You are pretty awesome 😉

Here you go dear readers, my first-ever blog post for Researchista. Imperfect as it is, it is real, tangible and a proof that I am not a ‘blog imposter’, I just sometimes feel like one.

This text was written on my personal title.

by Laurien Nagels-Coune, PhD student in Cognitive Neuroscience at FPN, Maastricht University

 

With love for Researchers,

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anxiety enthusiasm first years of PhD health knowledge research Researcher Special Guest stress

(17) Anxiety during PhD (3): trust more, stress less.

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 As symptoms of anxiety can hold you back enormously in your career, it is essential to open up the discussion about this topic and to share knowledge and tools that help you manage and prevent anxiety. This blog/video is made with the goal to help you as a Researcher to feel good and achieve great results in your career. This is not in any way a replacement of medical care and if you experience severe anxiety symptoms, make sure to contact a medical professional.

In the previous video “How to make sure that anxiety is not holding you back” I shared with you the difference between anxiety and fear and you learned that people with anxiety are often living with their mind in the future.

In this video I am going to share with you two simple (and free) exercises that will help you to calm down your mind, to stop living in the future and start living more in the present moment. These exercises will help you to trust more and feel less stress.

https://vimeo.com/166612475

I wish you an inspired and ambitious career without sacrificing your mind, body and soul.

By Daniëlle Branje,

Health Researcher & Trainer/Coach
Sign up and receive my feel good emails: http://www.daniellebranje.com 

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anxiety first years of PhD health last years of PhD research Researcher stress struggle

(16) Anxiety during PhD (2): prevention is the key.

As symptoms of anxiety can hold you back enormously in your career, it is essential to open up the discussion about this topic and to share knowledge and tools that help you manage and prevent anxiety. This blog/video is made with the goal to help you as a researcher to feel good and achieve great results in your career. This is not in any way a replacement of medical care and if you experience severe anxiety symptoms, make sure to contact a medical professional.

As a Researcher you might worry about your future, about your next paper and whether or not you will make the deadline. You are constantly envisioning what could potentially go wrong… As a result, the body and mind starts to respond as if there is a real threat.

Your body is actually preparing you to run away as quickly as possible. After a while you might start to experience anxiety symptoms such as :

  • Panic attacks
  • Racing heart
  • Quick breathing
  • Excessive worrying

Combined with other circumstances, such as not enough sleep, unhealthy food and products such as coffee and sugar, it not so surprising that you are experiencing these symptoms. That is why prevention is key!

Symptoms of anxiety are completely normal. They can happen to everyone, at any time.  It doesn’t mean you are weak or not strong enough. First of all I would advise you to not focus too much on anxiety. Where attention goes, energy flows. So if you focus a lot on the symptoms, you are directing your attentions towards it.

You can learn to direct your attention as much as possible to feelings of trust and feeling good, while at the same time managing the symptoms of anxiety you are experiencing.

https://vimeo.com/166627150

In this video I am going to give you a number of easy lifestyle tips to prevent anxiety. Then I am also going to tell you more about a method that can be very beneficial to stop your worrying mind – and prevent anxiety on the long run.

 

By Daniëlle Branje,

Health Researcher & Trainer/Coach

 

Sign up and receive a feel good email: http://www.daniellebranje.com 

 

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anxiety first years of PhD health last years of PhD research Researcher Researchista stress struggle

(15) Anxiety during PhD (1): an introduction.

This introduction probably summarizes it best: “I want to tell you right away that you will not find an answer to the question above in this short blog piece, but I am sure most of those involved in PhD studies asked that question at least once. We all think we are so strong, tough, resilient, and adaptable, but somehow PhD gets under our skin, penetrates our brain and produces irreversible changes (and often not good ones) on physical, emotional and mental level” (Dr. Aksana Chizjevskaia).  Another PhD says: “we want to come across as super heros, but we are humans as well”.

By raising this topic, Researchista hopes to not fall in the ‘victim trap’, but to present some facts that makes one wonder why is this the case. Studies show that in the Netherlands at least 36.5 % of PhD students suffer medical depression. The situation in the UK does not seem to be brighter, 64% of PhD students (aged between 18-34 years) are feeling in isolation (more statistics here). What are the statistics in your country?

It was by chance that I found out that some PhD students do actually take anti-depressants. It is one thing when people randomly say they are ‘depressed’ because of heavy work loads, but when you friend tells you she takes anti-depressants to cope with her PhD, it might shake your world.

The special Guest Blogger of this month is Danielle Branje, she supports young professionals and business owners to create a meaningful and inspired career & life without sacrificing their body, mind and soul. She will try facilitate the work process of those who struggle with anxiety at the moment.

https://vimeo.com/166611795

 

This month is entirely dedicated to health issues that Researchers might face. On Researchista, Facebook & Twitter we try take some actions, join us by sharing the posts with those who might struggle.

With love for Researchers,

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first years of PhD health ignorance last years of PhD research Researcher Researchista

(13) Writing and RSI (my story)

Ah, PhD life…  So, that’s me and another PhD going to Spain, Palma-de-Majorca. Tasty food, beautiful beach, warm sand and refreshing breeze from the sea.

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This is me and my sister going few months later to Japan, in Tokyo & Yokohama, where I attended a world congress; thousands of researchers gathered there.

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Not too bad.. indeed, I could not complain. The only difficult thing to show in these pictures is that I was not able to do much with my hands. My arms were just hanging attached to my shoulders, but were not very helpful.

It was my last year of PhD. I was so exhausted that I had to take this trip to Spain if I wanted to finish my PhD thesis. My friend was helping me out so that all I had to do, was to relax and restore. Whereas in Japan, I planned to go months beforehand, it was a World Congress which I simply could not miss. Maybe I would have met my future employers there, such events are valuable for future perspectives. My sister was my personal little helper and tourist guide, has been a long trip.

I was fortunate to be able to get away and get better, but there are many PhD students who are not that fortunate, also they or/and are not aware that they struggle with RSI. A PhD, a Post-doc or a Researcher in general is doing a lot of writing (and editing, editing, editing, editing) which in its turn could cause…

Repetitive strain injury  – an injury caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, or sustained or awkward positions.

2Repetitive Strain Injury

 

What happened next? What is all the fuss about it?… to be continued next Monday!

p.s. Big thanks to all my friends and family who were there for me when needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(8) Hello dear PhDs, how are you?

We hope that our post finds you well. Nobody knows better than yourself what is the best way to advance in your PhD. You are the boss of your life, of your time and the master of your skills. We trust you are making the best of it and hope that the posts to come in April will help and inspire you with new ideas or different approaches to solve your challenges and concerns. Isn’t it more joyful to have a companion on the road, at least for a while?