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(41) Research on brain: hearing.

And here is Laurien back again with a crash intro on what is happening in our brain when we hear something! Did you hear that? 😉

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PhD Laurien Nagels-Coune

A ringing in your ear?

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Source: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/03/living-with-a-sound-you-can%E2%80%99t-turn-off/

The first post in this BRAIN research series was about language. Next to spoken words, there are plenty of other sounds in our daily life. They are the source of joy and comfort but what if a certain sound drives you mad? Tinnitus is the fancy term for ‘having a ringing in your ear’. It is in fact the perception of sound in absence of any actual sound.

Now, before I go on, I have to emphasize that I am no expert in this field. My PhD is focused on muscle-independent communication for locked-in patients. These are patients who lost most motor capacities and are in essence ‘locked-in’ their own bodies, yet let me tell you more about this another time 😉 . I am writing about tinnitus now because it is a scientific side project of mine and I will collaborate in a clinical investigation soon on it. As a clinician, I have always found it fascinating how such a seemingly insignificant disorder can drive one mad, but try to listen to a few of these 11 tinnitus sounds by the British tinnitus association. Personally, I can imagine going mad when being forced to listen to sound 8 or 11 for even a day.

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In April I went to a studium generale lecture here in Maastricht by Prof. dr. Robert Stokroos and Dr. Iris Nowak-Maes. Perhaps some of you were there as well? I remember that extra chairs were brought in to accommodate the immense turn-up that evening. Prof. dr. Stokroos confirmed the immense proportion of this seemingly insignificant disorder:

Source:http://www.geeksandbeats.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/shutterstock_24666676.jpg

“About a million people in the Netherlands have to deal with tinnitus, about 60.000 of those are seriously hindered in their daily lives. Tinnitus costs around 2.3 percent of the yearly care budget.”

Ok, so now that we know what tinnitus is. We also know how severe its consequences are in our society. So let’s cut to the chase.

What causes tinnitus? The most common cause is exposure to noise, such as a noisy work environment. People that have been in warfare for example often develop tinnitus. What happens is that the cochlea, the ‘snail house’, of the ear gets damaged.

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Source: http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/inner-ear

Specifically, there are tiny hair cells in this snail house that get damaged. But where does neuroscience come in? Well in most cases, damage to these little hair cells causes hearing loss in a specific frequency range. This is because the hair cells are grouped per frequency. What is interesting now is that often the tinnitus frequency is exactly in this frequency range! So what might be happening? Animal models suggest that when the hair cells are damaged, there is differentiation of nerves going from the cochlea to the brain. Our auditory part of the brain starts to have increased spontaneous activity.  So what is a disease of the ear, soon becomes a disease of the brain.

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Image adopted from Adjamian, P., Sereda, M., & Hall, D. A. (2009). The mechanisms of tinnitus: perspectives from human functional neuroimaging. Hearing research, 253(1), 15-31.

What is often seen in animal models is that there is some reorganization of the auditory cortex (part C of the above figure). You can see that the top red regions stop responding to high frequencies but start reacting on lower frequencies that were close to them. You can see how damage to a specific part of the ear, can change the workings of the brain.

The above is just a common way of thinking about tinnitus. However, be careful dear readers, little is still known about this fascinating topic. One in four tinnitus patients do not have hearing loss namely and reorganization of the auditory cortex has not been confirmed as a cause of tinnitus in humans. However, motivated neuroscientists keep learning and understanding this disease better and better. Once the mechanisms are unraveled, the way is open to treatment and interventions. However, my take home message to those readers that haven’t developed tinnitus yet is: Protect your ears J As always, prevention is better than treatment!

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Source: http://www.oaklandaudiology.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Pixmac000088050972.jpg

Tinnitus remains a hot topic in the field of neuroscience, we don’t understand it fully yet. There is still a lot more to discover about auditory perception. For example, another strange disorder that involves the hatred of certain specific sounds…   but our next guest will unravel the neural correlates of this phenomenon in next week’s post.

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

With love for Researchers,

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(39) Research on Brain: language.

This is Research on Brain month on Researchista and this is our guest of the week, I would normally say, but this is not just an usual introduction. This is such a genuinely nice person and friend, I wish to transmit at least a little bit from the inspiration and huge support that Joao has been giving to research communication. I would like to thank him for accepting to break the ice on Research and BRAIN month – with its related topics that are included in one field, called ‘Neuroscience’. It start with how brain helps us express clearly and use language to solve our problems and grow. Welcome to our Special Guest Dr. Joao Correia, originally from Portugal, Experienced Researcher at Maastricht University.

LANGUAGE: YOUR KEY TO THE WORLD.

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Dr. Joao Correia

We all have the impression that the brain is vast, and that vastness allows us to perform a long list of human functions. One of the unique functions that humans have is by far the ability to communicate. Human communication is direct and self-motivated. We do not only express ourselves to others, but we do it with the intention to change the behavior and knowledge of others.

My research dives into the unknown neural circuits of the communicating brains via speech and language. I try to understand how we speak and how we understand the speech of others, and in addition how these seemingly natural capacities serve the memory and thoughts and above all, shape the advanced societies of our world. Imagine, a car crash test.

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A car at high speed drives against a brick wall. This is – figuratively – what happens in the tympanic membrane of our ears when you hear something. Sound waves (travelling at 340 meters per second) bring auditory information into our ears, which transforms this mechanical energy into electric signals that can be interpreted by our brains.

Without this basic physical and neural capacity to receive sound information, for example from speech, infants wouldn’t develop normal speech and linguistic capabilities. Our ability to speak or to read owes much to this initial training of speech sound perception, such as our parents voice.

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As the auditory cortices in the left and right hemispheres, receive signals from spoken language, they start to link to others brain areas that are being coherently stimulated. For example, we hear different melodic tunnes (also called ‘signatures’ or ‘prosodies’) when our parents want to provide us a positive or negative feedback for education. Or we hear the word ‘water’ coherently together with the experience of drinking water. In sum, our senses start becoming linked, originating richer memory representations (auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory or emotional). How exactly these links are created and used in everyday life remains largely unknown.

Another linguistic faculty that is poorly understood is how we speak. Remember how swimming is a super exercise because it uses so many muscles of our body? Well, speaking uses more than 100 muscles, from the diaphragm and costal muscles – to create air flow – to multiple muscles of the larynx – to create the necessary pressure – to transform air flow onto sound waves – and finally – muscles of the vocal tract like the lips and tongue – to shape those sound waves onto concrete speech sounds. Due to our highly linked brain, we are capable to develop speaking abilities purely from hearing other people speaking, as well as, experiencing our own attempts to speak.

This link between auditory and motoric brain systems is often referred to as sensorimotor integration, because it provides a platform to integrate sensory and motor components. Sensorimotor integration is a key aspect of speech development, everyday speaking and comprehension. In a nutshell, we speak in a certain way because of how we hear and we hear in a certain way because of how we speak.

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Source: internet.

I am deeply in love with the versatility and complexity of sensorimotor integration, as it has the potential to explain multiple mysteries of the communicating brains, how comprehension and speaking develop normally and abnormally or how the brain learns to read.

Until recently, to ask these questions would necessarily lead to difficult philosophic and psychological discussions for which my engineering background wouldn’t be ready. However, in addition to these critical points in science, today we can image the human brain safely and with unprecedented detail, which allows directly to test and create hypothesis for how humans communicate…

Functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) allows taking magnetic pictures of the brain as people execute scientific experiments, including speaking or listening to speech. The pictures,

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reflect oxygen consumption within each small 3D pixel (or voxel) and are extremely rich in detail. However, such a complex capability is not present in one or two voxels, but distributed among the vast neural circuitry of the brain. Thousands of voxels per second must be analyzed during a single act of hearing, speaking or reading.

This screams for computational tools, able to handle such large amount of data. In my work, I use tools that have been developed for statistical learning, like predicting the weather, to learn how voxels behave for language. By investigating how voxels encode linguistic units, I hope to help formulate models of spoken communication that can have a direct impact to understand the neural circuitry for speech and language and to help unravel how these circuits fail during speech and language disorders. There is a long road to walk, but with the help of parallel technological development, this road may now be driven in a fast sport car rather than by foot. In 2010, I counted on voxels of 42 cubic millimeters, in 2014 of 8 cubic millimeters, and now in 2016 of 1 cubic millimeter. This increase in spatial resolution has a huge impact on our research, that goes hand in hand with innovation. Together, the vastness of the human brain is becoming increasingly understood.

Post written by Joao Correia, M-BIC, Maastricht University

With love for Research,

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(37) Aesthetics, Food and Innovation

Dear Researchista friends, please welcome our first Special Guest from abroad (outside NL), Dr. Beatrice D’Ippolito! 

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This month Researchista has decided to focus on the food industry. As an evolutionary economist at root, when I think of an industry and the products or services offered, I start thinking of what drives change and innovation in the specific context. Last week’s contribution to ‘Research on Food (industry) month on Researchista’ started off with the following: “It is the experience which brings about development and innovation”. Today I would like to delve further into the concept of innovation in food retail, hardly considered as innovating, yet bearing a significant potential for growth and change.

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Source: “Learning about food design”, d’Ippolito (2015)

Ongoing debates within the academic and policy-making communities centre argue that less technology-intensive industries rely on services to build their innovation capacity. Which foundations does this belief build on?

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Recently I have been involved in a project which sought to explore how aesthetics, which often finds expression in design, can shape the innovation activities undertaken by food retailers. ‘Why aesthetics?’, you may wonder? And even, ‘How does it relate to food retail?

Aesthetics was a term coined by Baumgarten in Aesthetica (1750-58) to describe a philosophical discipline that examines the “lower” sensual aspects of human experience as opposed to the “higher” realm of logics. Research on the topic has evolved in many directions ever since and, for the sake of simplicity, I hereby refer to aesthetics as concerned with “the nature and appreciation of art, beauty, and good taste” (Oxford English Dictionary). Falling under the realm of axiology, that is, the study of values and value judgments, aesthetics is strongly connected with individual preferences. You may start connecting the dots here.

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Source: internet.

Retail industries are increasingly being subject to consumers demanding for more innovation. Interestingly, although a retailer’s success relies on the ability to predict market trends, retailers are usually the adopters of innovations produced by other manufacturing companies. Retail firms are rarely thought of as innovation pioneers, yet some of them seem to adopt existing technologies to either improve their selling practices or enhance the quality of their retail processes. In addition, most innovations offered by retailers, though incremental, can generate meaningful impact on firms’ performance if sustained in the long run.

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Source: “Emerging trends in food retail”, http://www.supermarketnews.com (Oct’16)

Further, I would like to discuss more about these aspects by illustrating how food retailers can innovate their offering by leveraging on the design element of their products and services. To do so, I draw on the case of Eataly (www.eataly.net), a food retailer that entered the Italian food market in 2007 with a first establishment in Turin, and additional ones later on, both in Italy and abroad.

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Source: internet.

The founder of Eataly believed in a world in which consumers are aware of healthier eating habits and the importance of consuming organic and seasonal products. These values have been inspired by Slow Food, a global organisation founded in Italy in 1989 to counteract fast food and a fast life on the one hand, and the disappearance of local food traditions and ethical modes of food production and consumption on the other. In seeking to protect this cultural heritage, Slow Food has effectively become a ‘clearing house’ for knowledge of local foods, initially in Italy, then globally.

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Source: “One of Eataly’s mottos” from field visit to Eataly Store in Milan (Teatro Smeraldo, 2015), D’Ippolito & Timpano (2016). Translation: “Life is too short to eat and drink bad”

How does aesthetics manifest itself in the offering and activities of Eataly? The company originates from a series of stimuli rooted in both the territory in which the first store was set up, Turin, and the professional background of the founder, Oscar Farinetti. Eataly became the place where consumers could go and enjoy their food with family and friends (a restaurant), buy locally produced ingredients (a supermarket), and learn how to cook traditional recipes (a locus of learning).

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Oscar Farinetii, Founder of Eataly. Source: here

Still, where is aesthetics? Eataly is an excellent case to explore how design as embedding and expressing aesthetics can foster innovation in service industries like food retailing. This is the case for various reasons. First, Eataly sought to grow and build reputation by locating their branches in sites that have a meaning for the local community. As Farinetti puts it, “Each ‘Eataly in the world’ focuses on one value: harmony for Turin, audacity for Genoa, doubt for New York. For Rome, we have chosen beauty”. For instance, the branch in Turin is located within the old premises of Carpano, an Italian winery and distillery that first established in Turin in 1786 and later moved to Milan. The store also benefits from the flourishing surroundings, that is, one of the country’s largest areas for food production and relevant events such as Terra Madre and The Salone del Gusto. The logic behind this approach is that of attracting the attention of those consumers who are familiar and emotionally attached to the site they live in and increase their awareness about its cultural heritage. Second, whilst the architecture of the various retail stores tries to recall the big factories (e.g., visible pipes on the ceiling, metallic furniture), Eataly still wishes to establish a reputation for the store as being central to the city rather than peripheral like many shopping malls.

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Source: Eataly Story in Rome (taken during one of my field visits, April, 2014)

Third, elements of aesthetics have been built into different aspects of the firm’s organisation. A highly visible dimension regards the layout and logistics of the store. The first store, Eataly Turin, counts more than 6,000 m2 dedicated to the supermarket area, the restaurant, and exhibition (e.g., fair trade coffee) of their products. The store logistic has been set out with the aim of making the consumer ‘travel’ through theme-specific corridors almost by forgetting that the store is of a much bigger size. Product and restaurant points are arranged to induce purchase and offer a unique experience – “…products are shelved so closely that you cannot just avoid them, you feel the impulse of taking one back home with you” (field notes from the researcher’s visits to Eataly Rome). A series of mono-theme restaurants are dedicated to the product types such as ready-made bread or fresh meat, and besides each of them, a learning corner has been set up to deliver cooking training programs to candidate chefs, for example about meat cutting or bread making techniques.

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Translation: “If I don’t go to Eataly, I die! I have fallen in love from the first moment I saw it. This is why I wanted to bring it in my city: New York. It is liked like crazy, even by my dog”, Joe Bastianichi. Source: internet

The architect’s brief for Eataly’s first store has been framed and exhibited in the Rome store (see figure below): here one can really see Eataly’s intent to recall consumer attention to the company’s roots and how these have informed their organisational values.Still, where is aesthetics?

Eataly is an excellent case to explore how design as embedding and expressing aesthetics can foster innovation in service industries like food retailing. This is the case for various reasons. First, Eataly sought to grow and build reputation by locating their branches in sites that have a meaning for the local community. As Farinetti puts it, “Each ‘Eataly in the world’ focuses on one value: harmony for Turin, audacity for Genoa, doubt for New York. For Rome, we have chosen beauty”. For instance, the branch in Turin is located within the old premises of Carpano, an Italian winery and distillery that first established in Turin in 1786 and later moved to Milan. The store also benefits from the flourishing surroundings, that is, one of the country’s largest areas for food production and relevant events such as Terra Madre and The Salone del Gusto. The logic behind this approach is that of attracting the attention of those consumers who are familiar and emotionally attached to the site they live in and increase their awareness about its cultural heritage. Second, whilst the architecture of the various retail stores tries to recall the big factories (e.g., visible pipes on the ceiling, metallic furniture), Eataly still wishes to establish a reputation for the store as being central to the city rather than peripheral like many shopping malls.

Last but not least, aesthetics is also embedded with how products are “placed on the shelves and introduced to consumers” (interview with the Communications Director). Most products, though manufactured by small farmers, are packaged in light-coloured packaging, in white more often than not, to introduce fresh, healthy, and tasty products. Shelves are painted in white; advertising wallpapers or flyers have a white background; and shopping assistants’ aprons are white to recreate a similarly freshening atmosphere. As the Communications Director stated, “it is important to present the product without overwhelming it”.

Eataly represents an example of how, through the entrepreneurial initiatives driven by passion, tradition, and ethical behaviour (e.g., promotion of locally sourced products, shorter product life cycles, and new restaurant models), a small firm can be innovative and contribute to driving change. The case points indeed to the importance of local communities, local brands, and intensified relationships with customers’ suppliers that will not only generate a positive impact for the company, but also the local economy.

Post written by Dr. Beatrice D’Ippolito, Lecturer in Strategic Management, University of York, UK

Note to the post:

The current piece draws from a research collaboration between Dr D’Ippolito and Prof. Timpano (Universitàa Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Piacenza, Italy). Results from this project can be further consulted at the following sources:

With love for Research,

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(35) The transition of a civilisation.

…Food… the substance to keep us alive, the reason for one of the most amazing things we can devour and enjoy, the reason to meet with friends, the thing that we sometimes abuse having in our bellies or forget to consume on time for a healthier living. So many topics relates to it: food waste, food management, food production, toxic food vs. healthy food, food eating, food and public health (is what children at school eat healthy enough?), poverty and food, wealth and food, labour costs and rights when working in this industry, auditing and inspection of food (so many… exquisite food, shrimp production and labour costs of people producing food, McDonalds). Let’s just call it in one word: “Food industry”. 

During her bachelor Environmental Science, Michelle discovered ‘vertical farming’. She wondered how she could implement a vertical farming system in combination with a knowledge center. Subsequently, she wants to create awareness, and activate and inspire people about the environment. Eventually, after six months of doing research, she was convinced to launch Botanica Innovare.

The transition of a civilisation. Research on food (industry), an introduction.

“Life is good! You can move easily from A to B, buy the most exotic products in the supermarket and you always have access to clean water and electricity. What do we want more? Well, it would be nice if we can continue this life and pass it on to future generations. That is possible, however, this way of life begins to take its toll on the earth. In fact, we are plundering our beloved planet. This is something that each of us is responsible of. It is not completely strange because it is the way we are shaped by society. It is mainly about consumption rather than the familiar consuming less. We know this damn well as a consumer and yet we still go for the bargains. Is it denial, a habit or laziness?

The end is nowhere near and it is time for a transition! A transition in which we turn from an unconscious unhealthy society to an unconscious healthy society. A society in which we take responsibility for our actions. A society where we can be proud of and which makes it possible to pass our earth to future generations. You might be wondering where you should start. That is up to you because you are the one who has the potential to initiate changes with small actions. For example, stop buying plastic bags, look at the origin of your food or take your bike for a spin instead of your car. Furthermore, sustainable development needs to be encouraged. Fortunately, people understand the necessity of change. Last year, in September 2015, 193 world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development. If these Goals are completed, it would mean an end to extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. Our governments have a plan to save our planet…it’s our job to make sure they stick to it.

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That brings us to the second Global Goal: Zero Hunger. This Goal states that we must end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. The beauty is that we can make this happen! Companies and research institutes are considering this issue for years. New cultivation techniques are becoming increasingly realistic. All over the world, different vertical farming systems are designed and tested. Also the hydroculture (growth on water) and hydroponic systems are increasing. If we look at the alternatives to meat, we see the frequent use of insect and the development of cultured meat.

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Source: here

For the time being, we in the Netherlands can (only) make use of vegetables that have been grown on water. Further investment and development is necessary for other food production systems. And that while the vertical system is already used in other parts of the world. Think of Japan where they can’t grow safe food in the open ground after the nuclear disaster. Here, the need for alternative systems is much larger. Therefore, these sustainable developments should be more encouraged in Europe. Luckily, this is already happening.

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human activity by night and the influence we have on the environment

It is as Socrates once said: “it is often better to ask good questions than to give good answers. With questions, you move others to examine their own experiences and ideas. That triggers learning processes that may be more effective than knowledge.” Dare to ask questions about new food production systems and inform yourself. Dare to be open minded because this is our future. These movements should not be seen as an adversary but it should lead to solidarity. Next week, I am going to talk about LED farming, cultured meat and more. I hope this article inspired you and made you realize that you are the one that can change our civilization.

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A transition is a structural change that is the result of interacting and mutually reinforcing developments in areas such as economy, culture, technology, institutions and nature and the environment.

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present generation without jeopardizing the future generations.

By Michelle Jongen, founder at Botanica Innovare.

 

With love for Research,

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(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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(33) Public speaking and you.

Be it at conferences, seminars or a public x talk, public speaking is not so easy as it seems from aside when the speakers flow their speech, but neither it is so impossible and difficult to succeed, as our Special Guest, Mr. Paul Rulkes suggests, enjoy his tips!

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The power of know-feel-do

Some time ago I was asked whether I do motivational speeches. I answered that being motivational is the minimum requirement for any speaker. What really matters, however, is how the audience will be better off after I’m gone.

Your job as a presenter is to improve the condition of the audience. All else is just commentary.

A great presentation is therefore never about you, your ideas or your project. Instead, a great presentation is about the people listening to you. If you really want to present with impact, start your preparation with this one magic question: “how will the audience be better off once I have left the room?”

Then design your talk using the power of know-feel-do:

  • This is what I want the audience to know.
  • This is how I want the audience to feel.
  • This is what I want the audience to do.

If you ignore these objectives, you become just an empty entertainer or a droning bore. Both are equally bad.

Motivation is overrated. It is the conversation afterwards that counts.

by Paul Rulkens, an expert in high performance: the art and science of achieving bold goals with the least amount of effort. More successful ideas, including his popular TEDx talks, can be found on www.agrippaci.com

 

With love for Research,

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(32) Your own genius ideas generator

A systematic way to get genius ideas.

Getting excellent ideas consistently can be hard. The “20 ways thinking technique” is a practical way to continue to get new ideas. It is based on the observation that the act of thinking requires a lot of energy. Therefore, your brain develops automatic thinking patterns when faced with a problem. Getting new and original solutions for problems is therefore difficult.

The 20 ways thinking technique is a quick way to bypass these mental barriers and works as follows:

  • Define your problem as a question on a blank sheet of paper (For example, how can I speed up my most important project?)
  • Write down and number all the possible solutions to this problem.

If the problem is significant, the first 5 to 10 solutions you write down will be obvious, because they are generated spontaneously by the conscious mind.

Solutions 10 to 15 will be difficult because they require hard thinking and force you to create new associations. Your initial instinct is to give up and name a solution you already wrote down as the ideal solution. Don’t give in to this instinct and continue.

Solutions 15 to 20 are tough to get. However, force yourself to continue until you have written 20 solutions on paper. Oftentimes, the breakthrough insights and the creative ideas will be found in the last 5 solutions.

If you have used the 20 ways thinking technique, pick your best solution. Criteria could be ease of implementation, risk, cost or impact. Then, reformulate the solution into a new question (how can I…?). Perform another 20 ways exercise based on this question and you will be amazed by the quality of the new ideas.

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Paul Rulkens is an expert in high performance: the art and science of achieving bold goals with the least amount of effort. More successful ideas, including his popular TEDx talks, can be found on www.agrippaci.com

 

With love for Researchers,

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anxiety enthusiasm knowledge research Researcher Special Guest stress

(31) High Performance: a curious secret.

‘The time spent on an agenda item in a meeting is inversely proportional to its value’.

This law is also known as the ‘bike shed fallacy of attention.’ It tells us that if the agenda of a team consists of two items (for instance the color of the new bike shed and the engineering details of the new high pressure reactor), invariably most of the discussion time will focus on the color of the bike shed.

This behavior seems odd, but it can simply be explained by two distinctive thinking patters. First of all, thinking is a high energy consuming activity, so we have the tendency to avoid thinking about difficult subjects as much as possible. The second reason is that it is much easier to just have an opinion (red looks nicer!) than to have an informed opinion (there is a mistake in the calculations of these safety valves).

Here are two ideas for a researcher to avoid wasting your time on the trivial, while ignoring the essential.

  1. Start every meeting with the most important and difficult subject and only move to the next agenda item when a decision has been taken. This behavior is called ‘Putting the Dead Rat on the table.’
  1. Start your own working day with doing the most important task first: this is also known as ‘Eating your Frog:’ if you start every day by ‘eating a living frog,’ you will have accomplished your most difficult and essential task and everything else during the rest of the day will be easy. More than 95% of the decisions we take in our life will not matter much: just pick one and go. Therefore, High Performance starts by acting boldly and focusing on those very few decisions which really count.

Let’s hear from you: as a professional, what is your experience with dead rats and living frogs?

Paul Rulkens is an expert in high performance: the art and science of achieving bold goals with the least amount of effort. More successful ideas, including his popular TEDx talks, can be found on www.agrippaci.com

 

With love for Researchers’ hard work,

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Academia enthusiasm happiness knowledge last years of PhD Launch passion research Researcher

(29) Researchista Public Launch + Board Game launch.

Intro: When life gives you lemons… It was the last year of my PhD.

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I was so exhausted of editing, writing and thinking. My brain was boiling and flowing over its borders. Long hours in front of my laptop were not helping my RSI, neither to find a job. All I had to do in the last phase of my PhD was to: FINISH. I was so tired at that stage that there was hardly room to think of what I wanted to do in the future, but I felt that for me to go on, I needed to distract my attention on something that will make me feel good, something that would give me a perspective of what I was doing. After so much hard work, I did not want my thesis to stay dusty on the shelves and forget about it in a year. So, I thought to make a Board Game out of my PhD thesis. 

As if.. as if… that would give me a job or would have made me a better Researcher… But I knew that I had a point of view inside me that I was urging to come out. So I called ‘Leo’. Someone who was divorced and sad, with 2 children whom he could not see and slightly unemployed. While slightly looking for work, he would have had much more free time at hand that I did, and most importantly… he was so good at games.

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The story: I don’t know if you have ever tried to develop a work project On-Line, meaning with someone who lives in another country, but in this project, I felt like I was on earth and the other person was on the moon and we were trying to somehow make each other understood with much precision, but there were always some things left out. On top of it, when you finally reached your ‘Online partner in crime’ and have calls like:

– Irina, I might be going to prison, so let me call you back in the afternoon.

– Oh, to prison! Ok, no problem, call me when you are done”

you understand, you are on probably on the right track… of.. life, full of challenges.

Please welcome to my online partner in crime, Leo (he does not like to be taken pictures, this is his dog). Without his help, I would have never figured out these rules and make a Board Game out of my thesis. He is extremely bright, but was never lucky with his degrees. An inquisitive mind, growing up when Soviet Union collapsed, which made him unlucky for many years. I called Leo to help me because he was good with gaming, he thinks fast and he had time. The only thing he was missing was the ability to be there on Skype appointments or be accessible on the phone, which is pretty much in what an ON-LINE partnership consists of…which made my mission most of the time impossible.

Phase 1

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In the last phase, Leo found his Lionette

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and the communication went so much smoother and with her help, we managed to test life and online multiple times the game and make it happen.

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Phase 2

So, here it is, the game has real countries, real flags, real average wages in that country (average wage is not the minimum wage, is how much money on average people receive in that country), real average taxes for those wages.

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Important: it is impossible to have in highest precision all the numbers, because the situation can vary by case and the taxes also. For example, a family can be taxed differently in different countries; but these are as close to reality of 2015 as possible.

These are “MOBILITY ERA. Play your taxes!” points:

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So here it is… after more than 2 years of Online and life communication attempts, after few times quitting and thinking it will never happened, it happened. Maybe one day I will tell you on how the entire game was designed in 24 hours…but I let leave that for another time 🙂 .

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The first version of the game will be launched and available for you to take home at PAS Maastricht Festival, where Arts meets science! This is where I will reveal what is Researchista actually about and what was that ‘urgent urge urging’ out of me before finishing my PhD.

 

With love for Research,

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Academia enthusiasm Environment Fashion future health knowledge research Researcher Special Guest stereotype

(27) Fashion&Research, part 3: wake up your motivation for change!

You can listen to the post here: 

“So, ok, I buy a new piece of cloth (a t-shirt, trousers or a dress) from H&M or Zara for example, because it looks good and has a nice price, BUT I know that if the price is low, it probably comes from less developed countries. The label confirms where my cloth is coming from (“Made in Bangladesh”, “Made in Romania” or the famous “Made in China”). I already know from social media how hard people work there and how bad they could be treated in such environments. Not all of them, but many of them are very badly paid and work in poor conditions, some people even die while making clothes. I also know that big companies have a lot of money to lobby for very small prices to sell more clothes around the world. Moreover, I maybe know that making a new pair of jeans for example requires a lot of water and to be done at a cheap price, the wasted water goes into rivers and pollutes a lot the environment. Oh, wait! Some clothes are not even good for our skin… But… what am I supposed to do? I feel bad for those people working for 1$ a day to feed a 5 children family somewhere in Asia, but I also get my clothes for a good price… I need to go to work looking decent and good, I want to impress my boyfriend or girlfriend. What am I supposed to do to not harm anyone, myself and the planet? Where am I supposed to buy my clothes?” I hope you had this chain-of-thoughts at least once.

Light,

pose,

shoot.

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Researchista

I find that this picture captures very well the intention of a model when posing to advertise clothes or accessories (and by no means I want to insult any fashionista with this bad quality photo!:))).

This is the month of Research in Fashion on Researchista and this topic has been chosen both, because Researchista is inspired from the word fashionista and most importantly, I was impressed by the master thesis of Hasmik Matevosyan (Utrecht Art University, HKU), based on which she had recently published a book on this topic. So, I decided to spread a piece of Research knowledge to inspire you to do something with your master or PhD theses and to actually discuss about your own ‘buying clothes behaviour’ and what is happening in the fashion industry that so many people get hurt and underpaid.

By the way, another fantastic example of a thesis (not even master level, but bachelor!) is by Maikel Bereens (Maastricht University) the idea of which grew later in a company called Xilloc, that made the world’s first 3D printed titanium skull implant:”What started as a thesis project, emerged to the largest 3D printing company in The Netherlands. Xilloc prints implants, satellite parts and soon bone like material“(in de Volkskrant).

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(Right) Maikel Beerens, http://www.xilloc.com

(Left) Book “Paradigm in Fashion”, author Hasmik Matevosyan.

No worries, if you have not written a thesis, enjoy this reading or simply support those who want to make a difference!

I am exploring what are the current challenges in clothing industry and what alternatives are identified in Research. Of course, there are many Researchers out there who examine this topic, but I only have access to one, so please keep that in mind…(always look for more opinions). Welcome Researchista’s Special Guest of the month: Ms. Hasmik Matevosyan. Here she is:

What is Hasmik is trying to do is to help fashion brands to get to know their target audience to offer them clothes that will be needed and desired. I also help fashion brands produce in an ethical and environmentally way by connected people with each other (ethical factories with brands for example). Last but not least, I help fashion brands make more profit by changing their business model: from the discounts and overproduction model to a model that makes it possible to buy new clothes for the full price, lend high quality clothes for a small sum and to buy the well designed and manufactured clothes with discount when it is offered second hand by the brand.

And if you think, new alternatives are not advantageous for fast fashion brands, our Guest is proving us wrong: This new business model makes it possible to make much more profit which enables brands to invest financial resources into paying fair wages, choosing for clean production processes and choosing for quality production.

I hope this information was useful to you as a consumer or at least gave you hope that at least someone has the same concerns for other people and the environment as much as you do. The model Hasmik suggests is for companies doing fashion, but what you can do for the time being is reflect on your own fashion behaviour, I invite you to join my initiative by filling in this questionnaire. Next week, I will share with you what came out as a result of my reflections on my behaviour towards clothes.

With love for Research,

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P.S. Subscribe your email on my front page to receive weekly emails with a new post every Monday!

*Sneak preview for next Monday*

So, here I was, in Bordeaux talking to my friends about Researchista going fashionista. To be clear from the start: we love fashion.

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to be continued here