Nijmegen, April 2010

14 - 15 April 2010

Summary:

The destination of our first lab invasion this semester was the MPI for Psycholinguistics and the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior in Nijmegen. We had discussions with students and researchers, got an overview over the MPI, listened to several talks about the parts of Cognitive Science taught at the Radbound-University and got to see the well-funded labs of the Donders Institute.

With about 20 interested students we arrived in Nijmegen in the sunny morning of Wednesday 14th and were welcomed by Gunter Senft, the Research Project Coordinator of the MPI for Psycholinguistics. He started with a very interesting overview over the history of the MPI, the first institute outside of Germany that did not need to be outside but just wanted to, and over the current research like communication of toddlers and the effects of our genes on language. Additionally he told us about his personal research experiences at the Trobriand Islands. These anecdotes led to a nice discussion where he stated how difficult it is nowadays to connect a good research career with having a family and how he managed this problem. In the end he told us why he thinks, his research field is important and useful for our society. Because we had a lot of questions and he liked to answer them generously we just made the next meeting, and therefore missed the sandwiches that were planned for the time in between the two events:

At 13:00 we were welcomed by the coordinator of the Cognitive Neuroscience Master’s Program at the Donders Institute. After a short introduction four master classes were given by regular lecturers of the Master’s Program for us and some other interested bachelor-students. They were on ‘Language and Communication’, ‘Perception, Action and Control’, ‘Learning, Memory and Plasticity’ and ‘Brain Networks and Neuronal Communication’. We learned about the difference between discovery-driven research and hypothesis-driven-research on the example of two genes responsible for intelligence, about movement and path planning in a three-dimensional space, about adaptation of one’s speech to local dialects and many more things. In between each talk we had the chance to fill our stomachs with cookies and coffee, almost as satisfying as the sandwiches. After the talks we were given a guided tour through the labs of the Institute. We were shown an MRI, MEG and a baby-EEG-setup. At every station students told us about the projects they were currently running. Here not only the formal information as the thesis or their progress were interesting but also how they planned the project, why they used their set-ups and those instruments and which problems they had to face while running the project. As we learnt these problems can be quite a few, especially when one tries to persuade little children that there is nothing better in the world than putting this funny little EEG-cap on and looking at figures on a screen. After the lab-tour all of us enjoyed our well-earned dinner at the local cafeteria and had a beer while we were waiting for our hosts. Together with them some of us then went to the city and discovered Nijmegen at night.

The next day the sight-seeing was continued with everyone. The most important sights were, of course, greasy fries with many different sauces. After some Vla-shopping we then tried to get some sleep on the train home and eventually returned to Osnabrück in the evening.

After all, the lab invasion to Nijmegen gave all of us some insights in how research is done, what it brings with it, what problems one has to face and which benefits one might receive. We also learnt about the study program in Nijmegen and the opportunities they offer for Cognitive Science bachelor students like most of us. It provided the kind of look out of the box we hoped for. At this point we want to thank Christian Hoffmann for organizing everything in Nijmegen and took care of us all the time. Hopefully we can do something similar at our university for some students of the Donders institute in the future.

Discussion with Gunter Senft

Discussion with Gunter Senft

CogScis waiting for the next talk

CogScis waiting for the next talk

The baby-EEG

The Baby-EEG

Planning the night at the cafe

Planning the night at the cafe

 

Since I am already enrolled

Since I am already enrolled in the Master Programme at the Uni of Osnabrueck, I was more interested in getting an insight in research projects at the MPI and whether cooperations between the Donders Institut and the MPI are possible.

I could have asked the coordinators by sending an E-Mail or just checking the Internet, granted, but I am thinking about applying for an internship and writing my thesis there, so I wanted to get some exposure to the atmosphere at the institutes and talk to other students who already work there.

For that purpose the lab invasion was perfectly organized. On the one hand we could listen to rather offical introductions that gave us a good overview of the research and the master programme and on the other hand we could ask students and lectures directly about their work and about the things they don't like. This informal conversation was more important for my decision than the formal information available on the internet.