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“Great that you are all here! Welcome to the first part of the BrainTime research project that you are all participating in.” I’m at a high school near Leiden, and in front of me are 24 slightly excited children. “We’ll be doing some questionnaires and then some games today. The second part will be in the fall. You will be invited to our lab in Leiden, where we will take pictures of your brain while you are doing tasks on a computer. No, this is not dangerous and not painful.”

My PhD project is about the social-emotional development of children, and doing developmental work means testing kids. The last couple of weeks a research team has visited schools in the Leiden area to administer questionnaires and several behavioral tasks. Already we have managed to test over a thousand children in high schools in the Leiden area and this is only my second month! 

Of course, I’m not doing this work alone. Sabine Peters, also a former student of the Brain and Cognitive Science Master, is the other PhD student on the project. We’re doing the project in close collaboration with two Post-Docs and a research assistant. The past two months have been extremely busy. Not only have I been testing at the high schools, I also worked on developing a new task to test risk-taking, and we piloted the first MRI subjects. Starting next week, we’ll be scanning 30 adults, aged 18-25.

In my last blog I briefly mentioned that I was curious how a PhD is different from an internship. The biggest difference so far for me is that I’m now working in a team. During my internships I had my own project that I worked on, pretty straightforward. Now we have almost weekly meetings to discuss all the different organizational aspects of the project. Another difference is that I’m not focusing on only one project now, but doing lots of different things. I’ve been teaching work groups, designing an fMRI task, working on getting everything ready for the testing at school etc.

There are also many aspects very similar to my internships and I feel that I have learned very valuable skills during these internships, skills that I now use on a daily basis. For instance, programming in e-prime, working with SPSS, keeping all my files organized (very important!), and organizing data sets. The fact that I have experience with these things means that I can now work so much more efficiently on my data than if I did not have the internship experiences.