Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Arushi Garg

Date of news: 24 May 2019

AGWhat's your name, nationality,  current function, and department?

Arushi Garg. I am Indian. Currently in the third  year of my PhD which I am doing at the Donders Centre for Cognition at the faculty of social sciences.

What is the topic of your PhD project and what does your work look like in practice?

My PhD project looks at the lexical interface in the brain. Lexical interface is believed to be the link between the sound of a word and its meaning as well as syntax. It is believed to be common to production and comprehension. My experiments span behavioural and functional MRI studies so far, but I will soon be starting a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation study. I wrote a poem about my PhD project, which you can find here.

In practice I do a wide range of things during the lifecycle of an experiment, reading, conceptualising, designing and programming the experiment, designing and  testing the materials, conducting the experiment with Dutch native speakers, processing and analysing the data, which can either be the time it took them to respond to a task, or looking at their brain activity during a task and finally writing up about it.

I am also involved in some supervision these days, which I thoroughly enjoy.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I had a range of things I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to be a journalist, study a psychology related field and become a teacher. I am happy to say that I have actually managed to do all of those (at least in some capacity). Through my masters, and now PhD, I have managed to study psychology. I have been a teacher before and during my PhD, and recently, I started working as a member of the Donders Institute News Team.

What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?

My career path has been long-winding. Here is the short version: Being true to the stereotype of being Indian, I studied engineering (electrical) for my undergraduate (even though I was not interested in it) and followed it up with working as a software developer for three years. I had actually always wanted to study Psychology and did not see sense of purpose or a future in my software job. So, I quit my job, moved back in with my parents and started preparing to get into a good masters program to pursue Cognitive Science. Got admitted in Masters of Cognitive Science in Osnabrueck in Germany and then decided to look for a PhD in Neurolinguistics. I found one here in Nijmegen and that’s how I came here.

Who are you working with and what dothese collaborations look like?

My supervisors are Ardi Roelofs, James McQueen and Vitória Piai. People often remark on how difficult it must be to have multiple supervisors, but I actually love the arrangement I have. They all work very well together and I feel very lucky to have them all.

Apart from this, I am currently supervising two second year bachelors students on an honours projects, a master student on a thesis and will soon start with supervision of two interns. I am also really excited about starting work on the TMS study I mentioned before. The project will be in collaboration with another Donders PhD student, which would be a first of its kind of collaboration for me.

What does the Donders Institute mean to you?

The Donders Institute, especially the DCC, has been such a great workplace. When I first moved here, I was so surprised by how everyone around me was so eager to help and share. In the work and research environments that I have seen in India and Germany, things were much more competitive and tense. The atmosphere here made me feel so welcome and I felt at home instantly.

DI, in general, is a great place to work. The kind of facilities we have available, the amazing research community and the abundance of activities is one of its kind. I feel quite spoiled. If it comes to that, moving away to another place would be quite difficult for me.

What aspect of your job do you excel at?

At making life difficult for myself? Haha. A comment I get from my supervisors and people close to me is that I make things complicated for myself in my attempts to make them ideal or perfect.

I don’t think I can say what I excel at. But I love my job because of the variety of skills I get to learn due to being a researcher in psycho- and neurolinguistics. I love that my research tasks involve such a wide array of activities – from photoshop skills to running statistical models, from writing out stimuli lists by hand to literature reviews.

I also really value the opportunity to teach and supervise. Being able to contribute like that to someone’s growth is something I find very fulfilling.

What aspect of your job is or has been a challenge for you?

Everything. I do not have a bachelors in the field and before starting my PhD I had almost no experimental experience and next to zero training or courses in research on language or psycholinguistics. In the last 2.5 years, I have had to figure out and learn each and every one of the tiniest steps I have taken. The constant learning has been exhausting, but it’s worth it. Labour of love.

What is your favorite book and why?

I would like to name two, both of which have had tremendous impact on my life.

  1. My reading habit began quite late but it happened with the Enid Blyton adventure books. I don’t know if my reading hobby would have developed without her books.
  2. The second one is called The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. This book taught me so much about choice and was one of the primary factors in my decision to switch careers.

What is an important life lesson you have learned in the past?

You always have a choice. It’s a lesson I learned from The Road Less Travelled. Sometimes, it might just be about choosing the lesser evil, but you are never without choice. That realisation has been empowering for me.

Do you have any handy PhD project-related tips and tricks to share?

- Find out the basics of git and use it! It will save you many hours of frustration and confusion trying to figure out what is the latest version of your code or written draft and you will have neat little backups of every step you took along the way.

- Radboud has deals through which you can publish your articles in a manner that they are open access. Use that and help make science more open by letting your work be available to everyone around the globe for free!

What are you looking forward to in life?

I am nearing the end of my third year and quite anxious about the next phase of my PhD. I am also both nervous and excited about what happens afterwards.

Is there a project or anything you're involved with that you'd like to promote?

The Works Council elections are going to be happening soon. I am running the elections representing PhD candidates, as part of the PON group. I hope to add an international viewpoint to the council and advocate for having a fair and just workplace for PhDs as well as for a greener and more sustainable campus. Please vote for me!