This month, we caught up with Christienne Damatac, who is in her first year of PhD in the Statistical Imaging Neuroscience group with Emma Sprooten and Christian Beckmann.
What's your name, nationality, current function, and department?
Christienne Damatac, Filipino, PhD student, Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging
What did you want to be when you were younger?
As a child, I wanted to be an astronaut. I’ve always been fascinated by space and the unknown. I even had a star map—I’d climb onto the roof of my house every night and try to find each constellation in the sky. Eventually I got super obsessed and also began to read about the mythology behind each constellation, apart from learning about nebulae and quasars, etc. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I was scared off from the prospect of it all once I realized that being an astronaut involved actually being in space—without my feet on the ground.
What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?
My career path has been a bit winding! I attended undergrad at the City University of New York (Brooklyn) and majored in both general biology and public health. I was very confused about what kind of career I wanted; my interests ranged from epidemiology to zoology. I joined a research lab in neuroscience just to see what it was like and ended up working there for years. After my bachelor’s, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, so I joined a modern dance company while working in different types of jobs. A couple years passed before I made the decision to go back to school and continue with science. I received an MSc degree from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and worked for another year as a research assistant in the same institute. It was during these last few years that I had come to appreciate cognitive neuroscience and decided that I wanted to pursue a PhD. I had heard great things about Donders and, after living in New York City for about a decade, I knew it was time to move. I began my PhD here last June and haven’t looked back—I love it here!
What aspect of your job is or has been a challenge for you?
I am constantly suffering from a debilitating combination of perfectionism and imposter’s syndrome. Often, I drown myself in details and find it difficult to take new steps on my own. I’ve heard this can be a problem with new PhD students and I think I’m slowly improving on both fronts. I also have a great supervisor and colleagues that I can turn to whenever I start to feel lost.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
My perfect weekend would involve a mix of catching up with friends over a few beers, dancing away the night (I’m at Bar Ruygh a little too often, honestly), and relaxing with my sketchbook and a cup of tea. I also enjoy traveling to other cities and sightseeing or wandering around a museum.
What is your favorite book and why?
My favorite book is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I first read it when I was about 16 years old and it’s had a huge impact on the way I view life, living, and identity. Also, the novel was written beautifully—I really love the way Ellison wove prose and poetry throughout the book. As a very young student, I was more than impressed; it was like holding a work of art in my hands for the first time.
Do you have any handy PhD project-related tips and tricks to share?
Sometimes, you have to stop working. It’s easy to get swept away in a frenzy of analysis, reading, writing, etc. Unfortunately, burnout happens, especially with PhD students. If you manage your time and make sure to give yourself a break, the cumulative stress won’t be as bad. I just started last June and was overly excited to do and learn every single thing I could. By December, I was taking two courses (at one point I was taking three), while performing analyses and scrambling to meet abstract deadlines. I got a lot done, but by the end of it all, I was exhausted. Don’t do the same! Take a step back and make sure that your short term (and long term) goals are feasible. Stay organized, manage your time, and have a little fun!
Is there a project or anything you're involved with that you'd like to promote?
I’ve recently joined the team of writers at Donders Wonders! I’m really excited to write about all sorts of science topics and I hope everyone else will take an interest in the excellent material coming from our Institute’s blog. My very first piece will be published soon. It’s going to be about Tinder—check it out!