What's your name, nationality, current function, and department?
I’m Ella Bosch, I’m Dutch, and I’m a 4th year PhD candidate at the DCCN, in the Predictive Brain Lab.
What is the topic of your PhD project and what does your work look like in practice?
My PhD is about temporal dependencies in visual perception in typical perception, and whether this is different in autism. More concretely, I study how (recent) previous visual input and our perceptual decisions about it influence how people process new visual input. Our main interest is whether there is anything atypical in the visual processing by autistic people: specifically, whether they use previous input less in processing new information.
My experiments tend to be very basic, visually (think greyscale line patterns or moving dots) and very repetitive. Participants have to make the same perceptual decision (about orientation, direction, or coherence) over and over again, sometimes for hours. It’s boring for them, and especially challenging for the teenagers who participated in my autism project, but it allows me to look at influences over time. Now that I have all the data, I spend most of my time doing analysis.
What does the Donders Institute mean to you?
To me the Donders Institute is a place of opportunity. There is so much great research done here, about a large variety of topics, and we have great facilities. Moreover, we have many bright and kind people who work here. This all together makes the Donders Institute an intellectually stimulating place. I think we can take that for granted sometimes.
What aspect of your job is or has been a challenge for you?
The most challenging aspect of my PhD has been the recruitment for my autism project. We needed a lot of teenage participants, both with an autism diagnosis and without. The process of finding and recruiting them took much more time than we had expected. It required a lot of patience, persistence, and dealing with disappointment. I was happy when we hired an RA, Amy, to help. That made a huge difference.
Another challenging aspect can be the solo nature of much of our work. Much of what we do is done by us, for our own projects. I never knew before that that would bother me, but throughout my PhD I’ve learned that I like to do things for other people, with other people.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
During the weekend, I love to sleep in and hang out in my pyjamas during the mornings. The afternoons, I like to spend with friends. I love to play Dungeons & Dragons, so ideally we would have a session. In the evenings, I like to relax again and watch a movie. Overall, I tend to prefer my weekends to be chill.
What is an important life lesson you have learned in the past?
One of the main things I have come to believe is that it’s best to bring your whole self whenever you can. Sometimes we are one kind of person at work, and a different kind of person with our friends, and yet another different kind of person around our family. This never really worked for me. I try to be the same person with everyone and to be as open and honest as possible about who I am. That way, I can always be fully myself.
What do you wish you would have known when you started your PhD project?
I wish I would have known how much time and effort things really take. The reality turned out very different from our expectations when we started this project, which was frustrating and caused worries along the way about long term planning. Unfortunately, I hear underestimation of how long things take is a common issue. Maybe I will never completely avoid it.
What are you looking forward to in life?
I am looking forward to new opportunities in the future, whatever they may be.
Do you have any handy PhD project-related tips and tricks to share?
Not so much a tip or trick, but my recommendation would be to get involved in committees, councils, and teams outside your research projects. This will help you acquire new experiences and useful skills that will benefit you in your PhD and beyond. Moreover, you may learn more about what kinds of things you like to do.