Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Jordy Thielen

Date of news: 28 August 2018

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

We live in a complex world full of objects that are (partly) hidden by other objects. Therefore, the bottom-up visual input to our visual system is incomplete and fragmented. However, we do not perceive the world around us as incomplete and incoherent, but as one containing complete and consistent objects. Somehow, our brain fills in the incomplete parts, which is referred to as amodal completion. How this is achieved, i.e., how it is implemented in the brain, is the topic of my PhD. Until now, my work was dedicated not only to amodal completion, but also to the potential confounding role of (fixational) eye movements in decoding studies, neuroimaging, and cognitive neuroscience in general. In practice, on a typical working day, I am mostly occupied with debugging my own analysis pipelines…

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

I have done my bachelor (AI) and both masters (CNS and AI) at the Radboud University. During my bachelor and masters - and actually even now - I have been quite involved in brain computer interfacing research. I was very interested in decoding in general, but also its direct practical application. For instance, I build a device that enables you to spell letters and thus to communicate only using brain activity (i.e., EEG), so without any muscle activity. Eventually, I started developing an interest in more fundamental research, which I am doing right now.

What does the Donders Institute mean to you?

The Donders Institute is a great environment with great resources, and full of even greater people. Within the Donders Institute I feel I can do research of high quality. I feel happy to be part of it.

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

First, reading the body of literature and remembering all that, and finding structure in all this knowledge. Then, writing about it, making explicit what it all means, I find challenging. Writing a methods section is easy for me, I know exactly what I did. I find writing a review much more difficult. Although, I have to be honest; mostly, the main issue is just getting started…

What aspect of your job do you excel at?

I guess at saying “this is not going to work”. Specifically, I am good at finding alternative explanations to (potential) findings. I feel sometimes that I am a bit too skeptical, it makes me doubt any design or interpretation. This, I think, is a good scientific attitude. But, sometimes you also just have to go for something and base these assumption on actual empirical results. But hey, if these turn out to be confounded…

What did you want to be when you were younger?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a police officer. I just wanted to be one of those with a German shepherd chasing and (eventually) catching criminals. Then, I wanted to be teacher, probably because both my parents were teachers. Eventually, I gave up thinking about what I wanted to be, and instead just followed what I wanted to learn, which turned out to be artificial intelligence first, and cognitive neuroscience later. I like learning about the brain, which inspires and provides new insights for artificial intelligence, which in turn can be used again to study the brain.

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

Live by the day. Of course, you have to think about future plans and such. However, unfortunately, I have had the experienced that life can be over really quick. Make sure you enjoy the things you do right now, or today, that is all I have to say.

What does your perfect weekend look like?

My perfect weekend is calm and friendly. During my studies, I spent quite some time working during the weekend. I still do it sometimes, but allow myself to relax and take time off too. I do so by hanging out with friends, visit nice places, spending quality time with my significant other, or just being a couch potato watching Netflix. Oh, and lots of sleep, of course.

What is your favorite book and why?

I have to say, I really need to force myself to read, it does not go naturally. The content sort of needs to be really exciting inspiring me to keep on reading, otherwise I give up. I am also a very slow reader, so it consumes quite some time. Back to the question, my most favorite book might be what I read when I was younger, it was called ‘Wolf’. It is a series about a German shepherd and two boys catching criminals. Yeah, I guess you are right, I just wanted to be one of these boys when I was younger…

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

Write code that others, and especially an older version of you yourself can understand. Use decent variable names, write comments, and most importantly, do not write zillion lines of duplicate code, but split things up and write generic functions. Oh, and use version control.

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

Throughout literature, I see people performing simple checks to rule out the possible confounding role of eye movements. The impact of such confounding eye movements seems regarded as minor. However, eye movement can have a really large effect, explaining large portions of your effects. So, do keep an eye on eye movements.

Who inspires you the most and why?

People who excel at their jobs naturally, without being arrogant about it, and especially those who share their knowledge in ways that are understandable even to people without any clue at first. I think it is important to teach others, to be open about your findings, so that everyone can have equal access to the same amount of knowledge.

What are you looking forward to in life?

For now, finishing the PhD. I am halfway there.