What's your name, nationality, current function, and department?
My name is Laura Blok and I’m a Dutch 5th year PhD student at the department of Human genetics at the Radboudumc.
What is the topic of your PhD project and how does your work look like in practice?
My PhD is focused on establishing Drosophila habituation as a translational outcome measure relevant for Intellectual Disability and Autism. Habituation is a simple form of learning, that serves as a filter mechanism and allows us to separate known from novel stimuli. Because habituation is such a fundamental mechanism it is highly conserved across species, including in the fruit fly Drosophila. I measure genetic Drosophila models with a loss of ID/ASD associated genes to see how they affect the function of habituation.
In practice this means I spend a lot of the time in the lab behind a microscope selecting and collecting virgin-female flies, and male flies of a specific genotype to cross together or to measure in my habituation assay. The habituation assay we have uses the noise of wing vibration as a readout, so when I’m running the habituation assay I’m very quietly sitting in a climate chamber at 25C and 70% humidity, looking at the sound waves of my flies jumping to a light-off stimulus.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
Already from a very young age, I always wanted to be a nurse. I actually started my Bachelor training as a nurse, but didn’t manage to obtain sufficient amount of credits and had to drop out. After looking around, I then realized I could also fulfill my passion of helping people in a less direct manner while simultaneously being able to satisfy my own curiosity on how humans work. I continued my education with a Bachelors in Laboratory science, and followed it up with a Master in Biomedical science before starting my PhD.
What is your favorite book and why?
I don’t really have one favorite book. I’ve been reading a lot, and my style has changed from chick-literature, to thrillers to high fantasy. I’m currently re-reading the wheel of time series. I’d already read the series once, and was now sparked by the recent release of the HBO series to read it again. I really love the large scale of the series and the world building and character development it brings. After starting many fantasy series that weren’t finished yet an probably never will be.. (Game Of Thrones, The Kingkiller Chronicles) I was also very happy to know this series is complete and that the story has an end.
What is the most important advice you want to share with Donders PhD candidates?
I think the best advice I can give any PhD candidate is to talk with your fellow PhD colleagues. You will see that you are not alone, and that many things that might feel like they are your “fault” are actually very common and an inherent part of doing a PhD. Because of these struggles which we all face in a PhD and research in general I think its also good to accept that nothing can go exactly as planned. Your show of flexibility to incorporate and manage all these unscheduled events during your PhD project is actually where you show your strength.