Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Lieke Hofmans

Date of news: 1 October 2018

2015-05-15 15.48.51What is the topic of your PhD project and what does your work look like in practice?
My work is on dopamine and its role in decision making about cognitive control. Apart from some parallel studies, I am part of a larger group of people working on the same project, where we apply PET, fMRI, pharmacological and behavioral methods to research the effect of dopaminergic medication on cognitive control and reward processing, as a function of baseline striatal dopamine. We are about to finish data collection, so exciting times!

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I never actually considered becoming a researcher or a neuroscientist. I wanted to become a pilot at a commercial airline, but during my last years at high school they weren’t looking for pilots at most airlines, so I decided to apply for the air force. Unfortunately, I didn't make it.

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

Since I didn't make it to become a pilot, and biology, mainly human physiology, was one of my favorite subjects at high school, I decided to study medicine. There I found that it was really the theory and the science that attracted me, not the practical part of being a medical doctor, so I swapped to study psychology. However, during my bachelor’s I always felt that the books and the lectures stopped when it got really interesting, when we got to the neurobiological part. That made me change topic again, and for my master’s I studied medical neuroscience and molecular biology. I mainly focused on neuro-oncology, which I found really interesting, but I always got nauseous when I was working with a microscope. I also get bored pretty fast, so after a 1 year internship I didn't enjoy what I was working on anymore. I then wanted to leave science, but was convinced by my supervisor to stay in neuroscience and just find a different topic to work on. When I was searching for interesting labs I found Roshan Cools and Martin Dresler and I ended up working with Roshan.

What does the Donders Institute mean to you?

I really like the atmosphere at the Donders. I love to take long lunch breaks to catch up with everyone and to talk nonsense about nonsense topics. Those moments help me to put everything in perspective and not get to hung up on my project. And it’s also a lot of fun.

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

Dealing with null results and paradigms that don't work. I enjoy the initial part of setting up a new study and the analysis part, but when the data don't look as expected and even simple manipulations don't show an effect, then the (at least for me) annoying part starts, where you have to work on all those fine details of a paradigm or analysis pipeline. I’m more of a bigger picture person.

What does your perfect weekend look like?

Ideally, I would be somewhere abroad, perhaps on a city trip. I would wake up early, have breakfast and explore my surroundings before having lunch and chill somewhere before going out for dinner.

Alternatively, when I’m home, I would slowly wake up on Saturday, do some sports, go out for late lunch / early dinner and then have some drinks. On Sunday I’d wake up even later, work out, watch tv and order food or prepare something fast and easy for dinner.

What do you wish you would have known when you started your PhD project?

That nothing goes as planned, ever. Not the recruitment of participants, not the analysis, and the data NEVER looks as you had hoped. Before I started here, the studies always seemed so easy and straightforward when I read them in a paper, but I didn’t realize how much work was put into it before it was published. It took me quite a while to except that.

What is the most important advice you want to share with Donders PhD candidates?

You are here to learn. Even if your projects don't work out, you can still use your time to learn something new (take courses, write blogs, teach and dive into new analyses methods or programming languages) and find out what you really like.