Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Loran Knol

Date of news: 18 November 2022

Profielfoto2What's your name, nationality, current function, and department?
Hi all! I am Loran Knol, a first-year PhD candidate hailing from the province of Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands. I am affiliated with both the DCCN and DCMN (I think, at least; nobody seems to know for sure) and work in the Predictive Clinical Neuroscience group of Andre Marquand.

What is the topic of your PhD project and how does your work look like in practice?
If I had to be short, I’d say I work on digital phenotyping. In practice, this means that I analyse the data from an app designed by the University of Illinois at Chicago, called BiAffect. BiAffect replaces the standard iOS keyboard and passively collects keyboard metadata; think typing speed, number of pauses/autocorrects, but also accelerometer data. To my own amazement, these data were able to predict the mental state of the smartphone users, e.g. mood states in bipolar disorder. However, because everyone uses their phone differently, it can be quite challenging to analyse these data. That’s where I come in. I am currently investigating whether I can create time-dependent digital fingerprints from the data of BiAffect users, and relate changes in these fingerprints to changes in e.g. mood.

What did you want to be when you were younger?
I believe I wanted to be a jet fighter pilot at first, and then an astronomist. More likely than not firefighter was also in there, somewhere. And perhaps ‘inventor’, the primary school analogue to what society calls a scientist, was too.

What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?
In high school, when I had to pick a study, I was interested in the exact sciences and programming, but did not want to commit to programming only. Then I stumbled upon the Artificial Intelligence program at the University of Groningen, which advertised itself as quite a diverse program. During this bachelor’s, I came into contact with brain research, which piqued my interest. This in turn led me to choose the master’s Computational Cognitive Science (also in Groningen), which involved quite a lot of research. I noticed I enjoyed it and could do it quite well, so I started looking for PhD vacancies as my master’s was nearing its end. That’s how I found my current position, and I’m very happy to be here!

What is your favorite book and why?
I am not too sure what my favourite book would be, but if I were to give a recommendation it would definitely have to be Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. Some of you might already know it: That book is an absolute masterpiece, combining mathematics, music, and art into a comprehensive theory on (artificial) intelligence. Although Hofstadter has written it in a very accessible way (you don’t need to have degrees in Artificial Intelligence or Computer Science to be able to understand it), it integrates so many topics that it can be quite tough to finish. The sheer amount of intellectual enrichment, however, is totally worth it. A must-read for everyone investigating the brain.

What does your perfect weekend look like?
Good question! Revisiting Groningen and meeting my friends there always tends to lift my spirits. Having a drink in one of the many bars or taking a walk through or outside the city makes me feel right at home. :)