Mariya Manahova is a PhD candidate at the DCCN. Mariya is part of Floris de Lange’s Prediction & Attention lab where she investigates the effects of prediction on the MEG signal.
What's your name, nationality, current function, and department?
Mariya (Marisha) Manahova, Bulgarian, PhD candidate, Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging
What is the topic of your PhD project and what does your work look like in practice?
I am researching the effects of prediction on the MEG signal. I do the usual type of PhD work: come up with a research question and an experiment, collect data, analyze the data, analyze some more, analyze a bit more, come up with conclusions, write a paper, start the cycle again. I also write blog posts for the Donders Wonders which I enjoy very much because I get to talk about cool scientific findings in simple language.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
Many things. The most prevalent one, though, was that I wanted to be a psychologist, an actual therapist. It’s interesting how cognitive neuroscience is somewhat related to that but at the same time is so far away.
What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?
I completed my bachelor’s degree in cognitive psychology at Bates College in the USA. In the meantime, I worked as a research assistant at Bates as well as at University of Maryland and at Stanford University. I also completed an honors thesis at Bates which won me the department award for best thesis in experimental psychology. After that, I came to Nijmegen to do my master’s degree at the Donders Graduate School for Cognitive Neuroscience and specialized in Perception, Action, and Control. I worked as a research assistant in Dr. Floris de Lange’s lab on Prediction and Attention. I wanted to do research in perception and prediction for my PhD, so I applied for grants. I received the Top Talent grant from the Donders Institute but had to decline it because I also received the Research Talent grant from the NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research). Currently, I am in the first year of my PhD in Dr. Floris de Lange’s lab and I study how expectation, i.e., expecting to see a certain image, affects brain activity.
What does the Donders Institute mean to you?
To me, the Donders Institute is a friendly place where people do great work and also help others to do great work. It is a place which intrinsically motivates good research.
What aspect of your job do you excel at?
I am good at presenting research. I enjoy standing in front of people and talking about science and about interesting findings. I also enjoy communicating science to non-scientists because it helps me remember the big picture and why we do this type of research in the first place. Overall, I enjoy conceptual discussions and the big questions.
What aspect of your job is or has been a challenge for you?
Programming. I come from a family of computer programmers, so you could say I should have been prepared. I knew what I was getting myself into and I can say I’ve made progress, but nevertheless I don’t enjoy the countless hours spent staring at the screen and not knowing why my code isn’t working.
Who inspires you the most and why?
Actually, my supervisor, Floris. In addition to being very clever and a great scientist, he is a really pleasant person. With his own lifestyle, he shows that it’s possible to be at the cutting edge of science and still live a normal life. He is someone who is clear about his priorities and acts accordingly. Amazingly, he does this with a sense of ease, as though he doesn’t have to think about it or try very hard. He is also always able to be sympathetic to whoever knocks on his door. It’s quite an amazing combination of qualities.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
I wake up at a reasonable time, have a wonderful breakfast, go out to breathe some fresh air and have a nice training session. Go for a walk in a forest or meadow with my boyfriend or a good friend and have a picnic. Read a book lying on the grass. In the evening, meet up with friends, perhaps by the river, for dinner and maybe some dancing or a movie. Go to sleep not too late :)
What is an important life lesson you have learned in the past?
Don’t live in the future but live in the present. Don’t worry too much about the future because it will never be exactly in the way you imagine it. Try to see clearly what is happening now.
What is the most important advice you want to share with Donders PhD candidates?
Don’t worry too much about what will happen in the future. Try to see what is happening now and do your best right now because that is the only time we can do anything.
What do you wish you would have known when you started your PhD project?
Things take longer than we expect. (Duh!) But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing: we just have to be comfortable with that, accommodate that, but still keep doing stuff.
What are you looking forward to in life?
A quiet evening with a book :)
Is there a project or anything you're involved with that you'd like to promote?
Donders Wonders: the blog posts are short, informative, and fun to read! If you want a small dose of intriguing science, check out our blog!