This month, we interviewed Monja Froböse, DCCN PhD student and PhD council member. Monja is part of Roshan Cools' Cognitive Control group and investigates mechanisms of motivation and cognition.
What's your name, nationality, current function, and department?
Monja Froböse, German, PhD candidate at DCCN & member of university’s works council, Motivational and cognitive control lab
What is the topic of your PhD project and what does your work look like in practice?
I investigate mechanisms by which motivation and pharmacological interventions affect cognition; for example, we administered Ritalin to healthy students and quantified the consequences on their willingness to engage in mental effort and working memory. This, to address the question whether Ritalin acts as a general cognitive enhancer or only works in specific individuals and contexts. Also in elderly, where dopamine is progressively depleted, we administered a dopamine-precursor to assess potential enhancement of various cognitive domains, such as response inhibition and working memory. My studies have a common long-term goal, which is being able to predict who will benefit in which situations by neuropharamcological challenges beyond clinical circumstances.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
Secretary; I loved paper work.
What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?
After finishing school in Germany, I didn’t really know what I want to do and actually wasn’t really motivated to even think about it. My dad brought me to a career coach who mentioned that Psychology would suit me well. However, my school grades weren’t good enough to study in Germany. The coach mentioned that I could go to Holland, just across the border. No good grades needed. Jackpot! After an extensive language summer course on the campus in Enschede (loved it…), I finished the Bachelor there. Psychology was mainly boring, especially media psychology, consumer psychology and clinical psychology. I was lucky to have taken some neuroscience and decision-making courses, and followed the advice of my Bachelor supervisor to do the CNS Master in Nijmegen – where I am now :) I got a PhD position in the same lab that I also did my Master’s internship and I still enjoy it. However, between Master and PhD I spent 6 months in NYC, combining a research assistant position with a lot of sight-seeing, sun and Central park walks. Taking a break between Master and PhD was one of the best decisions I have made.
Who are you working with and what do these collaborations look like?
I am working with a bunch of different people. My promotor and daily supervisor is Roshan Cools who I meet on a weekly basis. Additionally, all projects that I have I collaborate with different people from our lab. E.g. the pharmacological projects I ran with “Team Meth”, tyrosine administration in elderly together with another PhD candidate. I also have a project together with neurologists from UMC and supervised students that I mainly perceive as collaborators as well. All collaborations are different, vary in their intensity but I am happy to work together with many people and teams. Sharing ups and downs of projects helps me to put everything into perspective.
What does the Donders Institute mean to you?
I experience the Donders Institute as a very open-minded and inspiring environment. I have learned and experienced a lot in the past years here and I have met many inspiring people and made friends. It’s a great place to meet motivated people, but for me it’s also important to get out of the Donders-bubble every now and then :D
What aspect of your job do you excel at?
Oooh, excel at… I don’t like this term, especially if it’s about myself. What I enjoy most is a combination of focus, rest and interactions. I guess one of my strengths is to switch quickly between tasks and contexts; meeting neurologists about one project, run to the executive board to talk about policy making, cycle back to meet the Donders PhD council and see Roshan for a discussion of contribution and career planning. The mix of tasks inspires me a lot.
What aspect of your job is or has been a challenge for you?
Working on everything without getting anything done… damn, the day is over again and I didn’t start to work on my major to-do point of the day. I am bad at prioritization and always over-estimate myself when I make plans and define deadlines.
Who inspires you the most and why?
Different people, and especially specific attitudes of different people; Last month I have been mostly inspired by Naomi, my office mate, for her discipline of getting me to the gym every Tuesday morning; also Marieke van der Schaaf, former PhD in our lab for her passion for science, team-spirit and positivity; Bram for taking time for meta-conversations when being busy himself; Roshan for her drive and being able to recall papers and projects of all lab-members; and my mom for always reminding me of the key-values in life :) A bunch of people… and many more.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
Lazy with a few fun activities and good food. Sleeping late, a brunch with German bread rolls, being outside on inline-skates or walking at the Waal, spending time with my boyfriend, friends, family, calling my grandma :), and Sundays on the football pitch with my team. In reality, I also spend a lot of time in the car travelling to weddings, birthdays, baby-showers, reunions, being completely exhausted on Sunday nights ;)
What is your favorite book and why?
Honestly, the last book I finished was during summer holidays in 2015 I guess… I would love to read more but it’s not the first thing I do on weekends – distraction everywhere and I lose interest halfway. But my favorite authors are Jo Nesbø and David Baldacci :)
What is an important life lesson you have learned in the past?
Don’t postpone things that you enjoy. Having many things on your to-do list does not mean that you should cancel sports, appointments or weekends with your friends. And especially when you feel like postponing these events, you need them most.
What is the most important advice you want to share with Donders PhD candidates?
Leave your office every now and then and be inspired by other people’s work, presentations, conversations. It’s so easy to lose yourself in details and get detached from real life.
What do you wish you would have known when you started your PhD project?
I have learned that not all plans will work out- and that’s fine. After a few studies with more complex results than expected I am rather surprised if a study works out or results look as expected. This attitude helps a lot to put my work and the relevance of work into perspective. In the end, if you work hard everything will be alright.
What is the worst work-related mistake you made and how did you rebound from that?
I remember that I over-wrote a behavioral log-file during my Masters internship in a 6-session within-subject TMS-study… this was quite traumatic. I never rebound from that but got to hear the story at my Master’s ceremony, being encouraged to make more mistakes :) I made way more stupid mistakes afterwards but they never had similar impact on me. Probably because it was for my own PhD, not someone else’s (sorry again, Mieke).
Is there a project or anything you're involved with that you'd like to promote?
Yes, I want to promote the value of participating in university or institute policy making. People are so focused on their own project that it is very challenging to motivate them to engage in organizing or attending meetings. Complaining about structural problems during lunch while not taking the effort to communicate them with responsible people annoys me ;) Being involved in university policy changed my perspective on science, the university and policy-makers.