What’s your name, nationality, current function, and department?
My name is Naomi. I’m both French and Dutch, but I’ve lived in the Netherlands for almost 20 years now.
I’m a second-year PhD from the Communication in Social Interaction (“CoSI”, for short) Department at the DCC.
What is the topic of your PhD project and what does your work look like in practice?
My project is about the influence of visual signals on language processing in multimodal face-to-face interaction. People use many nonverbal cues when they speak. For example, we avert our gaze, we frown, and we turn our head to show our addressee that we’re still thinking. The idea of the project is to look at what constitutes human communication by studying language processing in a conversational and multimodal interaction context.
During the last months, I’ve mostly been working on writing a review and creating scripts for an analysis in R. My first study is based on a corpus, which consists of recordings of people holding a dyadic conversation. In order to find out what role visual signals are playing in language processing, I first had to annotate the videos, which took a very long time. I’m also using face recognition software, but so far manual annotation has been more reliable. I’m happy to say that I’ll finally be able to run my analysis on the complete dataset in November. In the future, I plan to create an experimental paradigm using VR and EEG.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
I was raised bilingually, which meant I was always translating one language to the other for other people, so I thought I wanted to keep learning more languages and become a savant polyglot. When I started my Linguistics degree, I soon found out I preferred to discover how language works instead (and I hope to continue with that for as long as I can).
What has your career path been so far and how did you come to your current position?
I did both my BA and MA degree in Linguistics at Leiden University. The research master was very flexible, so I was able to follow many interdisciplinary courses from medicine, psychology and child studies. I did a lot of internships and was very enthusiastic about participating in research in any way I could. Before starting my current PhD position, I spent a year as a RA in the Language Development Department at the Max Planck Institute. That helped me to get a better idea of the type of research projects I find the most interesting. I was also lucky enough to meet my supervisor Judith Holler during that time, I think I physically screamed with excitement when I saw she was hiring!
What excites you about working in science?
I love that a big part of our job as researchers is to learn new things. One of the most rewarding aspects is to share these newly learned things with other people, whether it’s with a colleague or with people outside academia. I really enjoy this constant knowledge exchange.
What aspect of your job is or has been a challenge for you?
I sometimes find it difficult to disconnect or ‘unplug’, especially when I feel that my to-do list is getting longer and longer. It’s been a challenge recognizing when it’s alright to leave tasks for another time.
What does your perfect weekend look like?
I really enjoy being with my friends or visiting my partner in Denmark over the weekends. We go climbing together, but with the current pandemic I mostly go running instead. Nothing better than a Sunday run in the beautiful forests of Nijmegen! I also like to do pet sitting from time to time, so if anyone’s looking for someone to care for their furry companion let me know.
What is the most important advice you want to share with Donders PhD candidates?
Remember there are a lot of people you can reach out to when things don’t look as bright. It’s been hard for everyone to work from home for such a long time. There are a lot of resources available to you (some of which you might not even be aware of) such as peer coaching, people like your PhD representatives, your mentor (assigned to you as your confidential contact person), and the graduate school coordinator. These can act as a bridge to external professional resources.
Is there a project or anything you're involved with that you'd like to promote?
Yes: Evelyn Bosma and I have recently been nominated for a science prize called Klokhuis Wetenschapsprijs 2020, and the voting poll is still open until November 13. Check it out here!