2022 in review

The end of the year is near, and so here goes my selective review. This time, good and bad all mixed together.

This year I…

  • started my Veni project
  • finally, finally, finally published the last empirical paper from my PhD
  • welcomed the lab’s first PhD student, Fenying Zang
  • recruited a postdoc for the first time: looking forward to having Philippa Johnson join us in February
  • supervised several excellent Masters students, and enjoyed teaching courses about cognitive modelling
  • took a proper summer holiday
  • hosted an in-person ‘hublet’ for the NMC5 conference
  • left work early to pick up a feverish toddler from daycare far too often
  • won an award for my own work, and one with NeuroMatch
  • first post-pandemic work trips, by train to Austria, Paris and London – including the logistics of childcare (not to be underestimated)
  • my first podcasts, and radio appearance
  • pledged to fly less, and to stop submitting & reviewing for Elsevier
  • moved into new home, simultaneously wonderful and frustrating (as things immediately require fixing and improving, which I’ve heard never ends)
  • applied for the Leiden Young Academy and was rejected
  • gave 16 virtual and 5 in-person talks
  • realised that it’ll be quite some time before I’ll have new empirical work out, and trying to make peace with that
  • felt more empowered in developing my climate action in teaching (gave a few first lectures), research (the very beginnings of a potential research line begin to crystallise after much talking, reading and doubting) and activism. I should specifically thank Scientists4FutureNL, Clare Kelly, Adam Aron, Kate Jeffery, Charlotte Rae, and Ruth Krebs for inspiration and support.

DNM Young Talent Award

I am proud and honoured to have received the Young talent award from the DNM Dutch Neuroscience society. This was the first time I explicitly talked about my climate activism in combination with my neuroscientific pursuits, which I hope contributes to more conversations about the climate crisis within the Dutch neuroscience community.

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Flying less

I hereby commit to flying less. This means that if you invite me for a conference, talk or visit that requires flying, I will likely decline. I am happy to travel by train and to give virtual talks.

This not only reduces my carbon footprint, but also aims to question the social norm that scientists need to jetset around the world to be successful.


Hybrid meetings and distributed local meetups: the good, the bad and the ugly

The Covid-19 pandemic has propelled the scientific community into a world devoid of in-person conferences. Traditional ‘legacy’ conferences, which have long been the mainstay of academic networking and crucial for catching the latest science, have been largely replaced with virtual events. Moving conferences online is pandemic-proof, and brings myriad other advantages: reduced cost and travel-related carbon emissions, global reach, and increased accessibility for diverse groups. For instance, virtual conferences remove barriers caused by visa restrictions, expensive travel, disabilities, and caring responsibilities. Taken together, these factors can increase the virtual meetings’ diversity, from including students and young parents to attracting scientists from low-income countries and from adjacent research fields.

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2021 in review

I’m a sucker for end-of-year reflections, and this year brought no shortage of memorable events, unanticipated challenges and new life chapters. So here goes: my year in review, in pseudorandom order of my associative memory.

Good things

  • Survived a global pandemic
  • Kept a small, embodied biological neural network alive, fed and mostly happy. Motor control going well, language will be next
  • Bought a house
  • Awarded a Veni grant from NWO, to pursue my research on neural and behavioral noise in ageing
  • Saw my temporary contract turn permanent, thanks to a new national collective labour agreement
  • Published 9 papers and preprints
    • I’m especially happy to have finally submitted the last paper from my PhD, which I started in 2013. Hopefully 2022 will see it published!
  • Co-organized my first conference: very proud of having made a small contribution to NeuroMatch 4.0
  • Spoke at 2 virtual conferences, 1 summer school and 1 panel, and gave 9 virtual talks.
  • Reviewed 8 papers
  • Started supervising 3 student projects
  • Served as an examiner for four PhD theses
  • Designed and taught my first course

Not so good things

  • Survived a global pandemic
  • Increasingly desperate about the point of neuroscience in a world on fire
  • Spent several months so sleep-deprived I could hardly think
  • Failed to make any meaningful progress on analyzing all the beautiful postdoc data I collected
  • Rarely found time to read in depth
  • Wrote five grant proposals that were rejected
  • Registered for too many virtual meetings that I then failed to attend (or tried to catch up on half-heartedly)
  • Bid on four different houses, each time losing out from someone who put more money on the table
  • Promised to take a proper summer holiday, but got interrupted to write a rebuttal to grant reviewers
Not a bad year! Here’s me with some champagne, celebrating after I heard that I’d been awarded the Veni grant. For completeness, note the background with its mess of drying laundry and toys strewn around.

Note-taking 101: from Evernote to Obsidian

Over the years, I’ve accumulated thousands of notes and a personalized GTD system (with tags and notebooks) in Evernote. I use my own flavor of the Zen to Done method, where I capture pretty much everything (from recipes to articles to read, and from project notes to grant deadlines). I’ve come to heavily rely on this second brain, both professionally and personally.

Evernote has served me well for almost a decade. However, the latest update is so annoying (app is super slow, note export to html gone, ) I’m planning to abandon ship. For now, I’ve downgraded to the last useable version on my devices (thanks, reddit!). Getting some great advice from Twitter, I decided that this is the time to invest in a note-taking solution that’s sustainable for the future.

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Post-postdoc acknowledgments and sentiments

Writing the acknowledgment section of my PhD thesis felt like a reward at the end of a long journey: taking the time to highlight everyone who contributed, and appreciating the importance of humanity in science. While there is no such thing as a postdoc thesis, it feels just as significant to wrap up the last 2.5 years of my life and career. Since I’m a sucker for end-of-year lists and reflections, these December days of 2020 (what a year it’s been) seems like as good an opportunity as any to reflect on the many people who shaped my postdoc years. Here goes.

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Brain hats

I’m a long-term fan of inventor Ellen McHenry’s brain hat: print out a simple template, cut and fold, and wear neuroanatomy on your head! Ideal for those who are not as brave as Nancy Kanwisher.

The photos below show me, with the brain hat I made during my studies at ENS Paris. I’ve asked students who attended my lecture on neuroanatomy to send me theirs, and I’ll update this page as responses (hopefully) come in.