Blog & Updates

November 8, 2022

Our experiences after a year of SURREAL - James (ESR4)

12 months ago, many of our Early Stage Researchers joined the SURREAL project. We are eager to share their most important experiences to date!

Every week, an ESR will provide a mini update by answering the 4 questions below. Hopefully, this will give you some insight into their most important first year experiences.

James (ESR4) will be the second early stage researcher to share his experiences about his PhD so far:

Where: University of Luxembourg, Department of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences
When: Stared in September 2021

Getting used to the MRI scanner

What is the most interesting thing you have learnt?

“At the start of my PhD, I got the opportunity to learn how to use an MRI scanner as we are hoping to conduct an fMRI study that can give us insight into the effects of exposure to greenspaces on brain function. This learning experience was amazing and one I had wanted for a long time. Even after helping to scan 100 participants for a study on ‘plogging’ it never felt mundane. Each brain was quite unique despite sharing similar structures.”

The hardest task you have come across?

“This has to be designing my studies. I have always felt like I was someone who could come up with a lot of different ideas on the spot. I’m also someone who is highly critical of research designs and also highly sensitive to the critique of others. This meant through the planning process of my studies I was playing with too many ideas and often trying to fit them together to try and create something ORIGINAL. It also doesn’t help that the outside environment has so many variables, it forces you to relinquish a bit of control. This is hard for most psychologists! I also found it very difficult to understand how we can measure that interaction between individual and environment in a specific context and time and somehow link this snapshot as a guide to understanding broader health and wellbeing measures. The Leonardo da Vinci saying, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, has never resonated with me more than this past year but also never felt so far from my grasp.”

The most fun experience within SURREAL?

“This has to be the second dinner of the SURREAL network school in Utrecht. After a rainy afternoon of walking in urban neighborhoods to come together at a cozy pub-restaurant and just see everyone go from a little to very loose is my favorite memory of the past year. As students we often put our professors and supervisors on pedestals, so it was nice to see these “gods” mingling with us mortals.”

How has your research impacted your daily life?

From this weekend’s nearby stroll

“I am definitely more aware of how a hike in the forest can alter my mood and my sense of wellbeing. At the same time, when I was planning my studies, I lost the joy of hiking because my mind would go into overdrive as I tried to examine all the elements that may be impacting me and others. In the end, I lost my ability to psychologically detach from my main stressor in my life - my PhD. In turn, this led me to doubt the value of what I was researching. But as a very keen traveler, I feel slightly empowered by my research in that I do not feel the need to fly hundreds of miles away to feel that escape. While distance does help, sometimes it is just about finding a remote spot and going there with the mentality that even the simplest things in our environment can be awe-inspiring.”



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