Interview with Else Schneider, a SGS-CLM member working on her PhD project “Unconscious Episodic Memory”
Briefly describe what your research topic is about.
My research topic is the episodic memory. It is the kind of memory we have in mind when we use the term “memory” in our everyday language. More specifically, episodic memory allows us to remember events of our past. Most memory theories state that consciousness is needed to form episodic memories. In our projects, however, we question this consciousness-centred view and investigate whether we can memorize and remember events unconsciously. In my PhD project, I examine the similarities and differences between the conscious and the unconscious form of episodic memory. Further, I am interested in whether the same brain structures are involved in forming conscious and unconscious episodic memories.
You received a travel grant. Tell us about your experience.
Thanks to the travel grant awarded by the graduate school I was able tovisit Kevin LaBar’s Lab at the Duke University, NC, USA, for one month. Hisresearch focuses on understanding how emotional events modulate cognitive processes in the human brain.Because I would like to address the interaction of emotion and memory in my post-doc project, I wanted to get training on appropriate test procedures. Thus, I received an immersive training on psychophysiological methods to measure the emotional arousal in participants. Furthermore, I benefitted form the lab’s expertise in analyzing the fMRI data I acquired during my PhD project in Bern. Last but not least, my stay at the Duke University allowed me to get an insight in the American university system and to see how research is done in other labs. This was a very interesting and inspiring experience for me.
Why did you choose to do your PhD? What is your motivation?
During my studies, memory was one of the most fascinating topics for me. I was always very interested in understanding why and how we learn and remember and what the underlying neural mechanisms are. Particularly, the episodic memory fascinated me because it enables us to remember an event throughout our lifetime even though we experienced it only once. Thus, I decided to do a PhD in the field in cognitive neuroscience with a focus on episodic memory.
What is the best and what the worst when doing a PhD?
A positive thing of doing a PhD is definitely that you constantly learn new things content-wise and methodically, not only in your field of research but also in more or less related research fields. That is something I really enjoy. Another point I like about doing a PhD or research in general is that you are involved in every process of a project, i.e. designing the experiment, collecting and analysing the data, and writing the paper. In the end, you really know what you did.
A downside of doing a PhD is that there are many ups and downs. Especially, during the downs, it is sometimes hard to stay motivated and not to question everything. Most of the time you manage to get through these moments by talking to friends and others PhD students and by having in mind that there are always better times following – even if you do not believe it.
Do you have any advice you would like to give to future PhD students?
Be careful about choosing the topic of your PhD! It helps a lot if you are really interested in the topic and, particularly, in the research question of your PhD. Especially, if you are experiencing a down, it is much easier to stay motivated if you really want to know the answers to your research question and not only because it is a part of your PhD.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully, I will still do research but 10 years Is a long time to say.