Attending the ABC Summer School

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As I told earlier, I spent two weeks in Amsterdam in June studying, cycling and seeing the city. Now the summer school is over and it’s time to make a short summary about things I learned and experienced. To be honest, I wanted to write a travelogue to my blog, but sorry to say I was far too busy and exhausted to do that during my trip. The course itself was very challenging for a part-time student like me, but after two weeks of school work I completed the course along with my young student colleagues.

Students from the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Romania… and Finland

ABC Summer School 2018 brought together students from different universities all over Europe. There were students at least from the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Romania, Canada… and me from Finland. The major part of the students were studying in the research master program in the University of Amsterdam, but many of them were also studying different master’s degrees in the University of Leiden, Utrecht University, the Hague Universitythe Radboud University in Nijmegen and many others.

I don’t study in a master’s program, so it was a bit tough to adapt to studying in English in such a short time we had in Amsterdam – especially when the terminology of neuroscience was quite unfamiliar to me. However, in my opinion, I succeeded quite well despite some difficulties I had with the topic.

Excellent lessons

The course itself consisted of two parts: 1) lessons and 2) workshops. Or actually there was also the third and the most important part, which is my own learning and time used to it. But that is quite an obvious part of studying, so I concentrate on the first two parts. Of course I could have used more time for my own reading, but there was also much to see in Amsterdam, and I had decided to take it a bit easier with the course. In the workshops we were instructed by tutors, and our goal was to create three things for our research plan: 1) a study proposal, 2) an A0-sized poster and 3) a pecha kucha presentation. For these things we had two weeks of time, so we couldn’t really waste time during the course.

Every morning from Monday to Friday days started with morning lessons given by professors from different universities. They all spoke of different fields of neuroscience. Topics were from their own interests and study projects. All these phenomena were researched by the methods of neuroscience. For example my own interest is understanding decision-making, that was introduced by for example prof. dr. Berna Güroglu, whose traffic example was pretty much like my own plan in my previous post. Traffic is an interesting subject, because it includes so many common rules and ways of acting. Traffic is also a social environment, where we have to take other people into account. Our own research plan was to try to model these social environmental stimuli on norm compliance, which made traffic example very interesting, too.

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Prof. dr. Berna Güroglu talked for example about decision-making in traffic.

Study proposal, poster and pecha kucha presentation

For me it was completely a new thing to do a study proposal, poster and pecha kucha presentation of our research plan, so already seeing the form of them was new for me. But I got really good advices from my student colleagues and tutor for doing them. For them all these things seemed to be a business as usual type of thing in their studies, so I had excellent exercise when participating our team work and seeing my student colleagues working.

Study proposal, as I understood it right, is the document, that is done at first when planning a research. It’s like a supporting framework for all the other things, and with your proposal you sell your idea to for example university and to potential financiers. But when I wrote my own master’s thesis in 2012–13, I didn’t write any kind of proposal, although I should have written if I consider it now. Anyway. I wrote my thesis without any proposal and that’s it. But if you want to do a real research, that you want to sell to someone, a study proposal and a poster are probably something you should do.

So, we did our proposal and poster plus prepared our pecha kucha presentation, that we gave to the other students and tutors. And here’s our poster, where we could have used a bit more pictures. But anyway, in my opinion that was the best research poster I have ever done. Let’s forget the fact, that it’s also the only one I’ve ever done. Anyway, it was also interesting to see and hear the other students’ research plans and how they had planned to research the phenomena they were interested in. Some of the students told, that they are really going to put their plans into practice in the future. That sounds great, when these students were able to use this course as a stepping stone towards their own research.

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Presenting the posters of the research plans.


Final thoughts of the course

The course was very interesting, and it gave me a lot to think about – which obviously was the main point when attending the course. First of all it was really nice to be able to participate the ABC Summer School 2018. All the people were very supportive and nice, and the course itself was well organized. I want to thank the staff of Amsterdam Brain and Cognition unit for these excellent two weeks. I really keep my thumbs up for you and also all my student colleagues from different universities. Many of them are going to do their master’s thesis in the near future, and they’ll need a lot of positive energy to their work.

My time in Amsterdam was really intensive, but also very nice and rewarding. I also learned a lot, and was able to use my English in practice, which was one of the main points when decided to study abroad. I really recommend this kind of combination for anyone interested in both traveling and learning.

Cycling and Studying in Amsterdam

I have been participating the Summer School of the Universiteit van Amsterdam for a couple of days now. My student colleagues are mostly studying psychology, neuroscience or computer science, so I must admit I am behind them in my knowledge in these topics. They are so talented young people, and also highly interested in these topics. I have had to admit, that I am not a computer scientist or a neuroscientist, and when accepting the fact and my limitations I can deal with it.

It’s been very mind-opening start in the summer school. Campus itself is very nice, in the very heart of Amsterdam. It’s easy to believe people get good studying results in this kind of lively environment, so these two weeks are quite an important experience for me. At the same time it’s very important for a humanist like me to remember what my own interests and strengths are and what they are not. Computer science is definitely something that is far beyond my expertise. I still have a good time at school and in the city, and probably I can pass the course despite being totally on my uncomfortable zone with the topic and team work conventions.

About team working…

The basic target for the team work is that we are supposed to plan a research. Our group’s theme is value-guided decision making, which is basically a very important and interesting topic. Our planning leaves from computational modeling, where we have an agent and some theoretical directions, where the agent can move. There are also rewards and punishments that are supposed to instruct his choices. Maybe the agent gets a coin (reward) or an electrical shock (punishment), or something like that. Well, if I was taking part in an experiment, where I should collect coins, I would take a straight direction home and throw myself to horizontal position on my couch instead. Let’s see some alternative setting. In my mind value-based decision could be like deciding between my own action in case of red and green light in a crossroads, where you have exactly two choices: 1) to keep going on a red light, which allows you to move on quicker (reward), but you have a bigger probability to get hit by a car (punishment), receive disapproval and honks from car drivers (punishment) or a fine from a police officer (punishment) and act against traffic rules (punishment) or 2) wait for the green light, which is slower option to move on (punishment) and you probably won’t make it to the destination in time (punishment), but you gain smaller probability to get hit by a car (reward), no probability of getting a fine (reward) or disapproval (reward) and you act by the laws and moral rules (reward). We could add a stressor, which could be time, which means you need to get from point A to point B as soon as possible. Actually it could be the case, that you couldn’t make it to the destination on time if you stopped in all the green lights. Survival is quite an important motive in our decisions, but also being on time is important – at least for people living outside Spain. In this kind of experiment setting it could be tested, whether we prioritize being on time or our own safety and acting by the rules in different situations  in our decision making. This could be tested in VR environment. The advantage in this kind of traffic light experiment would be that it’s derived from decision making in common situations in everybody’s everyday life. I am still not a neuroscientist, so I don’t know what kind of measuring we should use and what kind of results we could get. Plus this kind of experiment is not what we are planning right now.

Anyway, that’s all about my studies for now. In any case I’ve decided to enjoy my time here despite feelings of being totally out of my comfortable zone. It’s actually very interesting with an exciting contrast to be a student in the daytime and a city tourist in the evening. So let’s just be happy. On second thought maybe I am a city tourist on the daytime, too. Who knows…

Cycling in Amsterdam

I have already ridden my bicycle some 220 kilometers during these four and half days I’ve stayed in Amsterdam. It’s been so great to have my own bike with me. And despite all the warnings I’ve got about bicycle thiefs, my bike is still there and not missing. Once my wheel was loose, so I had to get it fixed. I also purchased some inner tubes in case of similar situation, and now I must buy a new monkey wrench, ’cause my former one had dropped somewhere this morning while cycling to school. No… Believe it or not, I still found it from the very bottom of my cycling bag, so all good! Phew…

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My bike was fixed at the MacBike Amsterdam. They didn’t want to lend me tools, and it needed some negotiation to get my bike fixed straight away.

Anyway, I cycle to school every morning from my Airbnb-accommodation, that is located in Alsmeer – about 20 kilometers away from the center of Amsterdam. It takes a bit over one hour to cycle, because the traffic is so smooth. It took a few days to get used to the traffic system, but now I already do it a lot better. It feels really good to cycle here, while you don’t need to be too worried about other people’s mistakes − like in Helsinki you never know what happens, so you have to worry all the time. So the major thing to be worried about is that you are not causing any harm to the other people doing something stupid.

A Bit Different Summer Holiday

Today I’m starting my summer holiday, that is going to be a bit different from the ones before. This summer I am mixing my interests – traveling and studying – attending The 2018 Amsterdam Brain and Cognition (ABC) summer school of the Universiteit van Amsterdam.

I am going to write my travelogue on my blog and warmly welcome you to join my journey.