From EEG Research to Theatrical Marvels: A PhD Student's Journey in London

In July, our PhD student, Nina Murks, embarked on an extended research visit to Imperial College London. We conducted an interview with her to gain deeper insights into her overall experience during this significant journey.

How long was your stay in London?

I spent a total of four weeks in London, arriving on the 2nd and departing on the 30th of July.

What were the primary activities and goals of your stay in London?

In the initial week of my visit, I actively engaged in the 'Leap to Hybrid Brain-Computer Interfaces workshop, which involved attending informative lectures and hands-on training sessions. The primary purpose of my stay in London was to gain a comprehensive understanding of EEG signals, encompassing both their acquisition and subsequent analysis. Throughout my stay, I actively participated in numerous EEG data collection sessions, serving as both a research subject and an assistant in the preparation and execution of experimental protocols. One of the protocols I played a significant role in was based on the "go-no go" paradigm.

To initiate this protocol, we first had to prepare the research subjects by fitting them with EEG caps and applying conductive gel to minimize impedance. Following this, we affixed multichannel surface electrodes to the Extensor digitorum muscles of both hands. Once the electrodes and EEG cap were in place, we meticulously ensured that all signals were clean and operating optimally before commencing the go-no go protocol.

What did a typical day in London look like for you?

My typical day in London started with an early wake-up around 7 am, followed by preparing for the day ahead. My commute to Imperial College usually took around 40 to 50 minutes. Upon arriving at the college, I would often grab my breakfast and a cup of coffee before heading to the lab where I worked.

Before diving into my tasks, I took some time to engage with fellow lab members. The lab was quite expansive and always bustling with interesting individuals, making it a great place to sip my morning coffee and engage in enlightening conversations. Following these interactions, I dedicated part of my morning to reading and learning about EEG signals, a novel domain for me, as my expertise primarily lay in EMG signals. London marked my first foray into EEG studies, and there was a significant learning curve.

Typically, we had at least one subject scheduled per day. So, after my morning study session, I commenced preparations for the EEG cap and electrodes for the measurements. This way, when the subject arrived, most of the groundwork was already completed, ensuring a smooth preparation process for the subject.

Lunchtime rolled around at 12 o'clock each day. Although sometimes protocols required my presence during that time, preventing me from joining the rest of the lab for lunch, I would have my meal later on. The entire lab usually congregated for lunch, either grabbing food from nearby eateries or bringing their own meals to a common area where we conversed and shared a meal.

Following lunch, my afternoons were either occupied with preparing for another subject session or focusing on learning the procedures for EEG and EMG analysis. I owe a great deal of gratitude to Alejandro Pascual Valdunciel and Ciaran McGeady, who generously shared their knowledge and taught me a substantial amount about these analytical techniques.

What were your initial impressions of your colleagues' laboratories and facilities in London?

My first impression of the Neuromechanics and Rehabilitation Technology laboratory was its striking size, a significant contrast to the more compact lab where I usually work with just 11 people. It was immediately evident that the laboratory was exceptionally diverse and international, with researchers hailing from a wide array of countries, including France, Spain, Israel, and more.

In what ways did the work experience in London differ from that in Maribor, particularly in terms of working hours, the balance between theoretical and practical work, and communication with colleagues?

The most noticeable distinction lay in working hours. In Maribor, we are accustomed to commencing work at 7 or 8 am and typically wrapping up by 3 or 4 pm. However, in London, it felt like the entire city was still in slumber at 7 am. People often began their workday around 9 am and concluded it at 5 pm, which, to me, seemed late.

How did you spend your leisure time in London, and are there any specific London experiences you would recommend?

Despite the fact that many of my colleagues started work at 9 am, I arranged my schedule to arrive earlier, which gave me the opportunity to explore various attractions. I visited the Natural History Museum multiple times, as its sheer size made it impossible to absorb everything in just one or two visits. Additionally, I explored the British Museum, took in the stunning views from the Sky Garden and London Eye, and admired iconic landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey.

One of my most memorable and highly recommended experiences for anyone visiting London is attending a theater production. I had the privilege of watching incredible shows like "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" (Part 1 and Part 2), "Moulin Rouge," and "Wicked." London's theatrical performances are nothing short of magnificent and offer a truly fantastic experience. Even if you're familiar with the story, the way it's presented in these shows is truly extraordinary. For instance, while I was already familiar with the story of "Moulin Rouge," I couldn't have imagined the inclusion of Lady Gaga's songs in the play, which added a phenomenal dimension to the performance.

Are there any experiences or things you would advise against in London?

The least satisfying aspect of my London experience was the food. I made a point of trying all the traditional London dishes, including fish and chips, Sunday roast, English breakfast, and eel pie and mash. English breakfast, in particular, didn't quite align with my palate, as it featured an overwhelming variety of foods on a single plate, which felt somewhat overwhelming.

While Sunday roast and fish and chips were decent, they didn't strike me as extraordinary. Lastly, the most London-specific dish I sampled, eel pie and mash (yes, I actually tried eel), wasn't too bad, but it didn't leave me eager to order it again. In summary, during my time in London, I found myself primarily gravitating towards Indian cuisine, which I found to be consistently delicious.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I am profoundly thankful to the Hybrid Neuro project and the European Commission for making my visit to London possible. This opportunity enabled me to acquire valuable knowledge while immersing myself in the vibrant city life. This experience has not only contributed significantly to my personal growth but has also advanced my career in meaningful ways.

Picture of Nina's visit in London.