Name: Sophie Slaats
Research: Interactions between lexical probabilities and the inference of syntactic structure during language comprehension
Started at the IMPRS: 2019
In high school, I once wrote down: “I would like to study something related to language, but also with some science in it.” I chose to study the BAs Linguistics and Spanish Language and Culture and the RMA Linguistics at Utrecht University. During my studies, I was interested in formal descriptions of language, such as sentence structure and logic. I loved these topics, but something was missing: I wanted to know why language has these characteristics. How do we, humans, do it? I went to the BCBL in Spain for the MSc Cognitive Neuroscience of Language, to learn about the neural basis of language. In that year I saw the vacancy for the IMPRS Fellowship and decided to apply for it with my big questions in mind. Without ever thinking about the short sentence I wrote down at 17 again, I ended up doing exactly what I wanted.
For me, the biggest highlights are the moments I get to talk to other researchers about their or my own research and ideas. The MPI provides so many opportunities to talk to brilliant people, and these opportunities can take many formats. They can be the hours I spend in front of a poster at a conference (at the MPI or elsewhere), the meetings with my supervisors, the time spent designing experiments with students, or a random brainstorm in the office with my colleagues. I have learned to appreciate this aspect of the doctoral life especially since the COVID19 crisis, which happened during the first two years of my PhD. Sharing doubts and insights with colleagues inspires me, generates novel, shared ideas, and motivates me to keep doing my own work.
A PhD is like running a marathon
Doctoral training may seem a lot like studying on the surface, but there are fewer moments where you see your work pays off. During our undergraduate studies, in a way, we are taught to take sprints: we run from exam to exam. Well, a PhD is like running a marathon. It is a long process with a lot of uncertainty. This can be unrewarding at times, and can make you doubt yourself. That is why it is extra important to make time for things that you enjoy and that make you feel fulfilled outside of work. See your friends, spend time and energy on your hobbies, visit interesting places; there is more to life (and to you) than your PhD.