Interview Michèle Friedli

Interview with Michèle Friedli, a PhD student on the project "Impact of cognitive conflicts on memory"

Can you explain your research topic?

I aim to analyze the interaction between cognitive control and memory. In order to do so, I am testing participants who have to do simple cognitive tasks. Some trials are more conflicting than others, because participants have for example to switch task, or because the stimuli are ambiguous (so called incongruent), or because several conflicts occur at once. Afterwards, we conduct an incidental memory test (recognition or free recall). With this design, we aim to investigate how cognitive conflicts influence memory encoding and, conversely, how memory measures can provide new insight into cognitive control. My participants are of both sexes and between the ages of 18 – 40. Up until now, my data set consists of data from over 400 people; however, I did not test all participants on my own.

Why did you decide to do a PhD? What is your motivation?

I did not really intend to work on a PhD project, it happened by chance. I finished my master thesis in 2015; afterwards I continued working with my supervisor. After working together for some time, he suggested that I could start a PhD program – I immediately agreed, it simply seemed right. So after working at the University Hospital in Bern as a neuropsychologist I returned to the University of Bern for the PhD program.

What are your plans after the completion of your PhD? Are you pursuing a big dream?

I would like to work in a hospital again. Working in diagnostics with different patients would be great, since I really liked working in the memory clinic. In an ideal world, I could combine this work with doing some research. However, I can also imagine working in a completely different area, where I can combine my previous work (graphics, advertising, and web design) with neuropsychology, i.e. in creating, judging, or testing of user-friendly tools, et cetera. 

What does a normal day of yours look like?

It depends on what stage I am in. Outside semester hours I am working a lot on my own research topic, right now I am finishing a paper. Before that, I had to collect data and analyse the results. Moreover, I am also preparing and programming experiments. During the semester it is a bit different. Next semester, I am going to teach a seminar together with my supervisor. This requires a lot of time for preparation, corrections, and other workloads. There is also administrative work to do; I maintain the pool for the experiments and the participants. I am generally spending a lot of time at my desk. From time to time I can also go abroad and visit congresses, where we PhD students are to present our research – this always proves to be an amazing opportunity!

Do you have any advice you would like to give to future PhD students?

One has to be aware that a PhD program requires a lot of office work. Moreover, one also has to spend a lot of time testing, which means that you have to spend hours on end in a small, dark laboratory. Being a PhD student requires proactive behavior, independent work, and creativity. At certain stages it also helps to have patience. PhD students need to be independent and should be able to come up with their own solutions, since a PhD program is no work-to-rule job. However, it is also important that one is able to distance himself / herself from work, so that there is enough space for a life outside university.

How do you unwind after a day at university?

I am a sports person: I go to the gym on a regular basis, I do Pilates, and I also go horseback riding. Furthermore, I often visit festivals and concerts, and I am fond of traveling. Going out for a nice dinner is also one of my favourite things to do. Every year I aim at visiting a new place that I have never seen before. I am sometimes away for weekend trips, and during the winter, I am traveling a bit further, seeking the warmth.