Interview Katrin Lunke

Interview with Katrin Lunke, a SGS-CLM member working on her PhD project “Synaesthesia and memory”

Briefly describe what your research topic is about.

Synaesthesia is a phenomenon in which the presence of an ordinary stimulus, e.g. a letter, a number or a musical tone, elicits an extraordinary experience, e.g. a colour or a spatial arrangement. Synaesthetes do show a better memory for different kinds of stimuli (e.g. Rothen & Meier, 2009; Simner, Mayo & Spiller, 2009; Ward, Hovard, Jones & Rothen, 2013). This could be due to general cognitive differences or specific synaesthesia-related expertise (e.g. colour expertise) and result in either a general memory advantage or specific benefits for synaesthesia-related stimuli. The aim of my PhD project is to test for a general or specific advantage in memory with synaesthesia-related and –unrelated stimuli in different types of synaesthesia. 

Why did you choose to pursue a PhD? What is your motivation?

During my studies I sometimes experienced that many topics were only addressed on the surface. So I formed the wish to go into more depth. I wanted to find a topic for my PhD and try to completely understand it, form my opinion, and learn how to do proper research on it. Moreover, I thought that doing a PhD would be the right opportunity to get more involved with statistics and get into a routine in analysing data.

What is the nicest thing and what is the worst when doing a PhD?

The best is that you learn so many different things: For example understanding statistical analyses, learning to anticipate problems that could occur during research, improving your English, and presenting your research and yourself in front of other researchers in many different places.
The worst thing is that many factors influence a research project (e.g. finding synaesthetic participants). Thus, some things still take longer than you thought, which makes the planning and sticking to a research schedule quite challenging.

You received a travel grant – where did you go? What did you do?  

For two months, I stayed in the memory lab of Prof. Dr. Gabriel A. Radvansky at the University of Notre Dame, IN, USA. We had planned a follow up study of my research here. However, (as an example to the question before), the ethics approval did not arrive on time, so we investigated a basic human memory effect over time instead of memory in synaesthesia. But we still aim to finish the planned synaesthesia project.

What did you work on today?

Today I had a look at the pilot data that 2nd semester students gather for the course “experimentelle Übungen”, and I give them feedback on it. Afterwards, we had our weekly lab meeting in which my colleague Michèle Friedli presented a theoretical framework of her latest research. Then I tested a synaesthetic participant.

Where would you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

In ten years’ time I want to still have a close connection to a university or a university hospital to do research. However, I would like to combine research and clinical work. Concerning the place, I do not have a strong preference for which University or clinic I want to work in ten years, but I would prefer to work somewhere in German-speaking Europe.