Poster presented at ICCM/MathPsych 2018

Today, Maarten (van der Velde) and myself presented our poster “Deploying a Model-based Adaptive Fact-Learning System in a University Course” at ICCM/MathPsych (co-authored by Hedderik van Rijn). The poster itself along with all the materials, data, and scripts can be found on the lab’s GitHub page. Working with Maarten finally gave me an incentive to wrap my head around working with GitHub and he’s been patient enough to guide me through the process.

This is a really interesting dataset and I’m looking forward to working with it more and figuring out the exact situations in which the model does a good job at describing students’ behavior and — more importantly! — the situations in which the model fails. Having these large, naturalistic datasets to work with is very exciting!

Our VR-SRTT paper was published

Last night, the paper went online and is now accessible on the PLoS ONE website. Glad to see this work published! It was a first exploration of whether the motor learning effects you see in traditional serial reaction time tasks (SRTT) also emerge if the task is implemented in a virtual reality (VR) environment. As always, the abstract summarizes the paper:

The serial reaction time task is widely used to study learning and memory. The task is traditionally administered by showing target positions on a computer screen and collecting responses using a button box or keyboard. By comparing response times to random or sequenced items or by using different transition probabilities, various forms of learning can be studied. However, this traditional laboratory setting limits the number of possible experimental manipulations. Here, we present a virtual reality version of the serial reaction time task and show that learning effects emerge as expected despite the novel way in which responses are collected. We also show that response times are distributed as expected. The current experiment was conducted in a blank virtual reality room to verify these basic principles. For future applications, the technology can be used to modify the virtual reality environment in any conceivable way, permitting a wide range of previously impossible experimental manipulations.

This work came out of a collaboration with STARK Learning here in Groningen and our RA at the time played a crucial role in the data collection — thank you Charlotte!

The reference for the paper is:
Sense F, van Rijn H (2018) Probabilistic motor sequence learning in a virtual reality serial reaction time task. PLoS ONE 13(6): e0198759. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0198759

A new PhD student joined the lab!

I have been fairly productive in the last weeks, despite a lot of administrative things that needed to be sorted out and uncertainties regarding my partner’s future employment that made it hard to plan for the future.

Specifically, we finished up a manuscript (“Exploration of the Rate of Forgetting as a Domain-Specific Individual Differences Measure“) that is based on chapter 4 of my PhD thesis and submitted the work in early May. This was together with my PhD promotors Rob R. Meijer and Hedderik van Rijn. We’re now waiting for reviews.

Additionally, Hedderik and I wrote up our exploration of an implementation of the serial reaction time task in a very simple virtual reality environment that came out of a collaboration with the local company STARK Learning. We were able to show that the expected speed-up of reaction times emerged in the VR implementation of the task, which is a nice proof of concept that we hope other researchers can use to deploy the task in novel conditions. I got the “notification of formal acceptance” last night and we hope the paper goes through production swiftly and will be available in PLoS ONE soon.

The most exciting new development, however, is that a new PhD student joined the lab: Maarten van der Velde started his PhD in May and I am excited to co-supervise him, together with Jelmer Borst and Hedderik van Rijn. Hedderik and I submitted an abstract to ICCM 2018 and Maarten is going to help processing the data and preparing it for the poster presentation in Madison. It’s going to be very interesting for me to work with someone that has a formal computer science education – I’ll have a lot to learn from him!

Back at work!

Wow, it has been way too long since I updated this site. I will try to do better in the future and provide more frequent updates about what I am doing.

As stated in the last post, I took some time off in 2017. Specifically, I went to the US and hiked about 2,500 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. I kept a blog which you can check out if you’re interested.

I got back to work after I got back and have been fairly productive since then. It took me a while to get my head back into “the game” after living in a tent for a couple of months but I was able to ease back into it. Since I’ve been back, Hedderik and I have been working hard on finishing up manuscripts for projects that were mostly completed before I left: we submitted a paper about our explorations of a serial reaction time task in a virtual reality environment. We also submitted a shared first authorship manuscript that was long overdue. Together with Sarah and our collaborators at the AFRL, we submitted a conference paper about our CPR related work to CogSci, which will be held in Madison, WI in the end of July. Last week, Hedderik and I also submitted an abstract to ICCM, which will be held together with MathPsych just before CogSci. We’re hoping that both submissions get accepted, of course, and I am looking forward to a trip to Madison in July.

I am currently working on preparing two more manuscripts of projects that are completed but not written up, yet. I hope to have those off my desk by the end of June so I can focus on setting up new projects then. More detailed updates about those projects will follow as those papers see the light of day, hopefully in the near future!

Away from work for a couple of months

This calendar year has been reasonably productive for me. After finishing my PhD thesis and defending it, I’ve been post-doc’ing to finish up a couple of on-going projects. My contract ends today and I’ll take a couple of months off to be away from the computer and hike a long-distance trail. I should be back in Groningen towards the end of November and will continue a short post-doc appointment in the department here to finalize a number of on-going projects.

Acknowledgements from my PhD thesis

The Acknowledgements are in the printed version of the thesis and the in electronic version (link to PDF) but I felt like they should also be publicly available:


When I designed the cover for this thesis, I felt a bit strange putting only my name on it. I’m the one getting all the credit but there’s no way I could have finished my PhD without the help of a large number of people. This section is meant to acknowledge some of them. I am immensely grateful to all of you. My life in the last four years was amazing because I always had something interesting to do and was always surrounded by loving, supportive, and incredibly fun people. Thank you all.

First and foremost, I would like to thank my family. You have always supported me and encouraged me to pursue my interests. You contributed nothing to the content of this thesis. Yet, your contribution was the most important because you did all the difficult groundwork that made me the kind of person that’d tackle a project like this. There was never a doubt in my mind that you’d have my back no matter what. I couldn’t have done it without that peace of mind.

Most directly responsible for the completion of this thesis are my supervisors. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of both work and my life shortly after I started my PhD. I am grateful to Richard and Candice for your patience and guidance. I couldn’t have hoped for better role models and mentors and was sad to see you leave Groningen. Rob was the perfect promotor, always having an open ear, giving me advice, and keeping me on track. Hedderik saw me most and had the biggest influence on me; thank you for always making time, counsel me through the endless obstacle course that is academia, and guiding me towards becoming a more independent researcher. A PhD project is a team effort and I can’t thank you all enough for playing on my team.

The psychology faculty has always been a pleasant place to work. Thanks to my various office mates – Tanja, Tam, Mariska, Rasa, Edyta, Sabine, and the two Michaels – and colleagues – both at Psychometrics and Statistics and at Experimental Psychology –, spending time at work was only as stressful as I made it for myself. I appreciate that doors, ears, and minds were open and the flat hierarchy that made everyone easy to approach.

I also want to thank all the students. Lecturing, being an academic mentor, and grading reports always made me feel a bit awkward because I still see myself as a student. These interactions taught me a lot about myself. The best part was to see students turn into colleagues. Friederike, Sarah, and Charlotte: This thesis would have been at least a chapter shorter if it weren’t for you. You set a very high bar for any future collaborators, thank you.

A big thank you should also go to the “Minnaars en Minnaressen”. Aafke, Ana, Anne Marthe, Aytaç, Berry, Catia, Daniel, Darya, Elliot, Felicity, Jolien, Julia, Kim, Lowie, Luzia, Maja, Marloes, Nadine, Nico, Rob, Russell, Susie, Tassos, Tineke, Tomas, and Wisnu. Thanks for the drinks after work and the countless other social events over the last couple of years. A special thanks to the inner circle – Aafke, Darya, Kim, and Rob – and a very special thanks to Nico and Berry: living with you was amazing. Also on this list should be George and Garrett, who I didn’t see nearly enough. Having you in my life made me a better person. Thanks for calling me out on my shit and the never-ending support. I love you guys.

There were also some people outside of academia that I want to thank. Adam, Arun, Brenda, and Harmen (and everyone else at Squadraat) for countless hours of squash. I always had a blast and knew I’d get a good workout in if you guys were on court. Thanks for letting me win occasionally. I’d also like to thank my friends in Germany for making the effort to stay in touch and all the good times and trips that were a necessary break from my normal PhD life: Franze, Max, Tobi, Katchi, Lutz, Tobi, Caro, Lena, Catharina, and Basti and everyone else that was around occasionally.

The last four years were the best years of my life. I am sad to see them come to an end and incredibly excited for the future. A future in which I hope to cross paths with all of you again.

PhD defense is approaching

This is really the final stage of my PhD. The contract has been over for a couple of months now but I’ve still been busy with a surprising number of administrative things surrounding the thesis and the defense. Today, two weeks before the defense on the 20th of April, I finally have the printed version of the thesis in my hands. A whole stack of books that contain the labor of the last four years of my life. Pretty surreal.

thesis cover photo wide

The PDF of the thesis is available on the Open Science Framework.

If you want to join for the public defense, you’re welcome to attend on April 20th, 2017 @ 16:00 in the Academy building in Groningen.

Accepted to the FENS Hertie Winter School 2016

This week, I received confirmation that I will be able to attend the FENS Hertie Winter School in Obergurgl, Austria in December. This year’s topic is Memory Mechanisms in Humans: from Physiology to Behavior and Computational Models. This will be a great opportunity for me to expand my network and to learn more about memory on different levels and from different perspectives.

In the last months, I have been spending a lot of time and energy on finishing my PhD. Which is great. But it does make me feel a bit too focussed. This winter school comes at a perfect time: by December, I will have submitted my PhD thesis and will be thinking more about what to do in the future. I hope that meeting other researchers in Obergurgl and learning more about what some of the leading labs in the field are working on will give me new ideas and broaden my perspective again.

Proceedings for CogSci 2016 are online

The annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (i.e., CogSci) will start in Philadelphia next week. The proceedings are now available online. Our conference paper is part of those proceedings and can be cited as:

Sense, F., Meijer, R. R., Van Rijn, H. (2016). On the Link between Fact Learning and General Cognitive Ability. In Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Ready for ICCM

I finalized my poster yesterday and had it printed. On silk. Nice and foldable so I don’t have to take a poster tube. I am looking forward to the International Conference on Cognitive Modeling (ICCM) and present this preliminary, exploratory work there. I’ll be good to talk to some people and get some input.

Here’s the poster if you’re interested:

ICCM16 poster thumb

Can’t wait to hang out with Garrett Swan at Penn State. While I am there, I’ll be working on my CogSci talk…