PhD student Nele Peerenboom has just completed her PhD in the Development of a Smartphone Intervention for Cognitive Bias Modification in Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence.
Research group: Voon Lab
Supervisor: Valerie Voon
Advisor: Paul Wilkinson and Graham Murray
Can you give us a short background into what your PhD/MPhil was about?
The purpose of my PhD was to bring an already well-validated computer-based cognitive training for alcohol dependence to people’s smartphones, test for the efficacy of the new training and get people actually to do it through a lot of gamification.
How would you sum up your main findings?
We ran a large trial in an inpatient centre with many participants. The gamification worked well, and patients ended up using the new training a lot more than we ever hoped for. We have some promising preliminary findings on efficacy, but the final data won’t come in until next year. The new training is now part of standard care in the inpatient centre.
What made you want to do a PhD?
I fell in love with research early on during my undergrad; I love the creativity that comes into designing a study that can answer the questions you’re interested in. After finishing my Master’s, I went job hunting and quickly realized that every position I found exciting was in research and required a PhD.
What was your best day during your PhD?
The day I pressed that “send” button to email my first draft to my supervisor, and I realized that somehow I had managed to write a thesis.
What was your worst day during your PhD?
When the pandemic hit in the middle of data collection, it was unclear whether recruitment could continue. For a while, I wasn’t sure if and how I could ever finish this study, which was at the core of my PhD project.
Do you have any words of advice for future students in Psychiatry?
Do something that truly excites you. A PhD can get long if you’re not invested in your project, so find a dissertation topic that you’re 100% interested in – even if it might be a more difficult project. Also, this is a bit of a platitude: “Believe in yourself!” For the longest time, I didn’t believe I could do it. Most people doing a PhD feel anxious and have self-doubts, but nobody talks about it. Even amazing scientists probably doubted at some point that they could finish their dissertations.
What do you hope to do next?
I just started a job as a research scientist in the industry, and I’m really happy to be running my projects. I keep telling people I’m still doing the same job as I did during my PhD, and that’s what I always wanted.
Photo by cottonbro studio