For my internship, I worked at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich. I applied for this institute as I knew the Max Planck Society had a world-renowned reputation for research. Given that my interests at the time lay in Autism and other Neuropsychiatric disorders, I felt that applying for this institute was just right for me. Before arriving, I was apprehensive about many different things. Would there be a large language barrier given that my German was very weak? Would I work and get on well with the people who were working in the institute? Would I be able to develop my skills enough to provide me with a valuable experience?
I worked on a two-person psychophysiology project, which involved conveying a series of behavioural experiments for studying interpersonal processes during real-time social behaviour. This involved running visual tracking experiments, video editing and processing – using Face Reader, Movie Maker and Matlab software – and participant recruitment. This software allowed for facial expressions and gaze behaviour analysis with respect to decision-making, metacognition and neuropsychiatric traits in different contexts of both friend-friend dyads and autistic-autistic (stranger) dyads. I completed theoretical work, reading relevant literature and produced a write-up of the relevant background work. Our hypothesis was that autistic-autistic dyads would show greater alignment in gaze behaviour and facial expressions when playing a computerised game involving social interaction by eye contact when making decisions. We used a range of different social contexts, including competitive and collaborative conditions, to then investigate how alignment of these behaviours differed between such contexts. Results will be published in due course.
Looking back over my internship, I strongly feel that it was an invaluable experience. I developed many theoretical skills that included being able to read the literature whilst improving my critical thinking, weighing up experimental evidence as well as reviewing previous work that had been completed in the field. Writing up my findings when researching background work gave me much opportunity to continue improving my scientific writing. Regarding practical skills, this was the first time I had used visual tracking software, and likewise the software programmes Matlab, Face Reader and Movie Maker. Making leaflets for participant recruitment allowed me to be creative and I was able to improve my verbal communication when explaining experimental details to participants. Therefore, being able to acquire and develop many skills that are vital for a scientist made this internship completely worthwhile. The other researchers and clinicians in the institute were all very lovely and welcoming and so I felt that I could work happily and comfortably alongside them. Given that almost all members of the institute turned out to speak very good English, any potential language barrier no longer became a problem.
Outside academia, I visited many beautiful places around Munich, including The Eagle’s Nest, sitting on a mountain peak high above Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps and cities including Nuremberg. I also hired a cello for playing duets with my host family!
Overall, an unforgettable and eye-opening experience.