Hello and welcome to the Big Five podcast from Northumbria psychology department where we learn big facts about human behaviour and experience. My name is Dr. Genavee Brown and I'll be your guide into the minds of psychology students, alumni and researchers at Northumbria University. I'm a lecturer and social psychology researcher in the psychology department, and I love learning more about all fields of psychology. Each week on this podcast, I'll speak to a guest who is either a student alumni or researcher in the Northumbria psychology department. By asking them five big questions, we'll learn about their time studying psychology, and hopefully learn some big facts about human behaviour and experience. Today I have the pleasure of speaking to Dominik Polasek. Hi, Dominik.
Hi, Dr. Dr. Brown.
Why did you start studying psychology?
So for that reason, I took a gap year, so I could think about my future a little more, and sort of take a break from from studying and reflect over my values and, and contemplate about my future. So I took a gap year, I spent two seasons. In Iceland, I spent three months in London. But the most life changing experience for me was three months of backpacking around Asia, I spent almost two months in Nepal and one month in Sri Lanka, I participated in a week long meditation retreat and like a Buddhist monastery. And during that time, I had plenty of space to kind of reflect over my values, what I do, what I like, what I did, what I dislike, what I enjoy. And at that time, I realised that I really enjoy working with people and I always have. And I realised that I've always been questioning myself the big philosophical questions. And that's something that kind of led me to decide to follow the path and psychology because psychology originally stems from philosophy, right. And it also allows you to work with people and you know, help them with their issues. So that was kind of stream of my thinking and my logic for deciding to to study psychology. And after the backpacking trip, when I sort of realised that I want to do that, I applied for universities around the UK and been admitted to them. And I decided to study my undergrads at Northumbria University, Newcastle, and it was a, it was a great journey for me.
Sounds like it. That's quite an inspirational story.
So we're specifically here to talk today about your experience at Harvard, but as well, what an awesome opportunity that was. So how did you find out about that opportunity? And how did you apply?
Yeah, so it was, it was kind of kind of came to me rather than me proactively seeking for that opportunity. So during my last year of my Bachelor's, I worked on my dissertation with Dr. Ananda Santi who did her postdoc studies at Harvard University many years ago. And she got some some sort of funding and she got in touch with Dr. Daffy was one of the leaders in the sleep lab and at Harvard University. And because she had known me for quite a while I did an internship last summer with her. And she had known that, you know, I was always very proactive and, and very sort of passionate student. She kind of approached me as the as one of her preferred students, and she just called me out of the blues. Hey, Dominique, I've got this opportunity. Don't you want to go to Harvard University next summer. And I was like, wow. And without hesitation, of course, I accepted and that's how I kind of got a you know, this, this opportunity. So it kind of came to me out of the blues. Yeah, I think that just goes to show how if you if you really want to have opportunities, get involved in people's labs, get involved in people's research so that they know you and they can, you know, think of you when those opportunities come up and help you travel on your career path. Yeah. Harvard sounds a long way away to a lot of students in the UK
What was it like to travel to the US to live to live there for a while? You know, what was that experience? Like?
Yeah. So at first, as it usually is, when you come to completely new environment, it was kind of hard to settle down to, to meet and find new people to, you know, find your way around the city said first, it was a challenge, but I always, you know, enjoy exposing myself to challenging situations like that. But on the bright side of things, it was absolutely mind changing experience. For me, Boston is such a lovely, beautiful city, a very vibrant city, full of students, I think there's more than 20 colleges around Boston. So for those that you know, only know Harvard and MIT, there is many more colleges in Boston. So it has very young vibes. There's lots to do in terms of sort of cultural activities. So many museums and galleries and there was always some sort of live live music happening on every single street, I felt like, so there was always, you know, many things to do. Also, being part of a cutting edge research within sleep medicine, research was absolutely unbelievable experience for me, I just couldn't believe until the moment I stepped into the hospital and actually started working that I was, you know, there, it's such a big institution. And I would say, you know, on the positive side of things, also networking with such big names, from the, from the, you know, sleep research field was, was a great and valuable experience for me, you know, especially for my future. So I was trying to network as much as I could, I was trying to meet new people within
the discipline of sleep research, but not only within that discipline, I was also trying to network with people from, you know, clinical psychology, because part of that research group, there were not only researchers from sleep medicine, but also clinical psychologists and students of neuro psychology and stuff like that. So I really valued that experience, because I think, you know, networking is sometimes even more important than, than just having all those degrees and stamps, but also, you know, having those connections, sometimes even better. And I can highlight one of my peak experiences, I would even say, which was talking to Dr. Seidler, and for those who might not be, you know, that familiar with sleep research, he is considered as one of the founders of the entire field of Sleep Medicine. And he is the head of the department of break ins and hospital, which is the teaching hospital of Harvard University. And once I got to talk to him over zoom call, it was, it was such an honour, and it was such an humbling experience for me to talk to such a big name. And he was very interested into my journey. And we spoke about, you know, my aspirations, and even told me about, you know, opportunities that I could get involved in and my future studies. So, overall, I think that experience was quite literally eye opening and mind changing for me. Wow, that sounds amazing. Can you tell us a bit about what it was like doing the actual research that you were assisting with there? So what was it like being in the hospital? What kind of things were you doing to assist the research team? What were just kind of, you know, take us into the hospital through your eyes and ears, what was going on there? And what are you doing? Yeah, so I've been involved in several different projects. But since you are interested in more of the of the lab environment, hour in terms of the lab work I was involved in, I was there as kind of a research assistant ra
trying to help out other technicians. I was just like looking after those participants in the in the in the lab. So the lab for your information is is part of a you know, hospital units. There is an entire sort of sleep lab unit. It has like five suites
and there is sort of like a central room with all the screens and monitors so you can see the the EEG squiggles on the screens and all that it's very sort of neat and clean environment. And I was involved in one of the studies which was a 33 day long study. It was a participant and quite literally lived in one of the suites for 33 days, and they were investigating the effects of sleep deprivation under two conditions. So one of the conditions was sleep deprivation with bright light exposure. And the other condition with sleep deprivation under dim light exposure, and how how to these conditions or how to sleep deprivation under these conditions affect your metabolic sort of expenditure, energy expenditure rate, which was quite interesting. And I was I was working there, as I said, as a as a research assistants, I was looking after those participants, I would bring them a food clean that up, I would sort of take part in so called monitored wakes. So during those sleep deprivation phases, were where the participant would be silly, sleep deprived for five hours a day, we would have to go in the suite, and make sure and monitor the participant for two and a half hours before they would go to sleep and after they would wake up. So they don't fall asleep during that period. So we would have to, you know, go into suite, sit there and watch and monitor the participant, we were also allowed to, you know, engage the participant in conversation and chat to, you know, even help them, you know, not to fall asleep. And luckily, I'm very chatty person, as you can say, as you can tell. So, you know, I was I was trying to engage participants to not to fall asleep and a nice conversation. And also for me the time run faster, you know, in that, in that case. So that was one of my roles. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a training for like a full EEG, so the electrodes application on your skull, but I could observe and I could ask so many questions. So because I'm very practice student I'm always very interested in, in like, the nitty gritty stuff of everything I was trying to pick up, you know, the brains of the technicians and all that. So I was just trying to gather as much information as I could about, you know, more about the more practical stuff of how to apply the electrodes and stuff like that, because, as I said, I did my internship with nine interessante last year, and I sort of gained the theory or theoretical insights into the EEG sleep data, so I get training on how to analyse the data. But at Harvard, I had the opportunity to actually see it and sort of have more of the practical experience. So wow,
that sounds very fascinating. Yeah. Are there any other studies that you were involved in that you would like to talk about?
Yeah, sure. There were many more. That was that was one of the studies I was involved in, which was taken place in the lab, but I was working on another study. So another study I was involved in was in collaboration with clinical Neuropsychology student. And she was looking at the Association of kind of circadian timing. So the biological clock, and she was specifically focusing on older adults, and how is this associated with their cognitive function. And she was trying to sort of disentangle the this association or this relationship, to be able to better understand the predisposing factors for dementia. So she was she was researching, you know, this field of neuro degenerative disorders like dementia. And I got training in administering different like a whole battery of neuropsychological tests basically, which is, which was fantastic experience for me. And I think it's going to be valuable, especially for my future as I want to progress into clinical psychology. So I could train them how to administer these tests. So that was one of the other projects I was involved in. And one more project I could highlight, which was quite interesting, a project was which was looking at individuals with advanced and delayed sleep wake face disorder. So participants are individuals who would naturally go to sleep, sometimes even around four or five in the morning and wake up, you know, two in the afternoon. So, you know, like, delayed circadian rhythm. And this particular study was interested in whether it is possible
to calculate or estimate their phase of circadian time, based on one draw of blood. So they just drew one sample of blood and they were trying to estimate which phase of the circadian rhythm they were in. And they also would they also gave them a set of kit with like a saliva samples. So they would have to go go back home and they would have to collect their samples on their own. So it was partly a field study as well.
Introducing those participants in the study in the procedure, and also applied one of the skills from the previous project I told you about with the New York psychological battery. So I could, you know, apply this skill and I had the opportunity to administer one of the tests that were that was evaluating a winner to participant had signs of dementia or not. So it was, it was very practical for me, it was great to be in, in the lab or in the office in person interacting with with participants, because the year prior to that, as I already mentioned, I did many, many other internships and it was all online because of Corona. So it was a nice change for me to be finally, you know, in the lab and like physically interacting with people.
Yeah, that sounds amazing. Sounds like you were involved in a lot of very interesting and innovative studies. So that's wonderful. Yeah. So what advice might you have for other students who are interested in getting involved in research, whatever?
What advice would I give them? Well, so talking from my personal experience, I would definitely advise anyone who's interested in research to be proactive in lectures and workshops, to showcase that you are, you know, interested in fascinated by research, don't don't be afraid to raise their hand and ask questions. Your tutors and lecturers will notice, I think there is even recently been
yeah, there's so many of them. Or one more opportunity. I wanted to mention in here. There's this programme called Mitacs. It is a Canadian organisation that provides student exchange, kind of research programmes during summer, I signed up for that as well in a good in last summer. I worked for Western University in Ontario, and in a neuro psych Lab, which was a great experience, but it was online. So I couldn't actually travel to Canada, which was kind of a bummer. But I still gained the experience. I learned so much. So MITACS is another thing and it's still going on. So check that out as well.
Yeah, so my MITACS, I believe, for the Canadian programme. And the research scheme that you're talking about, there's actually like several ways to get involved in research in the department. So as a level four, level five student or level six, there's the voluntary research assistant programme.
that you can get involved in. And then there's of course, our MRes programme, which is a Master's of research where not only do you do your normal thesis research project, but you also have a placement research placement module to get plenty of research experience. So there's plenty of opportunities to get involved in research in the department and be on the lookout for those. Yeah. And clearly you've taken advantage of those
Yes I have?
Yeah. So just my last question, what are your future plans? I mean, I know that you're currently studying. So can you tell us a little bit about that, and what kind of your long term goals might be?
Yeah, so I'm currently studying in the Netherlands at Utrecht University.
And I'm specialising in clinical psychology, it is a master's programme. And I decided to do this this particular course in the Netherlands at Utrecht University, because it has a lot of emphasis on practical sort of skills and practical experience in general. And I will, well my aspiration is to become, you know, a scientist practitioner. So as you can say, I'm very much interested in the side of research and I do very much enjoy that. But at the same time, I can imagine myself to be a psychotherapist as well, because I gained some practical experience working in a care home and Newcastle as well. And I was working with individuals with severe mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar and, and then and, you know, severely ill individuals, and I was still able to effectively work with them. So that kind of proved to me that, you know, I could, I could become both a researcher and a therapist. So that is kind of my plan, within the field of research, I would still very much like to continue, you know, cultivating my, my interests within sleep research, because I think sleep is such a fascinating subject research and explore it a little more, because I think it sort of provides us a window into consciousness, which is one of this, one of the philosophical things that got me interested in psychology consciousness, I also like to, you know, research a bit more mindfulness meditation, because I do believe that that has a big potential in preventing a lot of, you know, mental problems. I also take interest in psychedelics, and its application in, you know, treating, different psychopathologies, like depression, anxiety, maybe even PTSD. So these are kind of my fields of interest. And I'd like to dig deeper in the future, maybe have my own lab, but at the same time, integrate all of this great theoretical knowledge and insights into my own practice. So that is kind of my my plan. Yeah, it's, it's fun. If I, if I could get give one more advice to students, it would be something like, don't get too bogged down on, don't get too focused on the goal itself, like what's going to happen in 10 years, if I become a president, or researcher, or Clinton or whatever, it that's, that's in 10 years, you know, try to focus more on what's here and now on the present moment. And you will see that you will enjoy and cherish these moments way more, despite, you know, the adversity, it is tough, it is challenging, but that's why it's always about ups and downs. So I think it's about accepting that and trying to really, you know, be in the present moment and enjoy it. And, you know, since I realised that I sort of enjoyed my journey thoroughly, even though it's been, you know, ups and downs, as I said, and it's been a challenging and very turbulent, you know, years for me, I still learned a lot and I feel like I've grown so much. So, yeah, don't focus on what's going to happen in 10 years. Enjoy what's here now, and you're gonna have fun.
Awesome. That's some wonderful advice. And I love how you, you came full circle you, you were interested in consciousness and philosophy to start your degree and still are today and continue working on research projects around that. So that's just wonderful. Yes. Well, thank you very much. Dominic, do you have anywhere where people can follow you online?
Yes. So I've got my LinkedIn account. Dominik Polasek. I've got Instagram account with the same name. So yeah, people that are interested in getting in touch, please feel free on those social media streams. Could I say one more thing at the end to wrap things up?
Yeah, so I just wanted to say a big shout. Shout out to a organisation which is located in Czech Republic. That's where I'm originally from. And it's called the Kellner Family Foundation. And I just wanted to say a big thank you for their financial support throughout my academic journey.
Like journey and my research interests and all that, and not have to worry about finances that much. So I just wanted to thank them a lot for their support. And I also wanted to express my you know, eternal gratefulness for, you know, the generous support from my family, my good friends, Alessia and David, and especially, I wanted to say a big thank you to my girlfriend who did my undergrad at the same undergrads at Northumbria as well, who have been sharing my life for almost seven years now. And you know, without her, I don't think I would have accomplished so many things. That's that, that I have. So thank you for all those great people around me.
Yeah, that's excellent. Um, do you have any information for the foundation in case we have any other students from the Czech Republic? who might be interested in that? Yeah. That's That's a fantastic question.
Yeah. So just type in the Kellner Family Foundation and Google and they have a university project, I believe it's called. So you know, if there are any check students out there that might be interested in in applying for you know, this this funding, just just try to find the calendar Family Foundation, and you'll definitely find the right one.
Okay, awesome. I'll try to find that website and link it in the show notes as well. Perfect. Thank you so much, Dominique. This has been absolutely fascinating. I've learned so much. And I hope that it'll be helpful for any students who are maybe hesitant about getting into research to understand the wonderful opportunities there are at Northumbria.
Well, thank you for having me. It's been an absolute honour.
If any of our listeners would like to learn more about Northumbria psychology, you can check out our psychology department blog at Northumbria psy.com. You can also follow us on Twitter at Northumbria Psy. If you want you can follow me on Twitter at Brown GNA ve to stay updated on episodes. If you would like to be interviewed on the podcast or know someone who would please email me at Genavee firstname.lastname@example.org Finally, if you liked the podcast, make sure to subscribe to our podcast on your listening app and give us a review and rating. You can also share this podcast with all of your friends and family who are interested in psychology. I hope you've learned something on this voyage into the mind. Take care until next time