It is like a challenge for myself to keep my life interesting and constantly changing to gain new experiences and thereby the subjective nature of time passing slows down - that way you can live “longer”. Thus, longevity can be divided in two - living a healthy life and have quantitatively more life years, or having an interesting diverse life and live qualitatively longer. But why not both, right?
It was the end of January or February when my friend who has been living in Australia for a couple of years called to catch up. We were just bantering around and he just jokingly invited me to come and live in Australia for a while. Surprisingly, I agreed and in the same week I applied for a visa and bought plane tickets shortly after for March.
This definitely was both the most spontaneous and impactful decision in my life to date, as after I arrived to the new continent, I found a job at a very cool and innovative mental health and neuroscience institute, the Thompson Institute of University of the Sunshine Coast. This was perfect as my friend was living in the warm and scenic Sunny Coast and I could just move in to the spare room at the place he was staying. The Sunshine Coast is definitely the most breathtaking place I have ever been - golden beaches, lots of greenery (and palm trees!), and is not too busy. Perfect for an active lifestyle and vitamin D.
I have had my fair share of fun in Australia. Meeting my partner, making new friends, evening runs with housemates, Billie Eilish and Tame Impala concerts in Brisbane, the latest Harry Potter play in Melbourne - these are just some of the awesome experiences I have had so far.
I’ve had this weird and crazy idea in my mind throughout the past year that I should dream of being an astronaut or going to space one day. I want to emphasise that it is not a goal, but a dream, so I am specifically not doing anything towards to achieve it, however, if I had the chance to go to space, I would probably do it.
So this year I did something which I consider the most out of my comfort zone and craziest thing I have ever done - I flew a small plane! Yes, I actually flew it myself. I had approximately 30 minutes of air time during which I controlled the plane independently and even got to land afterwards (however, my instructor did most of the work here). The feeling of controlling the very object that is keeping you in the sky was both frightening and exciting - a full adrenaline rush. One day I would love to have a recreational pilots license.
I got employed by the Thompson Institute (TI) as a research assistant. I am really glad that my supervisor, the director of the institute, has been super supportive of my time here and has given me a lot of freedom to explore the methods I would like to learn and research I would like to do.
My main responsibilities at the institute have been processing and analysis of electroencephalography (EEG) signals. I had learned about signal processing during my university studies, but the amount I have learned during the past 9 months at the TI is tremendous. My supervisor has assisted me in theory and with asking the right research questions, whereas I have done the practical work by creating an EEG pipeline for the institute. This pipeline can be found on my personal GitHub page as ‘EEG-pyline’ and it currently includes various resting state analyses and auditory oddball event-related potential analysis.
I was able to publish one first-author paper this year (still in final review process) about EEG spectral changes on depression and suicidality. Additionally, I am glad to have been (and still be) part of several other projects at TI including healthy ageing and youth mental health. Oh, and I attended my first neuroscience conference in Melbourne!
I successfully completed my Master studies in Medical Technology and Physics with ‘cum laude’ (GPA 4.67/5.00). My thesis was based on the same work as my first-author article I mentioned before, with the title “Long-term electrophysiological changes and relationship with clinical and biochemical measures following a 6-week low-dose oral ketamine treatment in adults with major depressive disorder and chronic suicidality”. So, that is done now - what next?
When I look back at the past couple of years, I see myself constantly trying to figure out what kind of work I find most rewarding. Working as a research assistant for a while, I understood that I enjoy research work a lot. The very basic idea of doing science is novel and important, but more specifically the (ideally) selfless and (mostly) unbiased development of human civilisation is what keeps me in academia for at least the next 3-5 years while I complete my doctoral studies.
Doing a PhD definitely was not my plan just a year ago. I have always thought about it, but never had any specific plans for it. However, after supporting some interesting projects with their EEG endeavours, I felt the need for more responsibility - now I know that I want to start a PhD and have a project of my own. There is a list of topics I am interested in - for example, different neuroimaging methods (e.g., fMRI, EEG, etc), neuromodulation, brain (and body) ageing, and the list goes on. So, if you are a lab manager or know any vacancies matching my research interests, please let me know!
In addition to defending my thesis now in January ‘23, the new year has proven to be already quite busy. The first month of the year is not even over yet, but I have gone fishing in the ocean where I caught my first fish ever (one of them was a huge Mahi Mahi!), attended an Arctic Monkeys concert (my second one) in Brisbane and went to watch the tennis at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
Super grateful again for all the people around me - my partner, family and close friends from both Estonia and Australia. I hope to visit my home country this year some time and also figure out what I will do next. It is funny how life is just full of ‘figuring outs’.