Back in EU & Start of Doctoral Studies - 2023

2023 was the most eventful year of my life so far - my stay in Australia came to an end, had a long holiday where I travelled a lot and hanged out with my best friends, and started a PhD project in Sweden.

Start of a four-year academic journey - a PhD

Reflecting on my previous year’s blog post, it is fascinating to see how my next planned career move from 2023 has been achieved successfully. Before moving to Australia and being hired as a Research Assistant in a mental health and neuroscience institute, I had no specific plans of working in research, but that changed after I got a glimpse of the enjoyment of doing science for a year. I owe a huge thanks to my mentor and boss at the institute, who recognised my potential and hired me in the first place and plainly stated that not pursuing a PhD would be a big mistake. Thereby, early this year after graduating my Master’s, I started applying for PhD programs, which turned out to be quite a long but worthwhile process.

I knew I wanted to work with functional MRI and brain aging and my number one preference was to join the Clinical Memory Research Unit at Lund University to work on the BioFinder study investigating Alzheimer’s disease and guess what - since August, I’m now a PhD student at the very same lab doing exactly what I was aiming to.

My graduation ceremony @ Tallinn, Estonia
Family visit @ Lund, Sweden

Travelling and vacation during summer

Knowing my time in Australia was limited, I sought to experience as much as possible - music concerts, hikes in the nature, and casual get-togethers with friends. It felt bittersweet to leave the Sunshine Coast which location-wise was a dream come true and I miss all the buddies I had met there. I quit my job in the institute in June to take a long holiday before my move to Sweden and did some travelling.

Firstly, I did some travelling within Australia. I went on a trip to Sydney with my partner to have one last trip together before I head off to my solo travels and move together later to Sweden. After that, I flew to Tasmania to visit my long-time Estonian buddy who invited me to Australia in the first place - he introduced me to the wonders of Tassie and we went on multiple breathtaking hikes. Secondly, I went on a solo trip to Bali, Indonesia which was full of hiking, sightseeing, and trying to survive in the crazy traffic. Finally, I got back to Estonia just on time for my best friend’s birthday party which was a proper introduction back to Europe. In Estonia, I spent time with my family, partied with many good friends and really just tried to unwind and kill some precious neurons (that I did successfully).

I knew I needed to take that time off before I start my PhD as I expect the next four years I will most probably not have much time off to live without carrying my research projects in the back of my head with me all the time. Now, I can live through Swedish winter with my partner with more excess vitamin D put aside.

At Australian Open 2023 @ Melbourne, Australia
Reaching the summit of Mount Batur @ Bali, Indonesia
Sunrise hike of Mount Batur @ Bali, Indonesia
At a Star Wars orchestra concert @ Brisbane, Australia
Last hike with my Aussie buddies @ QLD, Australia
At a DnB festival with good friends @ Pärnu, Estonia
Enjoying the summer and a concert with friends @ Estonia
Doing all the touristy things @ Bali, Indonesia
First day back @ Estonia
Taking on Mt Beerwah with my housemate @ QLD, Australia
Retreat trip with best friends @ Saaremaa, Estonia
On a dinner cruise with my partner @ Sydney, Australia
Wineglass Bay hike with my best lad @ Tasmania, Australia
Deep sea fishing with my mentor @ QLD, Australia

My research work

I like the new lab and its people a lot and can definitely see myself spending long work days in there. My supervisors are highly successful researchers best in their field and all my peers are super intelligent high-achievers, thereby it has its pros and cons as I know I will fulfil my potential of becoming a great researcher, but at the same time it puts a lot of stress on you as well due to everyone being highly productive and successful in their work and intuitively I often feel I start comparing myself to others too often, which I definitely need to work on the upcoming years.

The main aim of my PhD project is to investigate early brain functional changes of the Alzheimer’s disease continuum. Probably during the upcoming year I will be working with ultra-high field functional MRI to examine in detail how decline in associative memory and executive task performance is associated with brain activation and functional connectivity, but currently I have been working on another project related to atypical tau pathology progression in Alzheimer’s disease and how it is related to the functionality and structure of the brain. I also have been working on finding biomarkers for synaptic degeneration and dysfunction using diffusion MRI, which I want to finish soon.

In addition to all the work, in October, I also had the opportunity to attend a 5-day functional MRI workshop at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging in Boston, USA. I am very grateful that my supervisors deemed it viable for me to go as it has given me a lot of confidence in my knowledge of the topic discussed. I think I have already emphasised enough how much I love travelling - moreover, this was my first time visiting the States. I also managed to celebrate my birthday there with a friend I made at the course and after the course ended I went on a short vacation to visit the famous New York City and my fitness tracker was definitely happy with the amount of steps I put in every day there.

In addition to working on my PhD projects, I have also been involved in multiple projects from my previous place of work in Australia including using EEG measures for detecting dementia risk in healthy older adults and predicting treatment response of low-dose ketamine for suicidality and depression.

A new chapter once again

With the first half of the year, I was living and working in Australia and I definitely felt the most active and healthy I have ever been in my life (constant sunshine works wonders). During my long holiday, I got rid of all my responsibilities for a while and it was necessary for my mental health to completely do a factory reset to my brain and actually crave for routine and work towards the end of June. And then I moved to Lund, Sweden which is a cute little university town with population around 100k - perfect for not having too many distractions, but not being bored in case I wanted to go out as well.

This might diverge from the focus of my annual blog post, but I just feel I need to mention how crazily fast the world is changing technology-wise. The start of generative AI boom has really taken off in sometimes a bit scary notes, but I stay positive that these new tools need to be used. I feel I am already quite dependent on this new tools and I think that it is natural - just like we have been relying on search engines for the past decade for gathering information from the internet, I reckon this is the next important step towards an upgrade of our extended brain.

I’m back in a good work routine, but I’ve found it challenging to maintain an active lifestyle and healthy diet, so I have some of the most common new year’s resolutions this year - do more workouts and improve my diet because I know I am capable of doing that and being much more happy with myself as my time in Australia proved me.

Christmas get-together with my best friends and partner in my new home, Sweden