Research and Robots in Sydney, Australia
In this post, Anna Henschel discusses her trip to the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, Western Sydney University, Australia, which was possible due to being granted UofG’s Mobility Funding (which she hopes other PGRs will take advantage of!)
In August 2019, I had the opportunity to visit the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University for one month. My visit to Prof. Peter Keller’s lab was supported by the Mobility Fund of the College of Science and Engineering and was crucial in shaping the next steps of my PhD. From the application procedure to the visit itself, I have learned so many things that I would have never encountered from the comfort of my own desk.
Professor Keller’s research is on music cognition and action (MCA) with a focus on the dynamics of interpersonal coordination. Thus, I was able to take a closer look at the intricacies of joint action, a logical continuation of my research on human-robot movement coordination. Together with Professor Keller and his group I was able to design and pilot an experiment to investigate the effect of synchronized drumming with a small, humanoid robot on its perception and participants’ behaviour towards it. This humanoid robot (pictured on the right) travelled a long way from Scotland to meet his Australian counterpart at the institute, where they were finally employed as research assistants in my upcoming study.
In addition to setting up a new experiment, I had the unique chance to get a taste of the many flavours of science that I had not previously engaged with. From hearing about emotion perception in music in a remote village in Papua New Guinea, to discussing the relevance of the mind palace technique for effective memorizing – there were many things to learn and new doors that opened as a result.
When I arrived in Sydney, I was welcomed by the sunny (but surprisingly cold) winter weather, toasted banana bread with butter (!), and the exotic calls of parrots in the park. Except for a short flu-induced break, I spent my time in the beautiful nature surrounding Sydney, joined a local ParkRun, went for a surf lesson at Bondi beach and discovered the life-changing magic of the TimTam slam (the technique of sipping hot tea through a TimTam biscuit).
Following the warm welcome at MARCS, I joined the weekly institute and MCA group meetings, as well as the social events. I felt very much a part of the team, so much so that I have made plans to return and have invited fellow MARCS-ers to visit #TeamSoBots in Glasgow.
Serendipitously, I was also able to significantly (no pun intended) improve upon my statistical modelling skills while at MARCS. I learned that friends of the R programming language are everywhere, and that the ‘brms’ R package (for Bayesian regression modelling) is the answer to many of my data analysis questions. Moreover, I was able to practice my public speaking skills at research talks at MARCS and Macquarie and Wollongong Universities (my talk on Social Robotics & Gender is available online).
In the following, I compiled a list of my favourite spots in Sydney, hoping that they will serve as an inspiration for other early career researchers to take advantage of the Mobility Funding and instil a desire to explore! Please get in touch (@AnnaHenschel) if you have questions about the application procedure or are planning a visit to Sydney yourself – I would be more than happy to help!