Nature blog

Valdar Tammik: “A participant of the study escaped through the back door!”

Doctoral student of the School of Natural Sciences and Health Valdar Tammik defended his doctoral thesis in psychology entitled ‘Relationships between dominant structure of word meanings and visual figure discrimination’ in January this year. We asked Valdar what the process of writing his doctoral thesis was like.

valdar tammik

How did you come up with this topic during your studies?

I was already interested in philosophy, specifically epistemology and philosophy of language before beginning my studies in psychology. Thus, besides neuroscience, I was also fascinated by topics related to the essence of language and knowledge. Luckily for me, Professor Aaro Toomela happened to be working in Tallinn University and focused on these topics in a broader scope than I could have ever imagined. I came up with my research topic with Aaro and it’s really nothing other than testing his theory in a specific – visual object recognition – context.

Writing a doctoral thesis is a huge task and definitely needs constant self-motivation. What’s your trick? How were you able to consistently work on it to achieve a successful final result?

I don’t have any tricks, simply self-discipline. But it was hard for me to really get into my writing while I was working so I found longer “vacations” where I was able to completely focus on my research to be helpful.

Please describe a memorable or funny event that happened while you were writing your thesis.

I collected data from people with very different backgrounds during my research. Here collecting data just meant a bunch of questions and simple tasks. Of course, I always explained why I was collecting this data, that participating in the survey was completely voluntary and that participants had the right to opt out at any time. But still there was a situation where a participant who had previously consented to be part of the study escaped through the back door and their friend who had already participated in it decided to chase them down to explain how unwarranted their fear was. We were eventually able to calm down the potential participant and although at the time I felt uncomfortable, it is funny to recall this comedic situation.

How is your research going to change the world?

I think that my research, similarly to most research, won’t change the world in the big picture, and that’s natural. If someone gets anything useful out of my research, then all is well. Whether anyone has yet, I’m not sure.

How much are the voices of scientists and young researchers heard in our society?

I suspect that it depends rather more on the specific person and their viewpoints than how old or young you are. You can decide for yourself whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

What are the most important values and beliefs that you live by?

It’s a good thing if you are able to leave the world a better place than you found it. If you can’t accomplish that, then at least try not to make it worse.

Please tell us about a book that you recently read and would recommend to others. Why would you recommend it?

‘Factfulness’ by the Roslings. I recommend it because it is a great read that also draws attention to many complicated topics regarding data-based and emotion-based worldviews.