Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spam That Reminds You How Your Life Isn't Terrible

Thank you, spammers, for sending me information that I can truly feel good about deleting with no questions whatsoever because I really am not, to even the tiniest extent, in the market for a drug rehab program.

Another Likely to Be Ultimately Unuseful Offer

I got a snail mail acceptance packet from the masters program at the school that tried to upsell me earlier into their PhD program. Unfortunately, it came with no funding information, directing me to contact the department directly (their emphasis) with those questions. This is a super-pricey private school ($31,000 per year tuition) that is not well-known for funding even its PhD students fully, so my hopes are low that it will make financial sense for me to go there, given that it's not my favorite program. But of course, it still feels nice to be admitted.


1 admission, definitely no funding

1 admission, possible funding (I have been talking online to a woman in that program now who is currently on full tuition waiver and an RA-ship, so it's a real possibility; she's just been fantastically informative and nice in general)

1 admission, probably not enough funding to be cheaper than either of the other two schools even if they are unfunded

I have also talked to a current student in my most-favored program who said that she was notified of her acceptance in mid-March, so I still have a while before I need to get really antsy on that one.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thought Experiment #1: Memories

From The Psychology of Judgment and Decision-making, Scott Plous, p. 31:

"Try an exercise suggested by Myers (1990): Close your eyes and recall a scene in which you experienced something pleasurable. Don't read any further until you have finished replaying your experience...

(SCROLL DOWN. Blogger suckingly does not have a built-in lj-cut type functionality and I do not trust myself to do the editing of the html of my template to use the various bits of code I found other people using.)

Did you see yourself in the scene? Most people do. But if you saw yourself, then you must have reconstructed the scene (unless, of course, you were looking at yourself during the original experience).

...Memories are not like copies of our past experiences on deposit in a memory bank. Instead, they are constructed at the time of the withdrawal. The 'materials' used in the split-second reconstruction are logical inferences that fill in missing detail, associated memories that blend in with the original memory, and other relevant information."

Recent memory-checks from talking to my parents have revealed the following:

(1) My parents' dog when I was very young was a chihuahua, not a dachshund. The dachshund belonged to a friend of my mom's who we knew years later. I was shocked to discover this, yet for a couple of years now I have had a photograph of this dog with our white cat in a photo collection hanging in the hallway of my apartment that provides clear evidence that it was not a dachshund. Somehow, even seeing what the dog actually looked like did not over-ride my belief that he was a dachshund. And though I am not great with recognizing dog breeds, I am very clear in my mind as to what a dachshund looks like. (So not only are memories falliable, so is perception.)

(2) The gigantic turtle that mysteriously appeared on the porch of my parents' house when I was a kid really was huge, even to my mother. I mean, bigger than the circle formed by stretching your hands out and touching your fingers in front of you. (Robert helpfully identified the beast from my mom's description as a snapping turtle.) After a while, it went back down the stairs, down the hill of the driveway, and wandered its way up the street. What the hell this turtle was up to remains a mystery. It really freaked out the cat (who was also not a dachshund).

(3) I had basically come to believe that my memory of wearing braces on my legs when I was a little kid was false, but apparently, I truly did.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

In a Good Place

As I read the online forums of people discussing applying to graduate school, and see people freaking out / slowly dying of despair that they keep getting rejections and no nibbles of interest from any of their programs, I sometimes have this sudden feeling of "But I already got an admission from a well-respected program that I'm interested in, that will set me up well for a variety of options post-masters, and that can afford to go to (without loans) even if I don't get any funding. It's even located someplace where Robert can probably get a job, even in the down economy." It's a good feeling. I'm a lot more relaxed in general than I was 6 months ago.

I have also been working on my PhD marketing list and have narrowed it down to about 20 schools that I am seriously thinking about right now (though this may change, esp. if I blow away the GMAT - particularly on the quant side - and decide to attack more top 10/20 programs). Here is how the programs seem to fall out in terms of "tiers," though since there isn't any single accepted ranking of marketing PhD programs, I used a couple different sources and came up with my own:

Top 10-ish programs - 3
Top 20-ish - 0 (hmmm)
Top 30-ish - 7
Top 40-ish - 5
Top 60-ish - 2
Below top 60 - 3

One thing that's interesting about marketing PhD programs is that since they take so few students (typically 1-2), getting into a top 50 program means that you are somewhere in the top 50-100 applicants each year. That's not a small feat. As Robert points out, the top 3 programs in economics alone enroll nearly 100 students per year.

Last week, I was reading a bit from psychologist Martin Seligman's book Learned Optimism and I discovered that on his very first day of graduate school, he showed up in his advisor's lab, where everybody was going crazy because the dogs were refusing to participate in their next experiment. (This was during the heydey of behaviorism, when psychology was about putting rats, pigeons, etc., into boxes, conditioning them to push buttons to avoid shocks and that sort of thing.) When one of the other students explained the situation to him, he came up with, on the spot, the central idea that he quickly developed into the theory of learned helplessness. On his very first day. (At least, that's how his narrative presents it.) That rather sets a standard, doesn't it?

"Seligman described learned helplessness as a process in which animals, including people, learn that their behavior and the outcome of a situation are independent of each other; this learning results in a sense of uncontrollability with motivational, cognitive, and emotion effects. Specifically important to learned helplessness theory is the concept of expectation. The incentive for responding in an aversive situation is the expectation that one's behavior can result in relief; without this expectation, there is little motivation for responding and responding will be reduced. Since the optimal escape/avoidance behavior is learned through action-response contingencies, an animal which already expects that the outcomes are independent of his behavior (from prior experience) will have trouble learning to act when placed in a situation in which behavior does influence outcome.

Seligman defined 'uncontrollable' situations as ones in which the probability of a reinforcement given a response is no different from the probability of a reinforcement without a response; more formally, when p(RF/R) = p(RF/R*), where R is the response and R* is no response. During learned helplessness experiments, subjects learn about p(RF/R) and p(RF/R*) conjointly. Thus, subjects receive information about the response-outcome contingency in the form of learning/expectation, and then behave in accordance with this representation.

Learned helplessness theory also diverges from classical S-R theories of conditioning by eliminating the role of fear as a motivation of behavior; subjects in a shuttle-box make the avoidance response because they prefer the outcome of jumping (no shock) to the outcome of not jumping (shock)."
--Sally Porter, "Learned Helplessness: A New Approach to Avoidance Learning," 1994

(Note: those shouldn't be slashes in the conditional probabilities up there, but if I use the proper symbol, it doesn't show up when I preview the post. Whatever.)

In other news, Leo was sick this morning (runny eyes, loose stool, lethargic) but did not have a fever. He didn't eat this morning but started eating again this afternoon and seems to be doing much better. I hope it's nothing more serious than a bunny cold/flu. Robert kept in contact with one of the bunny experts from the local rabbit group over the course of the day, and she is apparently not terribly concerned about these symptoms.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

An Interesting Offer

Tuesday, I received a phone call (on my answering machine) from a professor at one of the psychology programs I applied to, telling me that they were very impressed with me and would like to know if I was interested in going directly into their PhD program.

Today, I returned the call and left him a message to the effect that I preferred to be considered solely for the masters program and why (because I plan to apply more broadly to both psychology and business programs for the PhD). I know that this is the right decision, but I did have to fight that part of me that was saying "But wheeeeee, we wouldn't have to ever apply to another grad school again!"

Anyway, I guess this means that they are extremely likely to offer me a spot in their masters program, which is also nice, but I anticipate that the funding situation will not be very generous. (It usually isn't when the department has both masters and doctorate students to fund.)

So I have now heard back from 3 of 6 masters programs: 1 admit without funding (consumer behavior), 1 admit with funding uncertain (experimental psychology), and 1 probable admit (applied social psychology). I haven't heard from my top choice yet, despite it being quite seriously "mid-February" now. Oh, did I mention I almost had a heart attack the other day when I went to their web site, clicked on a news link I had not noticed before, and found a discussion of their "new" students? It took me a couple of minutes to realize that they were talking about their "new" students that started this past fall and were this spring starting their first-year research projects with their advisors, not the ones accepted for next fall; this should have been more immediately apparent to me but I was busy collapsing inside and was slow to figure it out.

Monday, February 16, 2009

An Ideal Number

"The WHO and the National Heart, Lungs and Blood Institute classify a BMI between 20 and 22 as 'ideal' in the sense that mortality and morbidity risks are minimized in this range."

Whose Fault Is It We're Getting Fat, Inas Rashad, 2005

This is the second time in the last couple weeks I have seen reference to the health benefits of having a BMI that is not only in the "normal" category, but at the lower end of this range. For my height (5' 8"), my corresponding ideal weight range is 132-145. Not bad. I'd have to weigh over 164 to be overweight by the 25+ BMI standard, and that's pretty big (for me).

Given that 2/3 of American adults are overweight (with BMI of 25+), I wonder what percentage are above this ideal, with a BMI exceeding 22...Huh, I wasn't able to figure this out from a quick google search. A lot, I figure.

Of course, the usual caveats about BMI apply, and don't forget the possibility of "normal weight obesity" that occurs by having too high a body fat percentage for your weight.

Robert and I started doing strength training three nights ago (for 15-25 minutes per night). I had been disinclined to get my act together enough to set up a schedule for when we would do upper, core, and lower sections of the body, so I decided to take an easier and kind of more fun approach - using the roll of a die, with higher, middle, and lower rolls corresponding to the three body areas. This led to great confusion when I used the term "higher roll" not to refer to the numbers 5, 6 on Robert's die (which for some weird reason has actual numerals on it), but rather one-dot and two-dot, because in my mind, I was thinking of the dots layered on top of each other in a pyramid fashion, with one-dot and two-dot on top and thus "higher." It made me laugh a lot when I realized how nuts this is, and speculated that there was indeed once a society on this planet that used such a number ordering scheme but that rampant confusion quickly led to its downfall when the number of dots involved reached more than about ............. many.

In any case, we're basically sorted out now and have plans to do our exercises 6 days per week, skipping Wednesday. And because it is a no-no to do the same body parts two days in a row, we do divide the numbers on the die into 1, 2, 3 vs. 4, 5, 6 to correspond to the two areas we did not just do the previous day. Thursdays start over with 1, 2; 3, 4; and 5, 6 again.

Super Extra Special Mr. Show video tie-in! What is the biggest number?

Me: Sally, I could have done without the word "blood" up there.
Me: Ugh, yeah, sorry about that.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Unexpectedly Great Expectations

This week has been sort of crazy with school assignments, re-doing in SPSS what my predecessor in my job did in a weird-ass, apparently non-viable way in Excel, and wondering when exactly "mid-February" begins so I can start pouncing on the mail every day waiting to hear back from my favored graduate program that stated they would make their decisions in mid-February. (Not that I'm not jumpy about the mail - and my email inbox - already, but would like to know at what point I can feel justified in being so.) But I have also made a special effort to read a little bit of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations every day also (in the undertaking of which, my blogging has suffered).

As I mentioned before, I read this book in junior high, but I don't have much memory of it aside from remembering the characters Pip (our protagonist/narrator), Mrs. Havisham, and Estella and the cemetary setting from the first couple chapters of the book. (Which, frankly, is more than I remember about a lot of books I read over 20 years ago...or last month, for that matter.) One thing that has surprised me is how funny the book is. Not funny in a bust-a-gut kind of way, but written with a low-key humor, often taking advantage of the fact that it is a story written by an older person talking about himself as a young, naive boy who was easily confused and confounded by his experiences and sometimes clearly describing or re-interpreting events with his current understanding of how the world works. And there is a good, leavening sprinkling of whimsy throughout.

Here are a few characteristically amusing bits:

"As to me, I think my sister must have had some general idea that I was a young offender whom an accoucheur policeman had taken up (on my birthday) and delivered over to her, to be dealt with according to the outraged majesty of the law. I was always treated as if I had insisted on being born in opposition to the dictates of reason, religion, and morality, and against the dissuading arguments of my best friends."

Mr. Pumblechook describes what he thinks must have happened, "and as Mr. Pumblechook was very positive and drove his own chaise-cart--over everybody--it was agreed that it must be so. Mr. Wopsle, indeed, wildly cried out "No!" with the feeble malice of a tired man; but as he had no theory, and no coat on, he was unanimously set at nought--not to mention his smoking hard behind, as he stood with his back to the kitchen to draw the damp out: which was not calculated to inspire confidence."

"Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt kept an evening school in the village; that is to say, she was a ridiculous old woman of limited means and unlimited infirmity who used to go to sleep from six to seven every evening in the society of youth who paid twopence per week each for the improving opportunity of seeing her do it."

"An epergne or centre-piece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite undistinguishable; and, as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckled-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it, as if some circumstance of the greatest public importance had just transpired in the spider community. I heard the mice too, rattling behind the panels, as if the same occurrence were important to their interests. But, the black beetles took no notice of the agitation, and groped about the hearth in a ponderous elderly way, as if they were short-sighted and hard of hearing, and not on terms with one another."

Reading this now, I can understand how it is that so many public school teachers assume that the book would be perfect for junior high students to read: it's funny, it has a wonderfully sympathetic young protagonist, and it speaks to the fears and hopes that all kids have. But it seems to me that as only an adult could have written such a book about a child's growing up, only an adult, with distance from and perspective on childhood, can really appreciate it. Or at least, I find myself responding to the book in a way that I cannot imagine being capable of at the age of 13. Age 13 is a perfect time for reading earnest, angry, angsty books about self-involved adolescents who feel the injustice of the world more deeply than any grown-up can. Or passionate melodrama along the lines of Wuthering Heights. I think the many charms of Great Expectations will be lost on such an immature reader.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Crush TV

For my readers who prefer stories featuring characters that are likeable: you should be watching the recent British TV show "Robin Hood," starring Jonas Armstrong as Robin, available via Netflix. Robert and I are at the beginning of Season 2 and I think I have half fallen in love with about 80% of the characters. (The exceptions will be obvious.) Should you miss it? A clue? No.

A Synthesis That Is Not an Improvement

While I certainly am in favor of women attempting to skewer the virgin/whore dichotomy, deciding to wear a hoodie that proclaims "Lady Juicy" is hardly a move in the right direction.

Friday, February 6, 2009

More 'N Better Restaurant Consumption Data

In this earlier post, I was skeptical of the finding that people increase their daily caloric intake by only 24 calories on a day that they eat out, compensating for the higher calorie level of restaurant food by eating less the rest of the day.

Now, with my Handy Stack (tm) of papers on obesity, I have some other data on this issue:

Data from the 1990’s Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals (n = 8,550) revealed that, on average, fast food consumers ages 2-19 ate an extra 155 calories (an increase of 9%) and an extra 7 grams of fat (an increase of 11%) on the day they consumed fast food compared to other children. (Paeratakutal et al. 2003)

In a typical day, nearly one-third of children eat fast food. When they do, fast food contributes 29% to 38% of their total calories for the day, and they get more calories (an additional 187 calories, on average), total fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, and added sugars in their diet. (Bowman et al. 2004)

In a study of over 4,700 7th – 12th grade students in urban Minnesota, those who ate fast food three or more times per week ate approximately 40% more calories and 10% higher percentage of energy from fat, compared to those who ate no fast food. (French et al. 2001)

Adolescents ages 11-18 eat at fast food restaurants twice a week on average, and consume almost twice as many calories when they do eat out. (Eames and Orbuch 2006)

An econometric analysis of the 1994-1996 Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals found that overweight adults were more likely to eat at restaurants than were people of lower body weight. This result was even stronger for table service restaurants than fast food. (Binkley 2006)

Seiders and Petty (2004) report a study finding that 62% of adult consumers believe that restaurant portions have remained the same size or are smaller than in the past, despite the fact that portion sizes in restaurants have grown. They also note that “consumers frequently discount the role of calories and large portion sizes in causing weight gain.” Previous studies have shown that people make food decisions based primarily on factors such as taste, price, and convenience and discount the health risks associated with unhealthy food choices. Research also suggests that restaurant dining opportunities are seen as a time for freer eating decisions and for consuming larger portions. (Seiders and Petty 2004)

Research has shown that consumers drastically underestimate the calorie content of restaurant foods, by as much as 55%. (McMann 2004)

The average reported calorie intakes by Americans ages 2 and older has risen from 1,876 in 1977 to 2,043 in 1995, an increase of 9%. The percentage of Americans who eat more than the recommended daily allotment of calories was 22% in 1987 and 31% in 1995. (Lin, Guthrie and Frazao 1999). Since self-reports of dietary intake are known to frequently underestimate the true food quantities (Subar et al. 2003), these figures represent conservative measures of excess calorie consumption.

What I've Been Doing Instead

Instead of blogging, I have been reading this 6" stack of papers on childhood obesity, nutrition information, etc., and writing up my notes (currently 21 single-spaced pages). I can feel the envy.

Leaning Tower of Research

Monday, February 2, 2009

Nifty Score Converter

ETS now has a downloadable spreadsheet you can use to predict your GMAT score from your GRE Quantitative and Verbal scores. The motivation behind this appears to be to make it easier for business admissions committees to compare applicants who took the GRE to those who took the GMAT and to give adcoms a sense of what a particular set of GRE scores mean in terms of the familiar GMAT scores. (GMAT is scored as a single number up to a perfect 800; they do provide quantitative and verbal scores and percentiles also, but people usually concentrate on the single number.)

ETS came up with this after looking at the scores of 525 students who took both tests in real testing conditions from 2006-2008. (Students who took the GRE gave permission for ETS to get official score reports from GMAT, I believe.)

My 800-V, 75o-Q results in a predicted 760 GMAT, which is very solid. The highest "average" GMAT score for marketing PhD students in a program that I've seen is the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) program, whose admitted students had a mean score of 738, and that is most probably the best business PhD program in the world.

Oh, it would appear that a 760 GMAT is 99th percentile. That makes sense; my combined GRE score was in the 99th percentile, too.

Of course, the total GMAT score sort of glosses over the fact that my scores are imbalanced; while the scaled numbers look similar, the percentiles are very different because so many people max out the Quantitative section and only a few score super-high on the Verbal section. I wouldn't care so much about this except for the emphasis that business PhD programs put on the Quantitative score; you want it to be as close to perfect as you possibly can - in the range of 780 - 800, really. I'm just hopeful that since I'm a consumer behavior and not a quantitative marketing applicant that the "low" Q score won't be as important.

I recognize that it looks ridiculous to need to explain away a 1550 GRE score. But the competition really is brutal, and any weakness in one's profile can matter.

I've also noticed, from looking at average GMAT scores published on the various program websites, that the scores of today's successful applicants seem higher than even a few years ago. For example, 2008's admits at Northwestern had an average GMAT of 728, but the number for a couple years ago was 700. That's a move from 92nd to 96th percentile.

I'm trying to educate myself a bit about GMAT scoring, since that's one objective criterion that I can use when comparing my credentials to those of successful applicants at various programs.