Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another Kind of Self-Regulation

Robert emailed me the link to this article about industry self-regulation of fast food marketing to children. 

To me, the funniest part of it was the author citing the Catholic church as an authority on the age at which kids develop the ability to reason.  (He also links to the UNESCO child learning web pages, though not to anything that specifically addresses this issue).  Too bad there is no systematic scientific inquiry into such questions, a field like "psychology" or something, because it would be possible, I think, for such scientists to empirically investigate such issues and then disseminate their results so that other people would know about them.

A sad part of all this emphasis on "What do kids know and when do they know it?" is that there is often an assumption that once children are old / cognitively developed enough to "reason," to recognize selling or persuasive intent, or whatever developmental milestone is selected, they will have a robust cognitive defense against these marketing ploys.  But conscious awareness isn't itself all that great of a protection against influence.  While people continue to argue over the plausibility of "subliminal advertising," effective marketing techniques dependent on implicit attitude change, prime-to-action effects, etc., are regularly employed among adults as well as kids.  In addition, there is a large literature on third-person effects in persuasion - the tendency for people to believe that others are more influenced by persuasive communications than they are themselves. And people with high levels of defensive confidence have been shown to willingly expose themselves to more counterattitudinal information, which does change their attitudes.

This being said, I think the McDonald's rant was way overblown.  For example, I don't see any basis for the author suggesting that of course no kid who was not "bioengineered" would ever willingly ask for apple dippers and caramel sauce rather than french fries.  (He offers evidence that McD employees automatically include fries with the Happy Meal 90% of the time, but that doesn't speak very directly to the claim he's making.)  And what does he mean by bioengineered anyway?  (I want somebody to go neuroscience on this guy's ass.)

Robert made the amusing but awesome suggestion that McDonald's should start selling the toy from the Happy Meal independent of the food for the same price.  Imagine: Parents who don't have the will to resist the nagging from their kids about the latest crappy plastic little cartoon-movie tie-in but who are concerned about their kid being obese by age 8 can just buy the toy separately.  (My former principles of marketing professor was in this category; his kid nagged incessantly for Happy Meals but wouldn't even touch the food most of the time - he just wanted the trinket.) 


I have now finished my coursework in the program and managed to maintain my 4.0 GPA even through the neuroscience class. Strangely, I ended up doing better in neuroscience than I did in cognitive my first semester - despite starting off the first exam with 36/40 (90%), I finished with a 96% after getting 20/20 on the paper and 40/40 on the final exam.  So my big neuroscience push paid off.  I also got A's in the two half-semester courses I took, though that wasn't unexpected - but it wasn't certain either, so I'm glad to hear it.

I also spoke to the professor at the PhD program I mentioned earlier this week for about 50 minutes.  He was agreeable/friendly, interesting, easy to talk to, offered some good information and advice, and answered my questions.  From my perspective, it went as well as I could have hoped, and I think I have a good chance of being offered a more formal interview at the applicant weekend based on what the professor said on the phone - I'm not sure what to call it, actually, but it's typical for several applicants (the top choices) to be invited to spend a couple of days at the school, talking to professors, other grad students, etc.  The applicants offered an admit are often drawn from this smallish group (though sometimes people get admitted directly, I understand).  Anyway, I'm definitely not counting my chickens at this point because it's early days yet (applications are due in January sometime) and they could receive mind-blowingly awesome applications that move me into the second rank of applicants, this advisor might for some reason decide/find out they're not accepting a student, or a number of other things could happen.  But I believe it's a good sign that: a) my application passed any initial screening and landed on a potential advisor's desk; b) the advisor was interested enough in my application to give me a call and spend a not insignificant amount of time on the phone; and c) the advisor is already telling me about the applicant weekend.

So now there's just that pesky little detail that I have to write and defend a thesis before I can graduate this spring.  No biggie.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Grocery Spending

Because it's the winter break, I actually have a bit of time to read articles that are not directly related to my current research project.  Here's one I read tonight - a field study in a grocery store - that was pretty interesting:

Grocery store customers were asked to list the items they planned to purchase, the quantity of each, the total amount of money they intended to spend, and their estimated cost for each item.  By subtracting the sum of the estimated costs for the planned purchases from the total amount of money, the researchers estimated the "slack" in their budget - i.e., the room in their mental budget for unplanned purchases (forgotten needs and impulse purchases).  Participants did their grocery shopping as usual, but they used a hand-held scanner gun on each item as they put it in their cart.  By knowing the order in which items were selected, the researchers could then examine purchases of items before and after the participant's "slack" was spent.  The researchers labeled an item as on promotion if its current price was at least 10% lower than it was the previous week.  They calculated the savings on purchases by subtracting the current purchase price from the prior purchase price. 

They wanted to find out how savings (through promotions) on unplanned and planned products before and after the "slack" had been spent affected spending on unplanned and planned purchases.

Savings on planned purchases:

Before the slack was spent (early in the shopping trip), savings on planned purchases led to more purchasing of planned products, but the nature of this effect depended on the participant's income.  Lower income shoppers tended to switch to a higher-priced brand on another planned product that offset the savings on the other product.  Higher income shoppers tended to stockpile (i.e., purchase more of) the sale item, thus spending more money overall on planned purchases.  However, savings on planned purchases did not affect the purchase of unplanned products.

After the slack was spent (late in the shopping trip), each $1 of savings on planned purchases was associated with a $10 increase in spending on unplanned purchases.  It appears that participants viewed this unexpected savings as a windfall and thus spent more money. 

Savings on unplanned purchases:

Before the slack was spent, savings on unplanned purchases did not affect unplanned spending.

After the slack was spent, each $1 of savings on unplanned purchases was associated with a $6 increase in spending on unplanned purchases.

So a smart grocery store owner will offer price promotions on planned purchases (e.g., yogurt, bottled water, eggs, milk) so that you will spend more money on unplanned purchases (e.g., ice cream, candy bars, cookies).  And if you spend money on unplanned purchases that are on promotion, you will spend even more money on other unplanned purchases.

A smart shopper will not use the fact that cat food was on sale to justify purchasing buy-one-get-one-free gallons of Blue Bell ice cream, which justifies the purchase of King Sized Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in the check-out lane.

Stilley, Inman, & Wakefield (2010). Spending on the fly: Mental budgets, promotions, and spending behavior. Journal of Marketing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Next Phase of the Process Begins

I have completed 16/17 PhD applications (though I have not confirmed yet that they all have everything they need from me).  I should be able to finish the last one in the next couple weeks, well before the deadline.

Today, I received my first email from a professor who has been referred my application and wants to chat about their program (a marketing program).  This is a professor I named as a potential advisor in my statement of purpose. 

So now my semester is over and it's time for me to gear up and get ready to start interviewing with PhD programs.  They may call it a chat, but in effect, it's a preliminary interview. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I didn't feel all that silly studying neuroscience in my apartment tonight wearing a German water-resistant wool loden cape, a fuzzy hat, and a blanket wrapped around my legs (like an old person in a wheelchair).  I have an exam tomorrow, after all.  I couldn't spend all evening looking at rabbit photos on the Internet.

In My Defense

I just successfully defended my thesis proposal.  Onward!

Monday, December 6, 2010


I just finished writing my 12th essay in preparation for the neuroscience final (Wed.).  Now I need to actually learn them so I can reproduce them on the exam.  I was able to do this for the midterm, so I'm going to believe that it is possible this time, too, even though it seems like an unfathomably large amount of information to commit to memory.  Luckily I have two nights of short-wave sleep before the exam during which time my brain can consolidate the information, as described in this excerpt from essay 9:

Consolidation refers to the processes that continue after learning and stabilize, transform, or enhance the newly-encoded memory trace.  Consolidation makes memories more resistant against interference and decay.  During system consolidation, neural memory representations undergo a reorganization so that they become represented by different neural networks.  We consolidate memory more effectively when we are asleep because we use the same processes for taking in (encoding) information and consolidating memories.  Therefore, there is interference in the consolidation process when we are awake (and we are also taking in information) but not when we are asleep.  During sleep, the covert reactivation of the networks that were involved in encoding the information leads to improved memory consolidation.

REM sleep appears to be important for procedural memory (skill at a task).  Depriving people of REM sleep makes it harder for them to learn tasks, and people who have practiced a difficult procedural task tend to engage in greater levels of REM sleep afterward.  The first stage of procedural memory consolidation, stabilization, appears not to be dependent on sleep, but can be improved with sleep.  The second stage, enhancement, might require sleep.

Slow wave sleep (SWS) is involved in the consolidation of hippocampus-dependent declarative memory (explicit memories of facts and events).  Studies have shown that retrieval performance is better when tested shortly after a period of night-time sleep than daytime wakefulness, even after controlling for differences in fatigue and eliminating circadian rhythm confounds.  However, some studies examining memory over a longer time span, such as one week, do not show a benefit to post-learning sleep.  Because consolidation of declarative memory may occur over several nights, sleep in the subsequent nights might compensate for the lack of sleep the first night.  During SWS, newly encoded representations are repeatedly activated in the hippocampus in conjunction with thalamacortical spindle activity (which propogates to the entire neocortex).  These coordinated activations could achieve a transfer of information and a strengthening of weak memory traces.  During sleep, lower levels of ACh (enabling a feedback of information from the hippocampus to the neocortex) and cortisol (reducing interference with memory retrieval) create an environment favorable to memory reactivation and consolidation.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Death by Neuroscience

My grueling, agonizing, loathsome process of preparing for my neuroscience final (which is motivated mostly by the realization that if I don't pass the class, I will have to take it again next semester - including repeating the preparation of the midterm and term paper that I've already done - which would be utter hell) continues.  I am at about 2.5 answers of out 12, which indicates a perhaps unsustainable lack of speed in developing my responses even though I started with the ones that seemed easiest. There is also absolutely no evidence on which to pin any hopes that everybody will do badly on the exam and that a curve will be forthcoming.  It's pretty clear that you've got to hit the mark to get the grade because some people are rocking the class and the prof is quite okay with failing people who miss the mark (like my office mate last year who had the repeat the class).

This is the absolute worst part of my program so far.  I feel that I might actually die.  The professor mentioned that the course should be two semesters, meeting 3 times per week (instead of one semester, 1 time per week).  And while it's true that we did not cover everything in the textbook, we covered about 75% of it, plus additional readings, plus all the extra sources we have to find on our own to prepare for the exams.  Bah.  

I think it's funny and maybe sadly appropriate that we did cover the chapter on sleep but not the chapter on sex. 

On the brighter side, here's my application update:
Applications submitted: 16/17
Applications confirmed completed by the school: 3/17

And no matter what horrors my PhD program will offer, I will not have to take another class in neuroscience EVER AGAIN.  This is a non-negotiable feature of any program I decide to attend.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Breather

Today I was at school (working) for about 7.5 hours.  I came home, had dinner, treaded, watched House M.D., made blueberry muffins, spoke to Robert on the phone briefly, finished up a delightfully trashy action adventure novel that ended with a bad-guy Delta Force agent cryogenically frozen (but conscious and going insane!) at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, did some light weight work, played Alchemy, and am now going to bed.  It's so weird - go to work, come home, do things other than work.  It reminds me of my old, pre-grad school life.

Oh well.  Tomorrow, I'll be back in a more typical school mode, as I'll be getting my take home exam for one class and the infamous list of 12 questions for the in-class final next week.  But it was certainly nice to have what felt a lot like an entire day off because I didn't bring any schoolwork home with me to do in the evening.

App update: 16 down, 1 (due Feb. 1, so not a rush) to go.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Duck Duck Duck Duck Goose

Yesterday Robert and I went to the local wastewater treatment plant to see ducks.  We did see ducks - a whole bunch of mallards.  Plus one goose (a Canada).

And our prize: an American black duck.  My ABA Area Bird #472.

No, it doesn't look much like Daffy - it's like a distinctly darker female mallard.

In addition, we added the following to our NC list:
Green-winged teal
Swamp sparrow
Fox sparrow

The killdeer situation was kind of crazy.  Before, I'd only seen one or two killdeer at a time, but yesterday, a flock of about 30 killdeer kept flying and landing around where we were standing (on a strip between two ponds) looking at the ducks.  Oh, and running around.  I love watching sandpipers and plovers (e.g., killdeer) run.  They look so silly - their legs move at a million miles and an hour, but because they're so short, they do not move nearly as far as all that action would suggest.

Here's a good video of a running killdeer with the added bonus of the mom's famous broken-wing display used to lure predators away from vulnerable babies.  (However, killdeer babies are literally precocious - they can start running right after being born.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Five Minutes

I had decided that I wanted to send my advisor a complete first draft of my thesis proposal by 2:00 p.m. today, and I got it emailed by 2:05.  It's great to have this ball out of my court for a while.

Next up: grading research reports and completing PhD applications.  The bulk of the work for the apps at this point consists of writing (customizing) statements of purpose and putting together the packets that need to be snail-mailed to the schools.  I also need to finish and submit the online applications, but that goes pretty quickly.

Last night I dreamed that I was visiting Tam at school, only instead of her grad program, we were in a middle school.  The absolute low point was when Tam suggested we go next door for lunch to a place where they sell 50 cent sandwiches.  Each sandwich was one piece of white bread topped with a handful of little disks that look like bologna.  The sign announced that the following sandwiches were available:

"Meat, horse, mouse, shrimp, and puppy."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Small Bit of Good News

It hasn't been a great week for news around here, but I did get a small bit of good news by email yesterday.  I have received a $500 travel award for the conference I am going to be presenting a poster at in January.  Something like 18.9% of grad student presenters won the award.  So that puts me in the top fifth of student research being presented at the number one conference for social and personality psychology, which is nice (just for general self-esteem purposes as well as adding a line to the cv).  The money is nice, too.

The decision criteria included three things:
(1) Quality of the research
(2) Perceived interest in the research/topic to the conference-goers
(3) Strength of academic record (esp. previous publications / presentations)

So point 3 definitely is consistent with the idea that the best thing you can do to win a scholarship (or whatever) is to win another scholarship.  I think of it as basically a way of labeling yourself to the selection committee as "Pre-approved of by people like you."

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I have now completed 10 online applications and have the paperwork (transcripts, etc.) together in envelopes to mail to these programs.  I plan to pick up with the remainder of the 17 applications over Thanksgiving break, and even then, I still have quite a bit of time before those applications are due - the next one after these 10 is due 12/31.

One school's online app is still giving me fits because they did not send me the ID# to use to check the status of my application as they said they would within 3 business days.  I've emailed them about it, but I think I'm going to have to call and ask about it to get anything done.  (I would love to be wrong about that.)  The big issue is that I don't think the automated system has sent out the emails to my recommenders eliciting their letters.  Bah!  I am also annoyed that a couple of schools do online recommendations but do not give you any information about whether they have been completed, so I'll have to follow up with my recommenders individually on those.

In other happy news, I have finished my neuroscience paper!  At least, I have a paper that I've read through once and looks done to me - I'll print it out and read it again in a day or two.  It's due Friday.  (And yes, watch this space for the inevitable Word Cloud when I'm totally done with it.)

Debbie sent this joke to me this week:

"A magician pulls rabbits out of hats. An experimental psychologist pulls habits out of rats."

A good section of my paper is about classical conditioning of eating to external cues in rats (nothing at all like my typical topics in metacognitive aspects of attitude change), so this is strangely apt.  But I will note that experiment psychologists also pull habits out of rabbits.  The eyeblink response in rabbits is a standard animal model of classical conditioning.  I am not, however, familiar with any rat hat research using this paradigm.

But: here is a rat hat for a cat.

And that's that.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Can't Argue with Vulcan Logic

In the last 10-14 days, the weather here's gone from being 10+ degrees warmer than usual to about 10 degrees colder than usual (though it's warming up this week).  Waiting for the bus last week in the chilly rain, I was idly speculating on this abrupt shift.  When I got on the bus, an episode of Star Trek: Voyager was on.  Apparently, the crew was having difficulty beaming people down to this planet due to bizarre storms.  Tuvok said, "The only logical conclusion is that they are controlling the weather."

And hey, you know, that really does explain a lot.

The best line was when a teenage boy was complaining to his dad, who wanted him to stay home, living in their primitive culture, instead of attending Star Fleet, like "Dad, we have to start living in the 24th century!"  OK, it's not up there with "But I was going to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters" in the annals of SF teenage whining, but it was funny.

I dedicate this post to B., the one in Tam's program about whom she said, when I asked her to describe him, that he likes bad science fiction.  Apparently he is the "dweeb" of the group.  I know, you're thinking, But isn't Tam in a math PhD program - how can there be only one?

But as we all know, There can be only one.

(In the interest of full confession, I did immediately recognize the dude on Voyager as "Tuvok" even though I've probably seen fewer than half a dozen episodes of the show.  While you may be tempted to excuse this as just a function of my amazing intelligence - no.  There are people in my own program I have a harder time remembering the name of than this character from a minor Star Trek TV program.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Closing the Book on Wrens, Again

After the split of the winter and pacific wren left me with a hole in my North American wren life list (and perhaps more importantly, at a bird list disadvantage compared to Robert), I had hoped to see a winter wren within the next six months.  Happily, it only took 3 months and 3 days.  A cooperative winter wren made his spotty/blotchy little self known to me this afternoon at our local park, where Robert and I went because I felt this overwhelming need to get outside and maybe see some ducks.  Amusingly, Robert did not get a very good look at the bird this time.

By the time we got to the marshy area of the park, I was feeling so satisfied that I didn't mind at all that the only ducks on the water were three mallards.  Really, it was such a gorgeous, sunny, cool but not cold day that taking two hours away from extremely frustrating online grad school applications and the neuroscience of external food cues to just walk around, gawking and kicking leaves would have been quite satisfactory without seeing a single bird at all.

But in addition to my winter wren, we also saw two species that are new for us in North Carolina:

* Yellow-bellied sapsucker (a spotty juvenile who looked astonishingly like a bump on the tree at first, even with that white patch on its wing; evolution was pretty clever with that because under sunny conditions, the branches themselves are dappled dark and light, too)

* Golden-crowned kinglet (a bird I never saw in Texas, but have seen elsewhere)

Overall, a very pleasant outing.  However, I've still got a hankering for ducks, so I've put Robert on the case of planning a trip east to some wildlife refuges near the coast so we can see ducks, swans, and geese.  I've especially got my eye out for the American black duck, which - due to my heavy exposure to and love of Warner Brothers cartoons and hence Daffy Duck - I always thought of as the default "duck" as a kid.  (Arguably, Daffy Duck doesn't look that much like an American black duck, which is a kind of mallard-y looking bird, but it's the closest actual duck species I know of.)

Once again, I really love the serendipitous nature of birding.  We only even took our binocs with us in the event that we might see some ducks on the pond, and a lifer passerine decides to make a conspicuous appearance at the exact moment I'm walking by on the trail.  Nifty.

P.S.  I am now up to something like 6 or 7 (of 17) online applications completed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weird Weather Information

It sure was a relief to read that overnight, "no accumulation of graupel is expected."

But check out how nifty it looks:

Two Online Apps Completed

One with an 11/15 deadline to qualify for the awesome $30,000 per year for 3 years fellowships.

One with an 11/15 deadline for a free (rather than $65) application.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

SOP Update

This evening I wrote statements of purpose for 6 programs.

Only 11 more to go.

Oh boy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Carrot Addiction

Bunnies, I guess you're not alone.

Katy tries to hide her carrot bingeing from the humans

An abstract:

"Presents a case report of carrot addiction in a 49-year-old woman that occurred under conditions of stress due to marital problems, leading to a depressive illness and increased smoking. The patient maintained that the sensations of carrot craving and withdrawal were quite distinct from those associated with smoking. The patient was advised to record her daily carrot consumption. The patient did not return for several months, but stopped eating carrot after an operation, at which time she also stopped smoking. Compulsive carrot eating, regarded as a rare condition, has received scant documentation, unlike hypercarotenemia due to unusual diets or food fads. Nervousness, craving, insomnia, waterbrash and irritability are associated with withdrawal from excessive carrot eating. The basis for the addiction is believed to be beta carotene, found in carrots. Does carrot eating, an aggressively oral activity, merely act as a behavioural substitute for smoking? Or does beta carotene contain a chemical element that replicates the addictive component of nicotine? Further study of this unusual but intriguing addiction may reveal more about the basis of all addictions, with particular implications for the cessation of cigarette smoking."

Kaplan, R. (1996). Carrot addiction. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 30(5), 698-700.

Perhaps the rabbits would argue that the very idea of "excessive" carrot eating is ridiculous.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thank You, Neuroscience Textbook Authors

I am now officially awaiting the perfect opportunity to make a double entendre with the phrase "excitation-secretion coupling."  Readers, you are on notice.

Monday, November 1, 2010

One Down, Countless More to Go

This evening I finished one of my term papers, due November 22.  It turned out to be an over 20-page project proposal (probably falling in the "I did not have the leisure to make it shorter" category).  I will proof-read it again a day or two before I turn it in, but it's super nice to have one thing off my mental to-do list. 

In addition to the countless applications I have due on/by December 1, I also have another 20-page paper (a review paper for neuroscience, so that one is going to be rough going - due November 19 and I haven't started even reading articles yet) and my thesis proposal to write this month, as well as a class discussion to lead.  (Fortunately, I am already familiar with two of the three papers for that class session, so I hope the prep work won't be as dire as it sometimes is.)  Good thing I don't have normal, ongoing coursework or a TAship or anything like that.  Oh wait.

Life is going to be pretty much fucking crazy for everyone in the program until at least December 8 (when we turn in our second final).  After that, things are only really busy and stressful as we continue applications and struggle to get our act together to start collecting data for our thesis as soon as the spring semester begins.  Looking at my classmates, I see us falling into about 4 categories right now:

(1)  Slightly suppressed anger

(2)  Laughter at the impending doom

(3)  Panic and frenzy

(4)  Tharn

Or maybe by "us," I mean "me."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vitamin D: Not Just Fun, It's Good For You

From an interview in the Nutrition Action Newsletter:

"Sixty percent of people in the US and Europe get too little vitamin D.  The percentages are higher in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.  The most important source of vitamin D is sun exposure, which increases the body's production of vitamin D.  The diet is not rich in D.  There's a little in fatty fish and in eggs, but by and large, people without sun exposure will need a supplement."

From what my sister's doctor says, everybody in San Francisco is deprived of vitamin D.

So I am going to consider my al fresco Saturday lunches on Jason's patio not only an enjoyable, relaxing break from the trials and tribulations of grad school life, but a bona fide health behavior.  You know, as long as I avoid the chocolate mousse with chocolate chips from the salad bar and the mini muffins that have calories into the fourth dimension.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Is That a Joke?

It still surprises me when my students can't tell when I'm joking in class.  Today, one of our labs required them to fabricate data for 30 participants such that there was a positive correlation between two variables, and some students were like, What?  How do we make up data?

I was like, OK, everybody pay attention because making up fake data is one of the most important steps in your development as scientists.

People looked at each a little uneasily.

Then I said in a dramatic voice, I'll not have anyone saying that I did not train you properly in the crucially important task of making up fake data to get the results you want.

Now people started to laugh.

And I am pleased to note that I did not make any reference to Chinese scientists during this discussion, even though they demonstrate a much greater aptitude for this particular task.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Application Blues

I should start this post with some good news. 

(1)  I got a 39.5/40 for my grant proposal in the class that is now finished, and the prof noted that my proposal is the one of the class that would have been funded.  I actually quite liked my design, and I'm keeping it as a back-pocket idea if the opportunity ever arises to use/implement some (cheaper, easier) version of it.

(2)  On the neuroscience midterm, I got a 36/40 - so yes, I barely eked out an A- on this thing, which is absolutely delightful.  I do not anticipate being able to replicate this score on the final because it's two days after the big-ass take-home final in my other class, so I will not likely be able to put as much time into studying for it.  But I'm still stoked about the midterm grade if for no other reason than it gives me a little bit of play going into the final exam and the term paper (because my goal is to get a B).

Now for the whining part of this post.

Applying to 17 PhD programs is haaaard.  This weekend, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get stuff together for my recommenders, especially the one prof who wants to do his on paper rather than online.  (He says that online adds time he doesn't have when doing letters for about 40 people every year, and I absolutely don't blame him for making this harder on me so it's easier on him.)  I think I will have everything put together for this (forms partly filled, printed, signed, matched up with pre-addressed envelopes; all the info profs need put into folders) for tomorrow.

One annoyance (among oh, so many) is that several of the programs do not send emails to your letter writers to solicit their recommendation until after you complete the application, which means not only filling out page after page of information, but appending your finalized CV, statement of purpose, writing sample, and so forth.  So though the application deadline might be Dec 1, you need to finish and submit it enough early that your letter writers have time to send their stuff in by that date.  At least, that's my read of the situation; I haven't seen any indication that reference letters are due at a later point than the application itself. 

It's a good thing I don't have any other responsibilities aside from applying to grad school.  Oh wait...

I would like to publicly praise my personal PhD Application Guru, RVman, without whom I don't even want to think how behind I would be on getting my stuff together.  Behold his awesome visage as he outwits the unbelievably crappy University of Texas transcript ordering process.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bad Web Page Layout

There is no reason I can think of that it makes any sense whatsoever that the ApplyYourself university application web page should have the button you push for "logout" and the button you push for "submit" be overlapping buttons.  I am half-paranoid every time I try to log out from this program (that is used by many of the schools I'm applying to) that I will accidentally submit an only partly-completed application.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Let the Applications Commence

My current list has 17 programs, but it will probably go down by a few depending on which programs / labs are taking new students for the fall.  Tonight, I started the online application for 6 of them by filling in all the easy stuff; later I will go back and upload my statements of purpose, etc.  It feels good to have this process underway.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Title After My Own Heart

The Pavlovian power of palatable food: lessons for weight-loss adherence from a new rodent model of cue-induced overeating

(Boggiano, M., Dorsey, J., Thomas, J., & Murdaugh, D. (2009). The Pavlovian power of palatable food: lessons for weight-loss adherence from a new rodent model of cue-induced overeating. International Journal of Obesity, 33(6), 693-701. doi:10.1038/ijo.2009.57.)

It's only missing the inevitable "and monkeys!" follow-up study.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wizard of Oz

Robert was walking drama-stiffly toward the chair I was sitting in (and from which I demanded that he help me straighten out my left leg which I was too lethargic to straighten in anticipation of getting up).

S: "So, what - are you the Tin Man?  What is it you need?"

R: "A heart.  And the scarecrow needs a brain."

S: "What about the lion?"

R: "He needs courage."

S: "But I don't understand.  Courage isn't a body part."

R: "Yeah, but I'm pretty sure it was courage."

S: insistently "But that isn't a body part."

R: "It was a kid's movie.  They couldn't very well say that he needed a pair of balls."

Instead all he got was this lousy medal.  (And personally, I think he needs a make-over.  What the hell is with that red bow in his fur?)

Surprisingly, I don't think I've ever seen this movie all the way through.  This part with the handing out of the medal of courage, the diploma (see: a degree is a substitute for a brain! Heed this well, little children), and whatever the tin man gets (a heart-shaped watch? what?) is totally unfamiliar.

Also, I just want to advise anyone who may be considering a sexy cowardly lion costume for Halloween: just because you can buy it on the Internet does not make it a good idea.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yet Another Paper Word Cloud

It's going to be hard to tell what this paper was about, but try your best.  (Tam, at least I am covering the "regulatory" bit in this one.)

It's hard to believe that class is already over.  (It was only a half-semester class, but still.)  A new class starts on Monday (unconscious processes).

Tomorrow is our one day "fall break," which means I have the day off to work on PhD application stuff (e.g., the dreaded statement of purpose) and my thesis proposal.  I left my neuroscience book and articles at school and am looking forward to not really thinking about it again this weekend...wait, except to send the professor my ideas for the paper I will be writing for the class.  Oh well.

UPDATE: I was just thinking how nice it will be that starting a new class on Monday means no readings or assignments to do for Monday.  Then I checked my email: be expecting an assignment in the next day or two.  Sigh.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Neuroscience Word Cloud

I am pleased to report that my neuroscience midterm is over - it took me a little over 3 hours and most of my classmates were still working on it.  (Overachieving P. is probably still working on it.)  I think I can reasonably expect to get a B, which is fine.  Below is the word cloud I made from my extensive study guide.  (Click for a larger view.) 

Seeing the word "nervous" confused me for a moment until I realized, Oh yeah, as in nervous system

Because bunnies disapprove of neuroscience, I selected the "organic carrot" color scheme to appease them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Unwittingly Derogatory Language

In class today, we were talking about discrimination, stereotyping, various "-isms" (e.g., sexism, racism, heterosexism), etc.  A couple of people mentioned that they used to employ the phrase "That's so gay" as a general commentary on something being stupid.  (Is it a marker of my age that the phrase of my youth was "That's retarded"?)  One guy said, "Yeah, I used it when I meant to say that something was stupid or lame."  I said, "Yes, 'lame' is another good example."

You could see people recoiling with the realization that this innocuous-seeming phrase is, indeed, ableist.

Another favorite of mine is the use of the term "gypped" for swindled.  People do not seem to make the connection to "gypsy."  I mean, it's not like the Romani are a major ethnic group in the US, so it's somewhat understandable that people don't recognize the word's origins, but still - not good.

I'm not sure where I stand on the "dumb" = stupid idea because I've heard conflicting stories about whether the origin meaning of dumb was incapable of generating speech (a disability) or being of low intelligence.

Do you have any favorite terms or phrases of this kind?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Alternative Titles

Clearing off my desk, I just found a reaction paper in which I wrote:

The paper...may have been more appropriately titled "Eking out another publication from an old data set and an unrelated convenience sample: A couple unrelated findings about self-enhancers."

I guess this would be like Crazy People in Academia.  I mean, unless that's redundant.

This is Your Brain on Neuroscience

After our 3 hour review session (in advance of the exam on Wed.), my brain is now dripping out my ears.  I think it's going to be hugely helpful, though.  (As a side effect, I have been reduced to making bad neuroscience in-jokes on Facebook.)

It may not be a great sign of my self-confidence going into this exam that I checked the student handbook to determine what grade in the course I have to get to pass.  It appears to be a C.  This may sound ridiculous (e.g., to the people on the Chronicle forum who state that getting B's indicates you're not really cut out for grad school), but:

1) My sense from talking to my fellow students is that the grading in my program is a lot more like undergrad than what many people describe their grad programs like (i.e., many more lower grades are awarded; in some of my classes, I think the average was a B). 
2) Last year, my office mate failed this class and had to take it again.
3) Waaaaah.  It's hard.

I did sort of have fun playing with this Nernst/Goldman simulator this weekend, though.

Oh, and to get me through the week, I have just bookmarked the Disapproving Rabbits web site.  These rabbits really, really disapprove of neuroscience and neuroscience exams.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Animal, Vegetable, No Mineral

I just posted a photo album from the Dixie Classic Fair last Saturday on Facebook. 

Robert had noticed that the rabbit fanciers were having a show there, so we went to check out the bunnilicious excitement.  Not only did we get to see (and pet!) many rabbits, including several mini rexes, we took in a tour of the ag tents for the other animals, and vegetables, on display.

These are probably my two favorite pics:

1)  The sleeping fuzzball

2) The tribble-groucho mix

And now back to neuroscience exam preparation for me. Bah!

Quote of the Day: Nobel Edition

On Konstantin Novoselov winning the physics prize:

"A 36 year-old won a Nobel for wrapping a pencil in tape in 2004."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Easy Peasy

I agree with this blog post that:

1) Frozen vegetables are awesome, and
2) The fact that fresh veg can be a pain to prepare is not the reason people are eating junk food instead of veg (contra claims in the NY Times article he links to).

Further, I believe that Steamfresh frozen sweet peas are the bomb.

Tonight, after getting home from dissecting a sheep's brain (and yes, thoroughly washing my brain-speckled hands), I ate baby carrots with light ranch dressing for "dinner."

Monday, October 4, 2010


It would be really nice if professors were to update their university web page to indicate whether or not they are taking students for the upcoming intake cycle.  Then I wouldn't have to email them to ask, and they wouldn't have to hit the delete or spam button in their email program to get rid of this email.  But since a surprisingly large number of profs list "in press" articles that were published in 2005, etc., I guess updating the web site is not a priority for most. 

To Professor D. A., who did update her page to say that she's taking students:  Thank you!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ego-depleting Blog Post

It was a little bit difficult to read this blog post about commitment contracts (e.g., and its comments and inhibit the impulse to post a response like:

"Read Deci & Ryan (self-determination theory) on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (and the sub-types within these categories). 

Read Higgins on regulatory fit.

Read about the differences among goal initiation, goal achievement, and maintenance (note: maintenance is hard, even for people with high commitment, due to the self-regulatory complexity). 

Read about behavioral economics so you do not mistakenly characterize it as claiming that "people respond to carrots and sticks" (that's behaviorism in psychology, and it works more consistently with lower-order animals) (but a finger-gun shot at commenter #9 for calling you on this already). 

Etc. Etc."

Fortunately, I'm also motivated to not be an asshole to random people on the Internet to their face (so to speak) and I have my own outlet.

I am trying and failing to imagine the kind of blog post that would evoke a similar response (i.e., wanting to point out "dude this is a hugely complicated issue and you don't know what you're talking about") from my mathematically-focused readers.


This afternoon, I told my mom that I needed a dose of bunny.  Tam sent me one this evening.  Isn't he ravishingly adorable?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Few Random Notes

Latest numbers from the CDC: 30% of American adults are obese and another 38% are overweight.  (I am writing an NIH grant proposal for two studies about self-regulation, identity, and eating habits as a class assignment.)

In unrelated news, I think I ate my ("normal") weight in macaroni and cheese this week.

Today I briefly wished I was wearing long pants.  We'll see if this feeling continues at all as October looms before us.

An Economist article about management and biology used the phrase "the rigor of biology."  (It's only in the social sciences that biology would be so characterized.)

Most amusing thing heard today on the bus: "The axioms in topology are way weirder than the ones in abstract [algebra]."

Tomorrow, I don't have to teach, so I'm staying home to make chicken and rice soup (a long process when you start with 5 pounds of skin-on, bone-in chicken).  One of the benefits of academia is, as they say, that you get to pick the 80 hours per week you work.  Tomorrow, I also get to pick where I work them.  Not having to commute to and from school saves me about 40 minutes (more if you include booting and shutting down my computer, which takes an age), so that's nice.

I defend my major area paper next Thursday.  I will have to re-read the thing (and take notes, like it's somebody else's paper) to remember what the findings were.  They've changed too many times over the many rounds of data collection.  My paper is 15, 160 words long.

We didn't have neuroscience class today, and that was awesome.  (Class itself is fine; it's all the work that goes into preparing for class that sucks.)  

I've been sleeping 8 hours per night this week.  It's bliss.  Serious bliss.  I'm going to do it again right now.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How Appropriate

Today I'm feeling like crap - fever, headache, body aches, sniffles, the works.

So I just now decided to see if I am capable of playing a game of Word Mojo.  The first word I put together? "sick"

Thanks for rubbing it in, universe.

UPDATE:  And no, I'm not much capable of playing the game.  I lost at 4,000 points (compared to a more typical 28,000).

UPDATE 2:  I just realized it was even worse - the letters were (in another order) "sickeee."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Perceptions of Grad Students

"Consider anecdotal evidence about why undergraduates at Stanford University hesitate to wear bike helmets when they ride across campus.  Many bike accidents occur every year, and numerous injuries could be prevented if more undergraduates just wore helmets (indeed, they are well aware of this hazard). But although this safety failure could be due to a number of factors, many undergraduates explained their reluctance to wear helmets based on concerns of identity communication - they chose not to wear helmets because graduate students wore them. Graduate students were not disliked by undergrads, but they were seen as socially awkward and overly intense. Thus, some undergraduates avoided helmets to avoid giving others the mistaken impression that they were akin to this social group."

Socially awkward and overly intense? 

I think that phrase describes about 83% of my friends during undergrad, but they were all just graduate students in the making.

Source: Berger & Rand (2008). Shifting signals to help health: Using identity signaling to reduce risky health behaviors. Journal of Consumer Research, 35, 509-518.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dutch Sweets

"In our experiment, each category was represented by four different food stimuli that were adapted to the general taste of the Dutch population and that represented snack foods in eatable portion sizes."

For the category high-calorie sweet, they used:
  • Chocolate
  • Wedge of apple pie
  • Treacle waffle
  • Bonbon bloc
I tell you, is there anything in the world that triggers an uncontrollable food craving like the idea of a treacle waffle? A treacle anything, really, just gets the saliva flowing. I might be slightly even more excited at the idea of a treacle digestive biscuit, but the treacle waffle is a damn fine choice. I especially like the kind of treacle that is drawn from a treacle-well.

As for the bonbon issue, I prefer my bonbons from the eastern bloc but I'm just picky that way.

[Source: Ouwehand & Papies (2010). Eat it or beat it. The differential effects of food temptations on overweight and normal-weight restrained eaters. Appetite, 55, 56-60.]

The Kidney Method of De-cluttering

In this post about clothes shopping, the blogger talks about his clean slate method/fantasy of starting with nothing and then adding in the things he wants rather than just eliminating items from his hoard of Stuff.

Coincidentally, my neuroscience professor today advanced his kidney method of cleaning (or de-cluttering) during a lecture on drugs. Despite widespread belief that the kidneys work by filtering bad stuff out of the blood into urine, what actually happens is that the kidneys move everything out of the blood into the urine-holding area, then let the good stuff back in to the blood. (Drugs are lipid soluble and move through the membrane back into the blood stream.) He recommends cleaning your room/house like this at least once a year.

This jives with the recommendations of people like my mom that the way to clean a closet is to first remove everything from it, then put back the things that you want to keep.

If you really want to seriously get rid of a lot of stuff at once, I think it's smart to do this. You put all the work into removing things at the beginning, so deciding to keep something means you have to move it into place again. This makes getting rid of the item (e.g., tossing it into the Goodwill box/bag) the default option, so your laziness works for you. (As long as you don't get so lazy that you just dump everything back into your closet/under your bed/etc. in one large undifferentiated mass of junk.)

I admit that I tend to use the weeding method myself. The first time through, I get rid of the obvious stuff (big weeds). Then I go through again a little later and eliminate some more things (the medium-sized weeds that now look big in comparison to the rest). I keep repeating this process until I've winnowed things down considerably. The trick is that you have to keep after it because you are not necessarily eliminating many items at a given time. However, sometimes the idea of parting with 50% of your wardrobe feels aversive even if you rationally know that it will leave you with plenty of clothes. Getting rid of a few items at a time is not nearly so traumatic, and it can become kind of a game to figure out which 4 items you will eliminate this week (or whatever). It helps that I love actual weeding (my favorite part of gardening; I'm a freak), so thinking of it as weeding makes the process more appealing to me. Of course, it's sometimes hard to distinguish a "weed" from a "flower" while doing this, but I have that problem with literal weeding as well.

Coming back to the neuroscience thing: It's quite fortunate that I started watching House, M.D. long enough ago that I am now able to read, hear, say, and write the word "blood" without feeling faint because I would not be able to remain conscious in class without having experienced this inadvertent exposure therapy. Today's class was particularly "blood"-intensive.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pilot lolbun

Jen sent me this lolbun, which half-captures how I felt yesterday. My late flights were grounded on account of Angry and Sleepy. (Of course, I think this bun has a Sleepy, too.)

I, however, was not such a snuggly little bunny-loaf in the process.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


My middle finger of my right hand hurts like a son of a bitch, so much that I am having difficulty not whimpering to myself when it's not moving, let alone when I type or, worse, try to write. (I say try because I have not successfully written anything this afternoon.) I can only think that in this morning's marathon cooking session, chopping 7 bell peppers and 3 gigantic onions with my blunt knife did my hand in.

It's a good thing I don't have any work to do. Oh, wait.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Last Time

I had a good meeting with my advisor this morning, and I am just about to start my final analysis and write up of the infamous Experiment 2. I feel bizarrely excited at this prospect. (Maybe in part because every hour spent on this project tonight is an hour that I'm not reading about neurotransmitters.)

My data set is now in a folder titled "Absolutely final data" with the date, superceding the "Final data" folder that I renamed "Penultimate data." It reminds me of presentations and such that I would put together at my previous job that ended up with titles like "X Presentation - Final - I mean it this time - seriously - v4."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An "In press"ive Publication

This weekend I got to see the final, approved manuscript for the nutrition study I worked on as a research assistant before starting my masters program. It's supposed to be published some time in 2011, but it's now an "in press" peer-reviewed journal article on my c.v., which is nice. I am the fourth of four authors (after the professors) but I feel absolutely great about the fact that I did the analysis and wrote the introduction and results section and that the final version looks basically identical to the work that I had turned in before.

Here is the obligatory word cloud for this paper:

I also helped with data collection on the project (going around to Scout meetings to talk to the kids) but I joined the team after the study design was finalized, the questionnaires were written, and participants were lined up. Robert made a comment along the lines that I've done all the various parts of a study except for contacting organizations to line up participants, with the implication that this a hard part of the process that I do not have experience with.

I laughed.

After having to call up 89 park managers to convince them that they really do want to participate in this massive survey project of their visitors (despite the fact that they are understaffed and don't exactly trust the management of their own division, let alone an outsider like me)...

After starting up studies in China, Australia, and Canada on top of the projects I was already managing in 6 other countries and having to stay on top of the call center supervisors in all these countries to make sure they manage their sample well and get the correct number of completed interviews with participants who are getting nothing but the satisfaction of helping put my biggest client out of business by expressing their consistently dismal opinions...

The idea of contacting a bunch of organizations and offering them the opportunity for their members to completely voluntarily participate in a research project with $10 per person in compensation just doesn't seem like that big a deal to me. It's not a cake walk, but it's not that bad.

Really, the bad part is getting your university's internal review board to approve your study and not, e.g., freak out that you used an acronym in the name of your study as it will appear on the experiment management software that the student participants will use to sign up for studies. (This happened to one of my classmates, who had his approval pushed back by weeks to deal with the "problem.")

Losing It and Getting It Back

On Thursday evening, I did kind of lose it. After working hard for two long days, my analysis of the second experiment for my major area paper yielded a non-significant result that really needed to be significant for my unusual proposed mechanism underlying my cool, counter-intuitive finding (itself still significant, thank relevant gods) to be strongly supported. I did not literally rend any garments, but I wasn't happy about it. When Robert got here, and after he stashed the veggies he brought from the farmers market in the kitchen, I told him about it (with some gnashing of teeth). Then I realized that I had been so busy and full of rageful disappointment that I hadn't had a snack and was quite hungry.

Robert said, Go in the kitchen and open the white paper sack. (Well, he said it in a way that did not sound like a command from an Infocom game.) And lo, it was revealed: an oatmeal raisin coconut cookie from the farmers market. And next to this sack, there was the elixir of life in the form of a bottle of Cragganmore, the perfect accompaniment to a sweet treat.

So we relished our snack, and refilled our glasses, and all was right in the world.

Robert thinks this looks like a face; it is the face of yum

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Grandmother's Cleaning Liquid Recipe

For reader(s) who have been asking for this magical cleaning fluid recipe:

Mix 16 oz alcohol and 1/4 c ammonia in a gallon sized container (e.g., milk jug).
Fill up rest of the container with water.
Add 3-4 tablespoons liquid dish soap.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Where Have I Been?

It's been a week since my last post because I have been on vacation in the south of France.

Well, OK, no. But it looks pretty there, doesn't it?

Rather, I've spent the week doing work for school and continuing to read The Historian (the vampire historical thriller). The protagonist in the book is a history grad student who is travelling around Europe (but not, sadly, the south of France) looking for clues as to where his beloved advisor has been taken (presumably, kidnapped by Vlad Dracula or his minions). I am happy to report that my own advisor is, as of a couple hours ago, alive and well in North Carolina.

Even though he's chasing vampires, the time he demonstrated the most (sustained) fear was on the several days leading up to and the day of his presentation at an eastern European history conference for which he was the "star" speaker, giving a talk on something completely outside his own area of expertise (and which his traveling companion had to write for him). I hear you, man. Fortunately, at the conference I am attending this January, which is the largest and top conference in my field, I am only having to do a poster presentation (i.e., basically, I have a science fair poster that I talk to people about when they stop at my station) so I do not have to share his anxiety. I just found out this week that my submission was accepted, which puts me in the company of approximately 1,000 other people.

Yesterday, we finished collecting additional data for the second experiment in my major area paper, for real this time, damn it. Even though it's only 26 extra participants, it means re-running the entire analysis over again, and because I had generated the previous results in a very piecemeal fashion, I did not have code already written. However, I was able to write the code pretty straightforwardly yesterday and run it this morning. I'm now in the process of updating my paper and hoping that nothing terrible happened. So far, one contrast went from p < .08 to p < .05 and another went from p < .05 to p < .08. One main effect became marginally significant. But overall, I think I'm getting a reasonable (and reasonably similar) pattern of results. I am ready for this sucker to be done.

Tam has characterized my neuroscience class as sounding like a combination of biology and electrical engineering, which seems just about right to me. The textbook clearly assumes that the reader is familiar with first year chemistry and second semester physics, which is probably true of the pre-med students and other physical sciency people who use the book. For example, I was amused by the paragraph describing how action potentials in a neuron work by explaining how the process differs from the function of a battery; I'm sure this would be more useful to people who already know how a battery works than those like me who have to figure out the battery aspect before I can get to the neuron aspect.

The funniest academic journal article I read this week involves a pair of self-regulation studies. Studies examining the self-control strength model have found that if a person performs a task drawing on self-regulatory resources (e.g., resisting the temptation to eat cookies, making themselves continue a boring task, suppressing the thought of a white bear, regulating their emotions), they will demonstrate less self-control on a different subsequent task if it also involves self-control. However (among other factors), the consumption of glucose has been shown to reduce or eliminate the performance deficit on the second task. This result has now been found in ... wait for it ... dogs. (Self-control has been studied in monkeys, of course, but not using this paradigm, to my knowledge.) These results are interesting because they suggest that there need not be a "self" (in the human sense) in order for there to be self-control. I think this adds support to the neuro-cognitive models of self-control that focus on the centrality of brain functions like executive functioning in self-regulation rather than conceptions that focus on the "sense of self." Alternatively, dogs may have a more highly developed sense of self than we think.

[Miller et al. (2010). Self-control without a "self"? Common self-control processes in humans and dogs. Psychological Science, 21, 534-538.]

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Evening

The Handbook of Implicit Social Cognition? No

The Historian (a historical thriller novel with vampires)? Yes

Neuroscience? No

"The Big Bang Theory" (a TV show featuring 4 science nerds and a blond woman from Nebraska who works at the Cheesecake Factory)? Yes


Can't Stop the Lop Hop

Tam sent this silly, hopping bunny video. The way he chews the bag then throws it aside with his mouth is very evocative of Leo and Katy.

Our buns had trouble with our cement floors, too; thankfully, most of their area was covered with a giant rug.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

More Vogelpark Photos

Robert sent a link to this gallery of photos from the bird park we visited several weeks ago. Critically, it contains images of the "robotic" toucan that I mentioned earlier as seeming to attack my camera when I attempted to photograph him. Luckily, this photographer got several shots, including this image of the toucan sticking his beak out of the cage. This is a lot more menacing-seeming when it's coming at you at speed, but perhaps you can get a sense of the bird's fake, plasticy appearance from this picture.

All your camera are belong to us

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Party Like It's 1993

The party last Friday was BYOB, so I put together this 6-pack to represent the kinds of beer I drank when I was an undergrad. (No, I did not drink nor plan to drink 6 beers at the party; I figured other people would help, and they did.)

I had forgotten how good the raspberry lambic is. Though it's described as "delicate," I thought it was quite rich.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Uh Oh, Neuro

Today's class was a bit more like that dream in which you show up for your Advanced Polish Poetry class and realize that you don't understand a word of Polish than I would have preferred.

Is Math a Young Person's Game?

In a review of Proof, Lee quotes an old mathematician as saying that creativity ends at 23 (presumably taking with it the capacity to do brilliant mathematical work) and wonders whether this means he is over-the-hill.

I've heard this a lot, also - the idea that math is a young man's (ahem!) game, that if you haven't made your contribution by age 30 you never will, etc. What's not clear to me about this common assertion is whether the actual imagined culprit is chronological age per se or years spent working in the discipline. Since it seems likely that the majority of mathematicians complete grad school while they are still young, in general, being young in years also means being early in one's career, and being old in years means being farther along in one's career. (I guess a mathy person might call this a multicollinearity problem.)

I'm not even remotely convinced that either version of this belief is true, but if it's less an issue of having an old vs. young brain (e.g., information processing speed, working memory capacity) and more about being new to the field, energized, and in life circumstances that promote doing a lot of math (e.g., being "married" to math rather than having an actual spouse, kids, and so on) vs. established, complacent, tenured, and caught up with other distractors, then "older" math grad students like Lee and Tam are not over-the-hill, mathematically.

I have to admit, as a social psychologist (in training), I enjoy / am infuriated by the stereotypes associated with mathematicians, both from those outside of and within the discipline.

Anyway, ultimately, this is an empirical question, and one that mathematicians (even mathematicians in plays) are sadly not well-placed to answer.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Takin Care of Business: Day 1

Today was my first day back on school. Although classes don't begin until Wed., I had all kinds of errands to run and the first TA meeting for the stats class I TA for, so I spent my first full day back on campus.

This year, I am the only TA who has taught the course before; the other TAs include 3 first year students and a second year student who had a different assignment last year. But the professor (who is also my advisor) is the same, and it looks like the labs/homeworks are mostly the same, as last semester, which is great on both counts; I think the TAship is likely to be less work than it was last year, and I'll probably do a better job with the material.

I had several especially nice things happen today:

1) My advisor has read the first 10 pages or so of my major area paper (MAP) and came to my office to give me a thumbs up. He's going to make suggestions for deletion of some material that I can keep in reserve to add back when I write my thesis.

2) I went to the library for some more books, some to do research for my current project and others to read up on the state of research as I start working on my statement(s) of purpose for PhD applications, and I found a book that just came out earlier this year and that I drooled over when I saw it listed in a catalog I get due to belonging to a psychology association. Now it's mine...or at least, for now it's mine.

Today, I stayed at school after my meeting and read the five chapters of another book that interested me and that had implications for both my current project and the SOPs. Even though I was at school for a good while, the time went really quickly. I'm getting good at reading material in my field, and it feels a lot less taxing than it used to. (Whether this represents skill building or an increase in self-regulatory ability I will leave to the musings of the reader.)

3) I am getting a new printer set up in my office. I haven't had one in my office before, so this will be great.

4) Best of all, they distributed the department grad handbook for the year and I discovered what course I am taking next semester. In last year's book, it listed a 3 hour "elective" and 6 hours of thesis research. In this year's book, it lists 6 hours of thesis research, full stop. So the spring semester is All Thesis, All the Time. I like it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Braaaaains, Continued

My biological psychology prof just emailed us the syllabus for this semester. If I am reading this correctly, we will be dissecting a sheep brain. God, I can hardly wait.

I am 100% serious.

2 Days, 2 Shirts

After sending in my draft major area paper, I decided that if I wanted to wear my My Masters Psychology t-shirt I got on the first day last year while I was still in the program, I should work on it now. So I did a dead-easy resizing of the shirt. (Which looks weird with the brown skirt I'm wearing, but whatever.) Because I may be in my last summer in the south for a while, I did attach sleeves rather than leave it in my more typical, lazy sleeveless style.

Yesterday, I looked at my supplies and decided to do something with a free, cheap-ass (as in, that sort of sheer knit) white t-shirt my mom got from the library. I put it in a heap with two long red sleeves left over from one of the source shirts for the Mondrian shirt, a too-short dark green long-sleeved shirt, and two pairs of black knit short sports shorts I never wear these days (one of which was a bit more faded than the other).

I decided I wanted to make a somewhat athletic-looking shirt. The association in my mind is with soccer, though I don't know that my image (let alone final product) matches any actual soccer shirts. I thought that style would make a nice contrast with the writing on the free shirt.

So I cut out and sewed together a huge number of pieces until I had two pieces of fabric from which I could cut out the front and back. It took me a god-awful long time to get to this point, and the fabric was heavy from all the stitching. I sewed it up, added sleeves, and voila: We have the Team Brains T.

I was too impatient to wait for Robert to take a photo, so the writing is reversed, Through the Looking-Glass style.

Right way round, it says:

I didn't have enough red for the front and back, so I used white on the back.

I think it came out pretty similar to how I'd envisioned it. Consistent with the sports vibe, I gave it a roomier fit than I normally do.

I almost ran out of black thread last night; I went to Hancock Fabrics this afternoon to buy some more so I could do the bottom double hem. While I was there, I found thread to match a light purple shirt I got at the Outer Banks and some supplies for doing applique. I've been feeling a strong need this week for t-shirts featuring appliqued owls, other birds, rabbits, and Pac-man (not on the same shirt).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Major Area Paper Word Cloud

I emailed my draft major area paper today (several days early, woo!). Here is the word cloud to give you an idea of what it's about. (And no, I'm not on a regulatory high.)


You absolutely must avoid this product, the Kashi "cranberry" and walnut snack bar. Despite the name and the picture implying that it will, you know, feature cranberries significantly, it does not. It is a granola bar with a grey-ish tan goop on the top, made out of dates but with other flavors added to make it nastier than dates. I wish I had looked at this ingredients list earlier:

It does not contain any actual cranberries. There is cranberry juice concentrate, listed after such prominent ingredients as cornstarch and soy grits. Also, to make it extra Sally-friendly, it contains lime juice.

My parents and I could not, among the three of us, finish one bar. One bite, and that's all we could tolerate - even my dad, who is not exactly well-known for being picky.

I called Kashi today and they are sending me a coupon for a free replacement product. I think I'm going to stick with my favorites this time - the dark mocha almond bars. They are delightfully not-sweet (just short of bitter, actually).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Closer to an Actual Draft

I am getting very, very close to having my first draft of my major area paper completed. (It's amazing that when you write up your outline with complete, detailed sentences and transition words and phrases, turning the outline into a draft consists primarily of removing bullet points and formatting paragraphs with double spacing.) My major concern at this point is that the 60 page limit is looking extremely short to me, especially given the length of my bibliography. I am already setting aside various chunks of the outline (for later use in the more extensive lit review in my thesis), but more stuff will have to go. I recognize that having too much to say is a great problem to have in my position. (The handbook does not indicate a page limit for the thesis, an oversight that my committee may regret this spring.)

Of course, when I say "first draft," I shouldn't imply that everything is brand spanking new. I am on version 7 of the methods and results for Experiment 1 and version 3 of Experiment 2 (not that my advisor has already been subjected to all the interim drafts).

Also, I just want to say how much I am looking forward to sleeping in a real bed tonight.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Water Water Everywhere...And Birds

The good news about the pelagic trip we took off Hatteras and into the gulf stream was that we added 9 life birds that we just weren't going to see anywhere else but well out into the Atlantic Ocean. We added a 10th life bird, the great black-backed gull, when crossing a bridge in Manteo. In conjunction with our finally catching up on the blue grouse species split, which added yet another life bird, I brought my ABA-area life list up to 470.

The bad news about the pelagic trip...well, it was not a disaster of either Gilligan's Island or Rime of the Ancient Mariner standards, certainly. But 11 hours on a boat, in choppy water with large, drenching quantities of salt spray, is dull and rather nauseating (especially if, like me, you forgot when you woke up at dark o'clock to take your birth control pill so your hormones started getting excited about the possibilities and the pain from the cramping made you sick). Over half the passengers in the boat ended up with their heads over the side at one time or another, and several were camped out there for the majority of the trip (or, like a nice guy from the Netherlands, had to lie down in order not to get sick). Robert and I were wearing the anti-seasickness patches, and it definitely worked for him. I think it mostly worked for me as well, though I had a period of dizziness that could have been a side effect of the patch.

My general state was clearly less miserable than our last (second) trip, out of Monterrey, CA, where I was cold and fantasizing about hot Texas parking lots for most of the time. And it was much less pleasant than our first trip, out of Westport, WA, where I loved standing at the prow of the boat for the several hours of darkness in the morning and I managed to sleep away most of the boring return-trip hours in the afternoon dry, happy, and somehow cat-like, sitting comfortably in the sun.

My experience this time was a lot more variable. When I wasn't feeling sick, and there were new birds (or frolicking bottlenose dolphins, who are awesome) to watch, it was fun. I even enjoyed the thorough splashings I got the first 20-something times, and I admit that the splashes kept provoking uncontrollably laughing/giggling in me at first, too. I was not able to keep track of the number of splashings, but it was a lot. (At one point, I got so thoroughly soaked by a splash that didn't hit anyone else that one of the other passengers commented, "That looked targeted." Earlier, I'd had to warn off one of the guides who was trying to eat a sandwich when he sat down next to me and noticed how wet I was. The Atlantic is not pacific.)

I kept getting confused about the small, grey-ish or blue-ish birds with short wings that would suddenly appear and then disappear until I realized that they were the flying fish that Robert kept pointing out but that I missed the first several times he mentioned them. And frankly, they kept confusing me, at least temporarily, after I had that realization. I mean, yes, they are called flying fish, but you really don't expect a fish to have wings and fly. (Their typical flight is 160 feet, according to Wikipedia.)

Is this thing for real?
But watching the ocean, and getting splashed, gets really tedious before it gets mind-numblingly boring. The bench we were sitting on was hard and not deep enough, so my ass got alternatively sore and numb. (My leg and hip were sore from the contorted way I sat on the bench for several days afterwards.) Unlike Robert, I was never able to fall asleep, which was frustrating because I was tired from the early start. (And the sore leg and hip interfered with my sleep for a couple of nights afterwards.)

One unfortunate side effect of splashing from seawater - it gets salt all over you. An even more unfortunate side effect - it washes away your sunscreen. So yes, I got a weird sunburn that was worst on my forehead (because my hat kept trying to blow off and I eventually used it as a barrier to keep my binocs from getting soaked) and the 6 inches from my knee up my leg, where it was exposed to the sun during all that uncomfortable sitting on the way back to land.

So, does it sound like I had a bad time? I did...and I didn't. (Several times, I told Robert that I never wanted to take a pelagic trip again, but we'll see if that sticks. I think I need to give it a few years, though, before I revisit the decision.)

Now let's get to the Good Stuff, the new ocean-dwelling (ocean-flying? ocean-skimming?) birds I saw!

Cory's shearwater
Greater shearwater
Audubon's shearwater
Sooty tern
Wilson's storm-petrel
Black-capped petrel
Band-rumped storm-petrel
Bridled tern
Manx shearwater

My favorite of this group was definitely the Wilson's. The way they glide/patter along the top of the roiling waves is really cool to see. (Admittedly, it becomes somewhat less cool after several hours, but enjoying the excellent views of this copious species did help keep me saner during the Severe Boredom periods.)

And I want to go on public record saying that I regret the fact that my bag of Sun Chips was blown away into the ocean. First BP, now me. This pollution is a damn shame.

Oh, another thing: I added a bunch of birds to my NC list on trip besides the pelagics and the gull I already mentioned.

Common moorhen
Purple martin (about 100,000 of them roost under a bridge; I got the t-shirt)
Laughing gull
White ibis
White-faced ibis
Brown pelican
Black tern
Piping plover (a "threatened" species that is causing some beach closures to protect their breeding grounds that has some people on the island pissed off - a human dimensions of wildlife sort of thing)
Royal tern
Black skimmer
Boat-tailed grackle

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Too Late

One problem with the "put something on your list for 30 days before you buy it" idea is that things aren't always still available 30 days later. While the iPhone, the Kindle, the Wii, and the Ferrari aren't going anywhere, clothing seems to disappear almost immediately.

I went to Target on Sunday evening to buy an aquamarine dress that I had seen there two weeks earlier, when Robert and I were picking up a few items of beach wear for our vacation, and it was not available in my size in any color. Just now I got the brilliant idea to look online, but they don't have it in my size anymore.

For $20, I should have just bought it when I first saw it, but, ironically, I was concerned at the time that I might be falling into shopping momentum so I didn't. (To be fair, I was not, however, adhering to the 30 day rule. I planned to go back and look at it again after my trip, and it just took me a while to get to the store.)

In other news, I challenged myself today to get rid of (i.e. set aside to donate) sort of arbitrary (but low) numbers of items from various categories from my wardrobe. I met all my targets and actually over-achieved on t-shirts - I got rid of about 5 instead of 3. I struggled a bit looking at my shoes until I remembered that the gorgeous red mary janes that I used to wear comfortably to work tore the backs of my heels into bloody messes when I wore them a couple months ago to school and walked around in them all day without socks. Since they look stupid in socks, this is not workable. I also put aside a green bomber jacket I have owned since I was 15. Yikes.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ballad Verse

Poems in ballad verse are nice because they can be sung to the tune of the Gilligan's Island theme song (or "O Little Town of Bethlehem" for that matter).

The poems of Emily Dickinson, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," children's verses like "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and a gazillion more conform to this pattern.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Night-time Self-regulation

Lately I've noticed a sort of paradox in my self-regulation pattern. After about 9:00 p.m., I have great self-regulation regarding my research (working on my major area paper) and sucky self-regulation regarding snacking. I wondered whether putting so much effort into my research was leaving me depleted of regulatory resources such that I was unable to control my food intake as well as I would like, but I think there may be a simpler yet stranger answer.

I propose that (for whatever reason) after 9:00 p.m., I enter a state of behavioral inertia such that I almost effortlessly continue doing whatever I have started doing but have a great deal of difficulty stopping the activity. So once I start working, I keep working, and once I start snacking, I keep snacking. This view is consistent with the feeling I have several times per week that I'm only a little bit hungry but continue eating past the point where my hunger is satiated even though I do not get any great enjoyment from doing so. It would be interesting if it truly were the case that I am experiencing a sort of selective self-regulatory impairment (that affects stopping behavior but not initiating behavior, fixing attention, controlling thoughts, managing emotions, or any of the other myriad things that are theorized to draw on a common regulatory resource).

Because one well-established method of counteracting regulatory depletion is to establish implementation intentions, and specific dieting rules seem to work well for me in taking things outside the realm of "willpower" and into the realm of habit, I am establishing a new Gremlins-esque rule for not eating after 9:00 p.m. We'll see whether public commitment has its expected salutary effect on my living up to this plan.

Put down those honey nut cheerios, Mogwai

Have you noticed any time-of-day patterns in your self-regulatory ability?