Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Study Break

Thanks, Tam, I needed this. There's even a zipper-bun.

Correction: Make that two zipper-buns.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


It's not a great sign when you check a blog to see if there is any new content then realize, Wait, this is my own blog.

Well, OK, I've not been blogging in my sleep, so...that's good.

I spent too many hours today reading VM-PFC vs DL-PFC, neuroimaging studies of the AX-CPT, the PRP paradigm, the WCST, the ERP brain wave known as the ERN or Ne, ACC-PFC interactions, and other notable acronyms.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Happy Result, p < .05

My advisor and I are pumped today because after our final round of data collection for our second study, we have the desired statistically significant three-way interaction and statistically significant mediation to follow-up the findings from the first study. (This does not count the first, first study with the failed manipulation that I can find no evidence of having blogged about before.)

I will be presenting results to the social psychology group in two weeks, then to the entirety of the department faculty and grad student body about two weeks after that, and it's nice to (1) have a coherent set of experiments completed and the data analyzed and (2) have "good" results with a story to tell rather than "I tried this, then I tried this, and nothing seemed to really work."

Even better is that I am really interested in the research, and that there are a bazillion different things that I can do to continue in this line (including revisiting the failed early study with the manipulation that is now working), so it's easy to see how these two experiments serve as a stepping stone for the thesis. I very much like how this research balances the social and the cognitive (and the meta-cognitive) aspects of social cognition.

I really needed this victory to energize me toward the next 7 weeks of 70 hour work weeks.

Science Fair

A few people in my class participated in the university-wide graduate research day this week, in which students did poster presentations of their projects. One person, mentioning how weird it was to be surrounded by people doing medical research, referred to the prototypical study as "The Effects of Cigarette Smoking on Rabbits." This prompted someone else to remark on the sadness of poor little rabbits, puff-puffing away.

I do not need to see the results of any empirical research to state with confidence that mixing bunnies and cigarettes is not going to lead to anything good.

A lit cigarette in the mouth of a rabbit will be flung dramatically away within moments (probably to a place where a fire can start, thus burning down the house: rabbits, humans, and all).

UPDATE: Walking to my car after writing this blog post, it struck me how bizarrely appropriate it was for someone to talk about cigarette smoking research in Winston-Salem, NC.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I am now entering the 7 week period in which I have a major deadline (exam, paper, presentation) every week, except for the weeks when it's two or three deadlines. And yet I am expected to continue with all the things that have been keeping me busy on a weekly basis up til now. Sigh.

It's kind of a bad sign when my thoughts about Robert coming to W-S this weekend are:
(1) Oh god, I have no time to have a life,
but then:
(2) Oh good, I can get him to go grocery shopping for me while I work on this paper / study for this exam / beat my head against this wall (wait, scratch that last one).

And there's this sucky synchronicity between the intensity of my own work schedule and that of the students in my research methods class, most of whom (but not all!) insist on writing papers and taking exams that need to be graded. (But thankfully, unlike my dad's unfortunate experience one year, not big book-report mobiles that have to be transferred by the hundreds from classroom to home for grading.) As many a grad student has observed (or, worse, experienced but not observed), teaching can have a high level of immediate gratification, so it gets easy to mis-allocate time to teaching-related work that should be used for research and (possibly) classwork. I am trying to resist the urge to be Totally Awesome instead of just Good.

Fortunately, I am starting to get into the big paper I'm working on now for one of my seminars, but I wish I had about four days to dedicate to doing no other work but this project. Oh wait, I had that; it was called Spring Break and I used it up feeling wimpy and reading paperback novels I recently purchased from a good, cheap used bookstore nearby and thinking vague thoughts about my first year research project. (How sweet it is to live somewhere that has not been utterly taken over by that spawn of satan called Half Price Books. Or at least not yet.)

Quote of the Day: Do Not Try This at Home Category
"It would make her twitch like a bunny on crystal meth." - House, M.D.

I'm loving that program, by the way (I'm part way through season 1). 50 British Actor Hugh Laurie brings the awesome. And for me, it's about 85% entertainment, 15% desensitization therapy. (No, he's not sticking that needle in the kid's eye.... oh god that's a lot of blood... don't tell me that's an image of an actual beating heart...ahhhhhhhh!)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fruit and Veg

On an episode of Wire in the Blood, the homicide detective's son has drawn a picture of Adam and Eve, which he offers to Tony the forensic psychologist because his detective mom "doesn't believe." The detective tells her son, "Tony doesn't believe either." Tony looks at the picture, hems and haws a bit, and decides that if he sticks it up on his refrigerator, it'll be a "good reminder to eat more fruit."

This weekend, I bought a lot of produce since I've decided to try to improve the healthiness of my eating through a goal that focuses on doing something healthy rather than avoiding something unhealthy. I'm sort of even looking forward to the challenge of eating all the fresh fruit and veg before it goes bad - I have fresh bananas, strawberries, baby carrots, zucchini, spinach, salad greens, and broccoli slaw (as well as many bags of frozen sweet peas and peaches).

In the spirit of unusual produce advertising, I offer this reminder that eating veggies makes you gorgeous:


Thursday, March 18, 2010

That's Prophetic

A couple weeks ago, during a period in which I'd been listening to a lot of Alex Chilton, I dreamed that he died (of a drug overdose). I woke up with this odd confusion about whether he was alive and got curious about what he was up to these days. Turns out, he had reformed Big Star and was touring.

Last night, Alex Chilton actually did die (of a heart attack).

While this is clearly coincidental (like how a couple years ago I was dreaming nightly for a couple of weeks that I had been out in a canoe and discovered a previously-believed-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker and I woke up one morning to find that someone had just done it), and I obviously had no role in either foreseeing or causing this to happen, it does feel creepy nonetheless.

It's a sad thing. I'm tuning into the KROB Alex Chilton station now.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Obvious

My developmental exam grade was 92 (about 70th percentile, assuming a normal distribution, which I probably should not do, but I was so chuffed to have the prof report the mean and standard deviation that I could not resist). I did a pretty good job on everything but one section, where I lost major points for failing to answer the question that was asked for each of three topics. But the answer was so obvious, it somehow didn't occur to me that I needed to state it explicitly even though the question was clear on that point in retrospect. Oops.

In personality class yesterday we were discussing cognitive units (ways people think), and in reference to an article we read on time perspective, the prof asked us, While reading the paper, who wondered what time perspective they have? I had my head down over some notes I was writing and he said, Sally, what about you - you didn't wonder about that? I looked up and everyone but me and one other person was raising their hand. Oh, I said, I didn't wonder; it was obvious to me.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Knowledge Sharing

LivingDeb suggests: "Take something you're good at or even still officially learning, and offer classes in it to your friends."

For some people, this would generate ideas that many people would be really interested in. For example, among their many diverse talents, my sister could cover yoga and dancing and my brother-in-law has mad baking skillz to share.

For others of us, this advice is more difficult to apply, not because we lack expertise, but because this knowledge is boring/useless or hard to teach explicitly (or at all) or both.

What class could you offer that people might find appealing? What class would yield the most yawns? What talent do you have that would be hardest to teach others?

Mine might be:

Potentially appealing - Become a Boffo Birder Bit By Bit

Boring - Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology ... oh wait, I already teach that. I need an idea for a new class, and I am deciding to avoid psychology-related topics that I will quite possibly actually be teaching eager or resigned young undergraduates in the future. This makes things somewhat more challenging since most of us probably have highly specialized knowledge that relates to our career/profession that outsiders would find mind-numbing. I'm going to go back to hard-won, unexciting stuff from my previous life.

Boring - Designing, Executing, and Analyzing a Direct Mail Campaign Based on Crappy, Inconsistent Data Sets

Hard to Teach - Unconsciously Monitoring the Passage of Time

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wheels 'n Tests

It was so much fun going to the shop a couple weeks ago that my car went back again this week. It had died again in my parking lot, and after being jump-started, it died again after about 3 minutes. Luckily, I was driving around the complex and hadn't gone out to the street because it was sort of hard to control the car after the "power" aspect of power steering and power brakes was no longer operating. $700 and a few days later, my car has a new alternator (and the windshield wiper assembly installed and working). I drove around for about 15 minutes after picking up the car (even though the dealership is 2.7 miles away) just to see if it would keep going. I was actually pretty scared when I left the dealership and it didn't go away at all while I was driving. I guess it's going to take some time before I trust the car to both start and keep going although on a rational basis I do think that the car's problems are fixed.

Last week, I took my two remaining midterm exams, which were strikingly different in format.

The first one was an essay exam for which we had been given about 5 sample essay questions and told that if we were prepared to write a concise but meaty paragraph for every empirical article we read and knew how to answer the sample essay questions (which covered both topics and issues in the field), we would be ready to take the exam. It was a ton of work preparing for the exam, but I was able to (barely) finish in the 2 hours, 15 minutes we were given with good to excellent answers for each section. There was no time for much thinking during the exam, so the pre-exam prep was critical. I also believe that the prep for this exam, which required integration of a lot of material and organizing a lot of disparate evidence, really made me understand the information in much greater depth.

The second one was a dreaded multiple choice and short answer exam. The week before the test, he told us it was multiple choice but someone pointed out that his syllabus stated short answer, so he agreed to split it between the two formats. As I've discussed before, I think MC exams can be harder than essay exams because you have to answer specific questions with potentially ambiguous or confusing or whatever wording (and you may be required to know specific facts) rather than build your own case that you know important things about the topic. I struggled with about 4 of the MC questions, but was in good company - after the exam, several of us talked about these same questions and how we weren't sure what the questions and/or answer choices meant.

One interesting thing was that our cohort's overachiever and I seemed to ultimately interpret these confusing questions/answers to mean the same thing and answered them the same way. So it's possible that the ambiguous-seeming MC questions were low in face validity but were effective in the psychometric sense in that people who know the material well end up answering them in the same way and people who know the material less well answer in a different way. But students are very accustomed to having exams for a class have high content and face validity - to look like they are covering the material of the course well and to appear to be measuring knowledge of the material in a straightforward fashion.

It would be amusing if the exam accidentally turned out to be extremely valid but in the empirical rather than rational sense because empirical and rational methods of test construction were part of the material that we read about (but were not tested on). Rational test construction is what professors typically do - ask questions that are "directly, obviously, and rationally related to what the test developer wishes to measure" (Funder, 2007). Empirical test construction involves finding questions whose answers differentiate groups of people. A classic example of this kind of test is the MMPI, used to separate people with a higher likelihood of psychopathology from the rest. For example, the question "I sometimes tease animals" tends to be answered false by people with depression.

But bottom line: I'm happy to have my car back in play and those exams behind me. Now I need to seriously buckle down on my research.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


RB sent the link to these gorgeous rabbit photos.

I'm particularly taken by the one of the white rabbit with the tan spots holding up the stick in her [look at the dewlap on that one - she's a girl!] mouth, and the yawning lop is a classic of the form, but there are a lot of great photos here. It's too bad the photographer didn't have the opportunity to work with Katy, the most lovely bunny ever, but she definitely made do.

And that minestrone soup looks delicious.