Thursday, April 29, 2010

Good Advice

My first year of grad school is over a week from tomorrow. Of course, I am staying here and doing work (i.e. my research and other tasks to be announced next week by our director of graduate studies) over the summer, but I'll not have any classes. I am happy about this if for no other reason than I am feeling sick and tired (actually, that has been literally true for the last week but I mean it here figuratively) of the constant evaluation.

It's not just the exams and the papers and the presentations that are all graded, but the weekly evaluation of contributions to the discussions in my seminars that also counts toward my grade. I'm not saying that this isn't all quite appropriate given that my classmates and I are students, and that's how school works, but it's really starting to interfere with my interest in the material (and my internal motivation in general), so I need a break from it.

This afternoon, I am presenting results from my first year project (along with the rest of my cohort, though some are doing posters instead). I've been sort of dreading it on general principles - like, ugh, another thing to prepare for and then show up to perform in front of a group and be evaluated on. I am not concerned that I will actually do a poor job (because I do know my research and have practiced the presentation a bit) but it feels very much like just one more opportunity to either do well or to screw up, only this time with the potential of public humiliation in front of my entire department (faculty and students). And I just learned that we do get a grade (pass/fail) from our advisor and that we will also get a compilation of feedback from the members of the faculty who watch our presentation. So this whole "I'm going to be evaluated!" thing is not just my imagination.

But a couple days ago, when I was talking to my advisor about the presentation, he said that he liked my presentation style when I did an earlier version of this to our research group a few weeks ago - that I was very natural and seemed like myself, as opposed to the honors undergrads we recently watched who came across as though they were actors who had memorized scripts. (I was pretty poorly prepared for that previous presentation, but I guess having a lot of practice winging it in front of groups helped carry me through.) He said that the best advice he got when he started teaching was, "You'll be a better you than you will anybody else." (Apparently many people starting out want to emulate their own advisor or favorite professor and it doesn't work very well. He wasn't talking about borrowing good ideas from other people, but trying to mold your style to fit somebody else's.)

But perhaps most importantly, he said to me as I was leaving, "Have fun with it."

It was weird how thinking about that statement really changed my perspective on the whole thing. It was like, oh yeah, I like my research project. My findings are novel, counter-intuitive, and really interesting. I am working at the edge of what is known. I had to come up with a new term to describe a concept that is central to the work because it's not been studied before in this way. It's really cool stuff. And I thought, how would I feel about giving a presentation to a room full of people who aren't there to evaluate me but who are really curious about the content of my presentation? And I realized that I did that a gazillion times at my last job and it didn't make me nervous or grumpy - I enjoyed it most of the time. I also had a lot of fun presenting my research at the conference last summer. So why can't this presentation feel more like that - an opportunity to talk to people about my work - instead of like taking an exam? Even though there are constant reminders in grad school of the extent to which you as a student differ from the professors in terms of knowledge and expertise, I don't have to think of my presentation that way. I am the expert on my own work, and the only other person in the room who knows as much as I do (my advisor), I already know thinks it's awesome.

I am confident that I will be nervous for the first minute or so, but I also know from experience that that feeling subsides quickly. So instead, I'm going to look forward to the second through twelfth minute of my presentation. As for the Q/A period, of course somebody is going to ask some question I don't really know the answer to, but there's no way this can top other awkward questions I've been asked after presentations. The one that is most seared - seared - in my memory was my undergrad project for research methods where the professor did not ask any of my classmates questions about their presentations but challenged me with "So, is Wittgenstein wrong?" Anything will be easier than that one.

This being said, I'm also very much looking forward to the presentation being over. I still have three final exams to get through in the next week and I need to start focusing on them more than I have been with this presentation looming over me.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Strange Product

Robert brought this home from the store.

For when you want to experience the taste

Sally: I'm surprised they even sell such a product. What is it for? Who would want it?

Robert: It's what your passive-aggressive Mormon mother buys you when you're coming home to visit.

Of course this raises the question of why we have bought it, but we have our reasons spelled Hypocritical Mousse, a fast-prep summer dessert that includes several food-like substances.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Couple Words

The other day, I was sitting in my comfy chair contemplating the fact that Tam and Ed are going to grad school together (awww, sweet) when I realized:

Tam + Ed = Tamed

I have a long history of liking people with names that are words and initials that are words (no doubt influenced by the fact that I have both), but I hadn't thought of couples whose names put together are words, and it seemed really nifty. I considered what other people Ed could date and retain this couple-word thing and came up with some options.

Then a weird thing happened: I woke up to find myself in bed in the middle of the night. What? I thought. I was dreaming about that? Well, it beats last night's dream about oversleeping and missing (my non-existent) morning classes, then taking a shower on my mother's sofa (because I had a high fever and could not stand up) and trying to wash my hair with powdered dish washer detergent.

These are the Ed dating options my slumbering self came up with.

Peter Gunn (using either name)

Salli (hah!)

Of these options, I have to say that I like Tam + Ed best, though I have a serious soft spot for Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn" theme song.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Grad School Application Thoughts

April 15, the magical day that everyone else thinks of as Tax Day and grad school applicants think of as My Last Chance to Get off the Wait List, has come and gone. Tam and I have been chatting a bit about her grad school application process and the outcome. She's going to a PhD program fully funded with a fellowship - it's a good thing - but the school is not MIT. (Sorry, Tam, I have outed you as having not been accepted to a school that you did not apply to.)

On some of the online grad applicant boards, the level of cheerleading is basically ridiculous at times. A person writes, "I have a 2.1 GPA from Southwest Podunk State College's online program so I never met a professor in person, an 850 GRE, no writing sample or research experience, and a major in basket weaving. What are my chances to get into a top tier English PhD program? Oh, and by the way, my cousin is typing this for me because I don't speak English." About a dozen people respond with a variant on "Hey, you may as well go for it! It's a crap shoot who gets in anyway! I know somebody in a situation kind of like yours who is in her second year at Harvard!"

People often say that getting into grad school is a crap shoot, and it is, but not in the way these Pollyannas think that it is. The crap shoot is this: Even if you are an amazing, highly qualified, brilliant student and can prove it with credentials, any given program is probably going to reject you. There are just too many great applicants and too few positions for them.

In some fields, you may be Mr. Brilliant but if it just so happens that Ms. Especially Brilliant applies to work with the same professor/in the same lab in a program, too bad for you. In others, you may be Ms. Awesome but not have as high a research interest match as Mr. OK but Specialized so you get turned down. In others, you may have everything going for you but you got a 760 on the GRE quantitative so your application isn't going to be looked at by some schools. This year funding at the University of California - Whatever just sucks in general so hard that it doesn't matter how great you are. This year Professor Dream Match isn't taking students so your app goes nowhere.

Also, you may just not be the Mr. Brilliant you think you are. Sure, you may be Mr. Brilliant at your undergrad institution, but there are hundreds (thousands?) of colleges. Can you really know where you stand against your competitors, especially those at top tier programs? Do your professors even know? Unless they're a recent PhD themselves, perhaps not. Everybody has upped their game since your advisor got his PhD in 1983.

And let's face it: all of us saying it's a crap shoot only can claim that it's a crap shoot from our perspective. Unless we are members of an admission committee (and even then, our perspective is limited), we don't really know what they're looking for.

People often confuse having the minimum requirements for a program - like having a GPA and GRE score in the range of applicants who are accepted - for having a serious shot at the program. Of course, what's crazy are the ones who do not meet the minimum requirements, like not having the prerequisite coursework/degree, not speaking the necessary languages, etc., but who still think they can talk their way into a highly ranked PhD program on the basis of their general smartness. Um, getting into a doctoral program is not about being "smart" - it's about being ready to do specialized work at a high level.

Tam pointed out that everyone claims to have stellar letters of recommendation (LOR), but this is not likely. I think "stellar LOR" should mean "Influential scholar whom members of the admission committee respect a great deal thinks I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread...maybe even since the invention fire, which, if I'd been alive back then, I could have invented in half the time because my awesomeness knows no bounds as this brilliant professor is saying in my letter." Really, most of us are going to have to be satisfied with having "decent" recommendations.

The crap shoot thing doesn't mean, however, that it is utterly random who gets into PhD programs and who doesn't. Those who are better applicants have a much better chance of getting into at least one of the schools they apply to (and in the end, you can attend only one) than less-qualified applicants. And I'm just not familiar with any credible instance of a person who is poorly qualified getting into a very top program. (Any who did was fucking the head of the adcom or was admitted as an act of passive-aggressiveness by some members of the adcom against others or some other bizarre, rare thing that ultimately does not bode particularly well for that person's chances for successfully completing the program.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Personality Word Cloud

After putting in some really solid work this weekend, my personality seminar paper is written and printed out, ready to hand in tomorrow morning 2 and a half days before the deadline. I'm happy! This assignment was a little bit different - instead of a review paper, we had to design a study (based on one of the papers we read over the course of the semester) and write up an empirical paper pretending that we had conducted the study and analyzed the results. (We had to present two sets of results - those that we hypothesized and some that we hadn't.)

Here's a word cloud level description. Note that "ETS" means experiential thinking style and "RTS" means rational thinking style. "MF" means message frame, i.e. whether the persuasive message the individual read was experientially-framed or rationally-framed. (By framing, I mean whether the message used language like "I feel" and "intuition" and "impression" versus "I think" and "logic" and "evidence".)

In my experience, rational thinking is better
Tomorrow, my students turn in their research reports, so now that I have finished writing my own empirical paper, I have hours of empirical paper grading fun ahead of me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Oft-Cited Source

I have spent all afternoon and evening working on a paper that is due next Thursday but that given the other deadlines I have coming up I would really like to finish (at least 80% of) this weekend. It took me a long time to figure out what I was going to write about (note: I thought about it all week), but once I decided, my outline basically wrote itself. However, for some reason (still exhausted from writing the last paper? my circadian arousal pattern has shifted to mornings as optimal time of day for controlled processing like all the other old folks?), it's been a real struggle to do the actual writing tonight, especially fleshing out bullet points with details and appropriate citations.

But fortunately, I was able to rely yet again on a chapter in The Handbook of Attitudes as the perfect, ultimate source at a point when my deep desire not to look up more articles in the PsycInfo database reached its zenith...or do I mean nadir? I'm confusing myself with this mixed deep/high metaphor. In any event, I didn't wanna do it and my fallback citation saved me from having to.

I think I should just go ahead and have it tattooed on my forehead:

(BriƱol & Petty, 2005)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

SOP Word Cloud

Tam and I are on a word cloud kick. Here's a word cloud for the statement of purpose I sent to My Masters University.

In the social sciences at least, I think "research" should be the biggest word in your SOP word cloud.

Monday, April 12, 2010

And Bunnies!

Today's research that replicates findings from one population in another population, which Robert calls "and monkeys!" because I wrote an essay on a cognitive exam about the various human populations showing dissociations between the ability to identify objects and locate them in space but amended it with "^and monkeys" because I wanted to describe a specific monkey study in detail:

"Newly born rabbits presented with milks of murine, ovine, bovine, equine, or human origins remain behaviorally inert, whereas they are extraordinarily aroused by rabbit milk....The current data indicate that newborn rabbits are endowed with specialized odor-guided responses that may preexist direct sensory exposure."

Source: Marlier, L., & Schaal, B. (2005). Human newborns prefer human milk: conspecific milk odor is attractive without postnatal exposure, Child Development, 76, 155-168.


Friday was a day with several pieces of good news, the most exciting of which was that the fast food / childhood obesity paper I was working on last spring semester has been accepted (after one round of revisions) to the special issue of the journal coming out later this year. One of the profs said that it was the easiest article in terms of revisions she's ever been associated with, so apparently it was in pretty good shape to start. It's been long enough since I worked on that project that I don't remember the details - I look forward to reading the paper and being reminded of what we found out.

The other good news was:
(1) I got funding for the first summer session. It's not very much, but it definitely helps.
(2) I did not have to do the drastic cuts on my dev paper that I was fearing - the prof said the extra length is fine as long as it is well thought out and meaningful (i.e. not a function of lazy writing).
(3) I found on Thursday that I got a 97 on my stats exam.

Robert and I discovered this weekend that the outdoor seating area at the local Jason's Deli is really nice. We can't count on having gorgeous weather and an unbelievably beautiful schnauzer hanging out at the next table every time we go, but I am hopeful that it will prove to be a good place to eat lunch, drink iced tea (or lemonade), and talk about my work. (Come on, isn't that everyone's idea of a good time?)

A while back, both Robert and Tam had expressed surprise that I do not have to write up my first year project as a paper (we have to do either a poster or a presentation later this month for the department colloquium). It took me a bit to figure out why their surprise surprised me, but I think maybe I have an idea of the disconnect now. In school, we are often required to write stuff up as a demonstration that we can produce papers. But in my program, we have ample opportunity to write papers for every seminar we take. The point of the research project is to, you know, do actual research. So basically two things will happen: (1) the research turns out and (along with any additional research that you do over the summer to bolster the project) you write it up for real to submit for publication; or (2) the research doesn't turn out so you move on - professors do not write up every project they attempt but only the ones that they want to submit for publication and we are doing the same. I guess the point that may not be obvious is that the research we do is our real work. But never fear, guys - the program does require us to write a big major area paper and a thesis before we graduate so even outside the coursework assignments, we are not being under-supplied with writing assignments.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More Word Clouds

This weekend, I finished my seminar paper for developmental psychology. Here's what it's about. (You can click on the image for a larger version.)

I was surprised that the words "vulnerable" and "susceptible" didn't show up larger, given how I felt that I was typing them all the time.

And here is a word cloud of the presentation from last semester's cognitive class.

I think my favorite thing about this one is how the word "Pepsi" shows up seemingly at random at the top center. "less brain" in the upper-right corner is my second favorite thing.

Using presentation text rather than paper text results in a word cloud with a very different feel.

Starting to a notice a theme here? Just wait until the word cloud for the personality seminar paper I'm working on shows up.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Birds, Bees, Flowering Trees...and Pollen


Robert and I made a nice trip to a different park last weekend to do some birding that I barely managed to smuggle into my schedule. We didn't take any long hikes (there is a nice hour-long hike out to a marsh, but we weren't wearing mud boots for it), but did see a nice variety of birds. No life birds, but several that were new for North Carolina. The three best species (that I have not seen as often and thus are a nice surprise) were hairy woodpecker, purple finch, and yellow-throated vireo. I believe I have only seen a purple finch one other time, and this one was extremely cooperative, giving us long close views at a set of finch feeders in the children's garden area.

OK, this is my first time to try to put multiple photos into one image (using Corel Paint Shop Pro, which I've never used before), so it could use some work, but here's what the birds looked like (ahem, not to scale):

I am the biggest finch in the WORLD

I now have both honeybees and bumblebees hanging around my balcony and front door. Last weekend, we started seeing a huge bumblebee hovering at eye level outside the front door (thankfully, a couple feet to the side and not right in front). Even though he's not aggressive, he seems to be watching you, so it's actually pretty creepy. Every time I go in or out, I brace myself mentally and try to move quickly, staying away from him and getting out of his range as soon as possible. This morning, I was up before 5 and out the door really early - early enough the huge bumblebee wasn't at his station yet, but at 3:30 this afternoon, he was hanging out with two somewhat smaller bumblebee friends.

Flowering Trees

It seemed to happen overnight - the branches went from bare to bursting with blooms. I impressed Robert and myself by identifying the white ones instinctively as dogwood trees, which I can't be sure I've ever seen in real life before. I can only guess that I had a vague sense of dogwood trees from some stamp series and got kind of lucky applying that memory to these actual trees. (Yes, it's crazy the things I know from collecting stamps. Ben Franklin would be proud.)


Oh my god. When you have a lot of trees around in the spring, everything gets covered in pollen. I washed my car Monday afternoon and by Tuesday morning, it was absolutely covered in yellowish-green pollen again. On Tuesday at school, the number of conversations I got into about pollen exceeded conversations about Duke (our rival school) winning the basketball championship by about 4:1.

In other news, I met a woman who is thinking about coming to our program next year (she's been accepted) in the grad lounge this morning and talked to her for a while (she was waiting on another student to take her around). I liked her right away and hope she will decide to join us. Oddly, she is trying to decide between two programs that I was trying to decide between last year (I was actually deciding between three, but one of them wasn't psychology). Perhaps in some small way, seeing that I chose this program over the other one will influence her decision. Or perhaps my strutting around in a pretend warm wool coat will scare her away - her research interests aren't in clinical.

Breaking news...Pollen update

EQ Weather Reporter RVMan writes:

"Forsyth County counted 7,237 grains per cubic meter for today – that is the third highest total in their 13 years of recordkeeping. The highest total ever was 9,632, set Tuesday. gave Raleigh a 11.7 on a 12 point scale. Really – this week broke the scale. Both cities have had pollen counts about 2-3 times the average annual peak count for the last several days. It is all trees – grass and weeds are minimal, and peak in late May and September respectively."

Wow, I guess the pollen situation is more unusual than Duke winning the basketball championship (which they did in 1991, 1992, 2001, and 2010).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Kitchen Retrospective

From the notepad in my kitchen, the last 6 weeks worth of cooking at Chez Sally:

Southwest pork
Beef stew
Chicken paprikash
Chicken & rice soup
Black bean chilaquiles
Ham & rice
Chicken jambalaya
Tuna casserole
Oven fried chicken
Beef & lentils
Pasta with ground turkey
Chicken & broccoli
Mom's meatloaf
Pasta jambalaya

This tells me that I really need to eat more fish.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Survived the Week

Today's stats test took 2 hours, 45 minutes. I believe this is a record short completion time in stats for me so far in grad school. The material really did feel easier than what we've done before, but I think that's because (1) I've used regression a fair bit in the past, and though I wasn't always familiar with the underlying nuances, I am quite accustomed to setting up models and interpreting the output and (2) I am now on my second semester of teaching some of this same material in the undergrad stats course (at a more basic level, but still).

The multilevel modeling material was challenging to study, but I kept going over it (including writing things down over and over, a technique I find crazily helpful, particularly with anything mathematical) and eventually, it clicked. I think drawing pictures was key to my understanding, as was making up examples of increasing complexity and forcing myself to work through them. The questions on the exam were very straightforward and friendly compared to the nasty ones I made up last night.

My next major deadline is getting a presentation together to share my research with the social lab group. I need to spend time on that and a seminar paper this weekend, which is a blissful 3 days long!

I also want to report that today is the first truly "warm" day we've had in W-S this year (in the low 80's). I came home from school at about 5 and took a cold shower. It's time to find my other wardrobe.

I offer these two perspectives on my dinner (these are photos from last week, but I had the same dinner again tonight).

A vomiting Pacman:

I shouldn't have eaten so much spinach!

But that kind of grossed me out, so I played with it again for a more appealing image.

The protagonist from The Missing Piece chillin' on a sea of grass:

Sally ate my missing piece but that's OK
The Missing Piece came up during personality class a couple weeks ago when the professor made reference to somebody finding their missing piece and being fulfilled. I said, "But I think in the actual The Missing Piece, he lets the piece go again." The professor didn't believe me because it is only logical that a story like that would have a upbeat ending of the two pieces living happily together forever. "Yeah, that makes sense, but I think the book doesn't take things that direction. I could be wrong, but I really think he lets the piece go." Of course, as you can see from the youtube video, I'm right. The 1992 state American literature champion still knows (some of) her shit.