Psycholoquia, Building the Bigger Picture, and Planning the End

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Hi all 🙂

The last two months have felt strong and I’ve made some good progress regarding my physical health. PhD wise, I’ve given a presentation, started getting to grips with the bigger picture of my research, and taken steps to plan for the end of my PhD.

Psycholoquia

As an absolutely rarity, I’m actually writing this at the time it happened (as opposed to writing the whole post just before submission). In our department, we present 3 talks over our PhD and these are termed ‘Psycholoquia’. My first (2014) was fine but a bit of an overly long shambles, 2016’s was ok but essentially just ‘this is what i’m going’, 2018’s was different. I have data now and a good chunk of the story I’ll tell in my thesis. That’s quite exciting but got me much more nervous than usual. At the end of an intense 4 days of stats, talk prep, lab practice, teaching, and work I’ve now given my talk and from what I can tell it went down positively. I’ve received two bits of praise, one of which is embedded below. Overall, I felt it went well considering that it was unrehearsed. At times, I felt myself rushing and some of the organisation could have been better but I’m very glad that it’s done and happy with myself for doing it that well 🙂

 

Building the Bigger Picture

One of the things I’ve been struggling with in the past few years is considering the bigger picture of my research. I’ve found that having a broad interest has made it difficult to hone in and provide some clarity on the direction and focus of my PhD. Theses, in general, will have a central narrative and I’ve found myself lacking the focus to come to recognise my own. Lately, and in no small part aided by the vast amount of statistics as well as the presentation I’ve done, I have finally started to get to grips with the bigger picture of my research. It’s not finished yet, of course, but I am more confident when discussing the research to present it in a way which supports some overarching questions as opposed to simply isolated interesting questions. I’ll keep going with this and it is going to help with the direction of my final experiment as well as my thesis. Speaking of which…

Planning the End

I have started to not only think about what I want to do next with my life but also how to put together my thesis in the first place. A thesis can be structured in a number of different ways, depending on your data and the way your questions flow together, and as I’m winding down to the writing phase I’m starting to think about this. I’m going to look at the bigger picture and how the experiments I’ve done fit in that to draft a chapter by chapter plan for my thesis. I’ll include what each chapter is aiming to do and its role in the thesis as well as a first go at a decent title. My supervisor will then no doubt beat the ideas into shape when I see them next.

Something I have to really start thinking about now is what I want to do next. I’ve always been interested in teaching so I’m certainly going to look for careers where I use my experience and knowledge to aid others but beyond that I’m still unsure. I’d happily be a teaching fellow at a university or a science teacher in a school or do something to do with outreach work at museums or charities. I also have not ruled out continuing the academic route and looking for my first full-time position working in somebody else’s lab. With that in mind, I’ve already started a few conversations with potential bosses and I’m going to continue this over the coming year as well as at a conference in the summer!

It’s been a good two months and I’m feeling stronger in myself. The next two will be spent finishing some analysis for this experiment, (hopefully) having written the next experiment’s ideas, and applying for a conference!

Thanks for reading 🙂

BCT

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Stats pain, presentation, and a (very) welcomed break

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Hi all 🙂

The last two months have brought some analysis of preliminary results, my second departmental presentation, and a holiday which couldn’t have been better timed.

Stats pain

If you want to go present at a conference you need something to present. In general, this means data and with data comes stats. Stats brings anxiety to many people and, whilst I thought I was making progress, I was no exception. I came up against multiple problems and some seemingly simple questions I had I couldn’t find any information online. (I should add here that yes my supervisor is great and walked me through the things I was stuck on but I really wanted to give the full picture a shot on my own first). Combined with a few very long days, some sleep deprivation, and a general sense of being fed up I had a bit of a break-down; feeling defeated, it was the data which broke the camel’s back.

A little down the line and after a rest I went through the analysis with my supervisor and found a tentative hit! I had a significant result! Whoop! Conference here I come! The result in question was an interaction between condition and the sex of the individual but the important next question was what was that interaction? To illustrate what I mean I’ll provide an example.

Imagine that you’re interested in whether being stressed affects memory. So you give a group of people a list of words to remember twice: once relaxed and once when you’re putting the pressure on. You then ask them to list all the words they remember. Now you may expect a difference based on the situation (condition) but would you expect them to differ based on their sex? A third option is that both could happen in different ways. For example, males may perform better under pressure whereas females may perform worse or any other different response you can imagine. This is called an interaction because the results depend on not only the individual factors but how they combine. Now the stats tells you that you have a significant effect of condition combined with sex, but what is that interaction? Do females get worse under pressure but males don’t change? Do males get worse and females get better? To work this out you perform post-hoc tests which identify the differences between pairs of measurements (females stressed v female relaxed, female stressed v male stressed,…). To cut a long story short, when you do this you raise the threshold at which you consider the results significant, in essence making it more difficult to find one but leaving you more sure that it’s a real finding, and in doing so my significant result disappeared. “Damn you Bonferroni!” I exclaimed at my desk.

Anyways, whilst that was a rather simple tour of my recent stats, no conference for me. I’m nowhere near finishing my experiment though so any exciting results were quite unlikely.

Presentation

Each year every PhD student in the department gives a talk about their work. My last one  wasn’t great; it was poorly timed, not very well constructed, and I wasn’t able to deal with questions well. One of the biggest lessons learned was: practice it! This time I arranged to give the talk to my lab group before for some feedback. Suffice to say, that didn’t go well. I mean, it went well regarding getting constructive feedback but I started with quite a messy presentation. But that’s why we practice! I took the feedback, simplified the slides, refined a few ideas, and added in several more slides to make points clearer. It was a good exercise and made me think harder about what are the real take home messaged for each part of the research.

Then it came to the actual presentation. I was quite nervous. I felt jittery and ended up grasping some white-tac whilst I spoke as comfort. Once I started though I felt a lot more comfortable. I went in telling myself “you are the expert in the room” and that mentality made me flip from feeling like it was a performance I was being judged on to being someone who is essentially teaching a collection of interested viewers. That settled me a lot. Overall the talk went well, I was only about a minute over, and I had very interesting questions which I was told I handled incredibly well. The only negatives I received were that my background was a little long (for someone from my lab group) and to avoid having something to fiddle with! Curse that distracting white-tac…Anyways, it was a good boost to my confidence both in my knowledge but also my presentation skills. Sadly I didn’t have any data so I’m eagerly looking forward to the next one when I can actually tell my story!

Holiday

By the time I put this out I’ll have been on holiday for a while and it could not have come soon enough! Suffice to say that the last few months have just been getting harder. I’ve felt quite defeated and deflated and that is in no small part due to the fact that I haven’t had a solid break in almost a year. I don’t have a great deal to say about this to be honest. We all need breaks and sometimes what we do make that difficult. For me it’s a combination of having to work PAYE to pay my bills and having an experiment I can’t take much time away from. But it does slowly exhaust you and I’m pretty sure that even now when I’m feeling rested that I’m still fatigued. I’m off to South Africa to see Cape Town and then going to Ulusaba for the safari. It’s going to be amazing I’m sure and if it’s anything like my holiday last year I’ll be totally relaxed by midday on day one! For now though (when I’m writing this) I’m just counting down the days until it begins.

So that’s me. The next few months will involve enjoying this holiday, resting up, and finishing the last 30% of my testing (and seeing a certain Avengers movie).

Thanks for reading ☺

BCT