PhD Planning, Comic Con, and Trying New Things

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Hey all!

The last two months have been slower than the previous ones but all round positive. I’ve been getting into some analysis and research planning, had a great birthday weekend away, and have started making some positive decisions including trying new things!

PhD: recent and planning the future

I believe I had a similar headache some 18 or so months ago regarding statistics. I’m not the greatest at stats but I am getting better. However, each time I ‘level up’, so to speak, there’s a new boss waiting to be overhauled. I’ve spent numerous weeks now trying to get something to work and all of the guidance online suggests it’s not particularly possible. The trouble I have is that a most of my results are negative. This isn’t innately a bad thing, not finding a result when you expect one tells you as much about the world as finding one: something about your best ideas is wrong. The trouble is is that my experiments involve small sample sizes and thus I am unsure as to whether I have true (therefore interesting) null results or whether I just haven’t made enough observations to find an effect. So what I’ve been teaching myself is a ‘Power Analysis’. This takes together various aspects of your data, including sample size, and provides you with a measure of if you are likely to catch a genuine effect if it’s there. There are very nice and simple ways of doing this, for simple data and tests…My models are quite complicated and the best guidance out there seems to suggest a simple power analysis doesn’t exists for the type of statistics I’m using. So I’m a bit stuck…I’ve tried a few things, done some reading, and now have contacted some more stats-savvy colleagues. I hope I can find a result!

I’m starting to outline some short- and long-term plans for the remainder of my PhD. I had a very constructive meeting with my supervisor during which we made a plan for the remainder of the year. The idea being to wrap up all of the results I have so far and to start putting them in a form geared towards papers and thesis chapters. It also helps to start opening questions for my final experiment. I am also continuing to practice some lab techniques so that I am ready to analyse some samples which is great as it’ll add a whole bunch more data for me to analyse. My supervisor is very good at getting me to step up at a good pace from following to driving ideas and I’m now moving on to that the next part of that. I am also starting to consider my outlook for the future. In a year or so I need to start applying for the next step and thus 2018 is going to be a year of networking and attending the best events to support me. For the now, I’m going to be having a strong think about what I would most like to do next and then we’ll be making a game plan to support it. Lots of thinking, lots of maturing, lots of scary but lots of good.

Comic Con – Glasgow

In the continued interest of my developing nerdery, I attended my second con! This time, a troop of 7 took to Glasgow together for a weekend of fun (which also happened to be my birthday). Costumes were wonderful across the board and the con was largely a success. I’ve written a review of it which will pop up on The Wonky Spanner sometime soon! I had an absolutely lovely weekend and, though one was too ill to come, had a great time with friends. We saw the con, bought far too much merch, played minigolf, visited an arcade, went bowling, ate out a lot. Overall, a great weekend. The ride home sucked a tad, however, as we broke down on the motorway and it took ages to be picked up by the insurance company. A 1.5h journey became a 10h one including a stint in a services carpark. Overall, a great weekend though and I hope my students weren’t too put off by my fatigue the next day!

Trying New Things

Part of attending the con was my decision to give cosplay a go. The most I’ve done to dress up before hasn’t amounted to more than painting my face but I thought I’d try it. The result wasn’t amazing but as my first attempt I’m quite proud of myself.

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The decision to do so has come with a series of positive choices in general, most of which involve trying new things. My first good decision came when I demoted myself at my job. I’ve been a ‘shift-manager’ for a few years now and with that came guarantee of hours plus a small increase in wage. In general, this has been fine and is good experience for the future. However, the further along it went the more the late nights and mental stress which comes with that position took its toll on my health and ultimately interfered with my PhD (the very reason I have that job in the first place…). I made the decision to step down and my boss has been entirely supportive. I now do no late shifts, have no responsibility, and keep up enough hours.

After cosplay, I also decided to put my mind to story writing. I’ve never been a writer, at all, and I’ve rarely delved into literary fiction but a short Ted Talk and a small bit of imagination got me thinking. So I wrote a 3 page summary covering the main strokes of the story and gave it to a few people to read. I’ve had nothing but positive feedback and am eager to continue filling out the story. I’ve also been given some suggested reading to help and as such I’m combining a well known book, comic/film, and some historical accounts together into my ideas. I have no idea how long this will take but it has given me another thing to think about and is forcing me to practice my writing which is never a bad thing!

Taking a walk around the sports fayre here, I had a whim to give a few things a go. I signed up to archery and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and since then have been attending some of their sessions. MMA was…interesting. Very alien to me in almost every way but still fun in its novelty. I was very impressed by how safety conscious they all were which was great. I ended up going to 3-4 training sessions but found myself getting overly anxious before them. I wasn’t sure if it was MMA specifically or just that I was trying TOO MANY new things but on the balance of it I stopped going. What was important to me, though, was that I tried it. I stepped out of my depth and gave it a go. Regarding archery, I’m still going and loving it each week! I can only make 2/4 of their sessions but that’s totally ok and all of the people there are really friendly and wanting to help. I have no idea whether I’ll aim to compete or not but for now it has given me a regular activity to focus on each week. As a side benefit, I’ve found myself completely focusing on it at training which is nice as it serves as a break from anything else.

So that’s me. The next two months will be spent finishing my analyses and writing them up, planning the next experiment, and sorting stuff out for a quick family visit over the festive period. Oh, and continuing with my new things!

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