Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

One Heck of an Early Christmas Present!

Four years ago I sat in a packed lecture theatre with my new friends, discussing where we would like our psychology degrees to take us. At the time I spoke of wanting to be a lecturer, but by the end of the first year I had my heart set on pursuing a Clinical Ph.D so that I could be involved in both academia and practice. I sought out the advice of a faculty member at the time to work out how I might achieve this goal, and found placements, volunteering opportunities and work that gave me a new perspective about the profession. These experiences culminated in my decision to apply for various postgraduate psychology programs with the ultimate goal of gaining entry into the Clinical PhD program at my university.

I was due to find out whether I would receive an interview or interviews for these programs shortly after the release of the Honours results. A couple of days after they were released I noticed a missed call on my mobile. I didn't make the connection between it and my applications until I recognised the voice of the  administrative assistant from my uni from the voice mail message. I froze, and a few seconds later screamed (in hindsight it was probably a good thing I found out via voice mail), I had been granted an interview! My poor parents who had heard my scream came to see what was wrong and instead of finding me hurt as they had imagined, found me jumping up and down in excitement. A few days later I learned I had also been successful in securing an interview at another university.

In the intervening days I finally managed to settle on something to wear (no mean feat), visited the careers centre for some advice and did a lot of thinking about why I wanted the Clinical PhD. Sitting outside the interview room at my university on the big day and listening to the hubbub upstairs (I think the faculty was having a Christmas party) I was more excited than nervous. I had actually made it to the interview, the goal I had set four years ago. I was interviewed by a panel of five psychologists/lecturers. I wasn't sure how I had fared but I had gotten a few encouraging smiles and I had managed to answer all their questions. I was surprised when the interview ended, it had all happened so fast, and I was told I would find out the outcome in the next week. I wished the next student waiting outside good luck and headed out to play the grand piano I had discovered the day before in one of the neighbouring buildings.

A few hours later, back at home, my mobile rang. I ran to where I had left it and again was greeted by the same person as before. My first thought was that my university wanted more information, or that there was something I had forgotten to do. When I was instead told that I was being offered a Clinical PhD, I was flabbergasted. My first question was "who do I say yes to?!" While this conversation was going on my poor Mum was trying to decipher my facial expressions. When I mimed the news to her she shrieked and I had to shoo her away so I could hear the rest of the conversation!

I cannot neatly describe how I was feeling in the immediate aftermath of that phone call but it was a mixture of amazement, excitement and being overwhelmed. I had gotten exactly what I wanted, a Clinical PhD at my uni. I could pursue research and practice, I would get to work with my Honours supervisor researching something in the area of autism again. I knew what I would be doing for the next four years and it was everything I had hoped for. The next day I learned I had also been granted a scholarship. What more could you ask for?!

I'm still acclimatising to the magnitude of it all and getting used to knowing the outcome of my applications rather than waiting for news. The best analogy I can give you for how I currently feel draws upon Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the 70s version with Gene Wilder), I feel like Charlie Bucket when he learns that he's just inherited the chocolate factory.

"Do you know what happened to the boy who got everything they ever dreamed of Charlie? He lived happily ever after."

It has been wonderful sharing my news, though it seems I am the only one surprised by it! While everyone else seemed to have been confident that I would get into a program, I hadn't let myself think that far ahead. I just had faith that I would get to where I wanted to go, but that the means and time frame for getting there were anyone's guess!

 Now I can really enjoy my holidays. What a fantastic early Christmas present!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Results Day Through the Eyes of a Psychology Honours Student

The Psych Honours bush telegraph was working overtime the night before the results were released. Some of us, myself included, were not entirely certain whether the results were being released the next day. Thanks to an appeal on Facebook to anyone with reliable information it was confirmed. My countdown of the days to go had dwindled to the mere hours remaining.

I was, and am, proud of all that I have learned at uni this year but I was still unsure as to what my final grade would be. I chose to go into uni to find out. I did have the option of ringing up but I wanted to get my results in person; the prospect of listening to the engaged tone or Mazurka on repeat was not inviting. More importantly, it just wouldn't have felt right to be told over the phone. After a session on the piano to relax I began my drive to uni. Even though I had left late on purpose, to my dismay I still managed to arrive at uni half an hour before the results were due to be released! That was a first, being disgruntled by a 'dream run' into uni.

When I made my way to the psychology department the corridors were eerily quiet. I began to wonder if I had gotten the day and time mixed up after all. I spied some signs of life further up the corridor and stopped to talk to a fellow Honours student and a faculty member. The student had just received their results, and the faculty member knew mine, but I didn't!! The student very kindly waited outside the co-ordinator's office for me for moral support as I knocked on the door and walked in. I was praying for an 85 (a first), or a high second class honours to give me a fighting chance of getting an interview for a postgraduate program but I was not prepared for what I was about to hear. My overall grade and my mark for my thesis were both 91. I remember repeatedly saying 'wow!' I think I was in shock, I was even trembling slightly. As I walked back down the corridor to chat with the student and some faculty members, it began to sink in, I had gotten a first, a first higher than what I could have imagined in my wildest daydreams. I was ridiculously happy.

Having shared my good news with my supervisor, who of course already knew, I visited a couple of  people on campus who wanted to know how I had fared and then began the drive home, smiling all the way. I tried, but mostly failed, to adopt a neutral expression as I walked in the front door to tell my parents the news. I didn't leave them waiting very long. They were ecstatic and very proud. Not long after I arrived home, a text message arrived from my friend. Sadly, we hadn't been able to find out our results together, but to my delight I discovered that she had done brilliantly.

The texts flew back and forth to family overseas that night and to the people closer to home who had followed my journey this year. I went out to dinner with my family to celebrate. Finding out my year 12 results was a great experience, but learning of my Honours' result was something else entirely.

91 is now my favourite number.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ten Tantalising Days

I've sat my final exam and I'm now on holidays. It hasn't sunk in yet that my course is finished, it's surreal. I've been enjoying my holidays though. I went to a wedding yesterday and to the beach today with some friends. It was nice to just relax though I'm currently sporting a red nose because I got sunburned, again! Evidently, I'm channelling Rudolph and getting into the Christmas cheer early.

In ten days I will find out my Honours result. I'm feeling a mixture of emotions, just thinking about finding out is a little overwhelming. I want to know how I've done but at the same time so much hinges on this result... If you can remember what it was like waiting on your year 12 results, you'll have an inkling of what it's like for me at the moment. I can either ring up or go in person to uni to find out but I plan to go in. It would feel too weird to find out my final result over the phone.

I'm also awaiting word as to whether I've gained an interview for the postgraduate courses I applied for. I've heard back from one university already. I wasn't successful in gaining an interview. Each uni looks for slightly different qualities though, so hopefully one of my other applications will be successful. I'm trying to remain both upbeat and realistic. If I don't get in anywhere I'll work on what I need to, to strengthen my application for next year. Until then, I'll be counting down the days until the 30th and watching the postbox like a hawk. I could hear back from the other universities about whether I have gained an interview any time between now and about the first week in December.

Watch this space.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Finish Line: Part 2

Last minute hiccups are the last thing you want when finalising your thesis. Unfortunately I encountered my fair share. I had reached the stage where all I had left to do was to organise my contents page, appendices and print four copies of my thesis. Simple and stress free, right? Wrong! Microsoft Word 2007, a wireless printer and one particularly troublesome appendix refused to play ball. Thanks to some improvisation and my parents pitching in I managed to get it all sorted out and could have hugged the person who served me at Officeworks when they told me my theses would be bound within half an hour. All that was left to do was go home and tell all my friends the good news!

I walked into uni on the 20th of October grinning like a Cheshire cat. You could spot all the Honours students a mile away by our distinctive grins. I climbed the stairs to the School of Psychology with excitement, knocked on the Honours coordinator's door and handed in my theses, I had done it! It felt amazing, I simply could not believe it. I found my supervisor to share the good news and the celebrations continued the next day as the Honours students and supervisors met at a local pub to let our hair down. When eleven o'clock came round that night it was clear that the last week had taken its toll on all the students. Most of us had left or were leaving in pursuit of some well earned shut-eye!

A fortnight has now passed but the satisfaction of having handed my thesis still hasn't worn off. As always though there has been no rest for the wicked. My fellow students and I immediately entered the next stage of feverish preparation, applying for jobs and or postgraduate courses. I fell into the latter category having applied for eight postgraduate PhD, Clinical PhD and Clinical Masters programs. I found three potential supervisors, wrote two research proposals, produced countless synopses of why I wished to apply, detailed my work and voluntary experience and found some kind referees.

I have applied so widely because more than anything I want to continue my studies with psychology. Ideally, I would like to gain a position in a Clinical PhD program (at my current university) so that I can go onto to be involved in both research and practice. The competition is fierce though. On average there are a hundred applicants per course, thirty of these applicants are short-listed for an interview and only seven to ten people will receive an offer. It is a blessing in disguise that I  have an exam to prepare for and that shortly afterwards I will find out my Honours grade and whether I have made it to the interview stage.

My philosophy is to always do my best but expect nothing external to come from it.  This way if anything does, it is a pleasant surprise. By the same token, if nothing arises, I can be satisfied with the knowledge that I have given my best and have no 'if only' regrets. I must admit though I am finding it hard to remain so pragmatic about my postgraduate application outcomes, I want that Clinical PhD so badly!! Regardless, if I am not successful I will seek feedback, work on the areas I need to and apply again. All I can do in the interim is throw my energies at the exam, pray and wait...  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Finish Line: Part 1

When faced with the looming deadline for your thesis, there are two things you can do: panic or get on with it. Realistically, you'll probably end up doing both. I know I did...

The weeks leading up to my thesis submission deadline were certainly 'character building'. First, I realised I had miscalculated one of my variables. You're probably wondering how anyone could miss something so crucial. I think I had just gotten too caught up in it all. I chose the 'get on with it' option in this scenario, it would have been a waste of time to panic or dwell on how I had neglected to notice my mistake, but I do realise now that I need to remember to step away from my thesis/study from time to time so that I can see it with a clear head.

I was far less cool, calm and collected when I faced my second character building exercise. This came in the form of discovering I needed to restructure my hypotheses, condensing three into two. My initial reaction was to PANIC! My stress levels went from 0 to 60 in the space of a few seconds. In fact, it all happened that quickly I didn't realise how panicked I was until someone pointed it out to me. Why was I so stressed? Well, the hypotheses shape the structure of the results and discussion so I had to tweak these too. In the end, this did not turn out to be the nightmare I had envisaged and it was definitely worth it. What did I learn? Things are rarely as bad as you think they are. Oh and, keep an eye on your stress levels and manage them before they peak [in a perfect world should be the caveat here...I vividly remember my mind going completely blank at one point due to stress, which is not something that has ever happened to me before. And no, this has not deterred me in the slightest from applying for postgrad. The rewards far outweigh everything else in my opinion].

Finally, writing my discussion was the clear winner in terms of the challenges I faced in those last few weeks. Just imagine the pressure (self-imposed as always) to do my study justice, draw all the themes together, interpret my results and come to a conclusion, without being able to show my supervisor a draft.  To say I agonised over my discussion would be fairly accurate.  I looked at past theses for guidance about structure. This was largely fruitless. I soon came to the realisation that there is no right way. I still think my structure is rather unorthodox but it does tell a story. Tell a story, tell a story, tell a story... that was the refrain constantly echoing in my head while writing the discussion, along with every piece of advice my supervisor had ever given me and my highschool English teacher's catchphrase 'you've got to dazzle dazzle' the markers! Last but not least I gained some much needed perspective from my Mum, who remarked that I had written every other piece of work in my university career by myself so why was I doubting myself now? Armed with all this, I did simply get on with it. In fact, I continued writing my discussion through an earthquake!

As Arthur Golden said "a mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course to victory." This certainly held true for me in the weeks and days leading up to my thesis submission. Once I dealt with the doubt or stress, I was able to tackle things head on and realise that my doubt was unjustified. And as to victory? I do feel victorious, after eight months of hard work I produced an 11, 967 word Honours' thesis, but more importantly I have learned so much this year and loved the journey. What more can I ask of myself, having given my all? It is in the hands of the markers now. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Psychology Honours - The Musical

I have played the piano since I was eleven years old. It's been years since I had my last lesson but I teach myself now, finding sheet music where I can* or learning songs 'by ear.' What does this have to do with psychology? Well, in honours year everyone seems to have developed their own way of dealing with stress, frustration and thesis stalemates. Some people crotchet, others knit, get hooked on television sitcoms, bake or peruse Facebook. Does this sound like any of you?

Mostly, I play the piano (or blog). If I'm hitting a brick wall with a thesis draft, can't get my head around SPSS or just need a short break you'll hear piano music coming from the office. Not only do I enjoy it, but when I return to my thesis after these fifteen minute interludes, I often find that things seems more manageable or an unruly paragraph begins to cooperate.

After almost four years of studying psychology, I guess its only natural that I've noticed some patterns between my playing and studying behaviour. For instance, if you hear me labouring over a new piece of music, easily identifiable by my stilted playing, I've likely just started or finished an assignment or thesis draft. On the other hand, if I've turned my hand to one of the pieces I can play with my eyes closed, played in various styles or at breakneck speed for a bit of variety, I'm probably in the middle or towards the end of an assignment or draft. Does anyone else notice their 'coping' strategies change? Perhaps your 'procrastibaking' reaches fever pitch right before an assignment is due, or you have a Big Bang Theory marathon once you've submitted a draft?

I've included my honours 'soundtrack' or repertoire below. They say that music can draw you back to a certain time and place so I am sure that these songs will always remind me of this year.

The early days; finding a supervisor and starting classes
  • Brick - Ben Folds Five
  • Bella's Lullaby - Carter Burwell [Twilight]
  • Superman - Five for Fighting
  • 100 Years - Five for Fighting
  • 1000 Miles - Vanessa Carlton
  • Mad World - Gary Jules

The Research Proposal
  • River Flows in You - Yiruma
  • Comptine d'un autre été: l'après (Life is a song) - Yann Tiersen ['Amelie,' though I've yet to watch it]
  • Miss Clare Remembers - Enya (learnt by ear)
  • The Meadow - Alexander Desplat [New Moon]
  • The Heart Asks Pleasure First - Michael Newman ['The Piano,' I haven't seen this either]
  • Fix You - Coldplay
  • Postcards From Far Away - Coldplay
  • Falling Slowly - Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová ['Once,' a great film]

Thesis Writing - all the aforementioned songs plus...
  • Take 5 - Dave Brubeck
  • 1st Gymnopédie - Eric Satie
  • Someone Like You - Adele (half improvised because I can't find sheet music for the melody, only the accompaniment)
  • Lord of the Rings Main Theme - Howard Shore
  • Wherever You Will Go - The Calling

*For any fellow musos out there, this site is fantastic: http://words3music.ph/

I'm off to play 'The Heart Asks Pleasure First,' so until next time...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thesis Presentation

I am one of those unusual (apparently) people who quite enjoys public speaking. I think it stems from entering competitions in high school, but I've never really been terrified of standing up in front of people and performing in some capacity, despite being a self-confessed introvert. Of course I still get nervous, I'm only human, but overall I enjoy it.

As part of a course requirement I had to give a fifteen minute presentation about my thesis to an audience of fellow honours students, faculty members and my supervisor. During the lead up I practiced my speech with a few friends and managed to more or less learn it by heart. I also attended another presentation session to get a feel for how they were run. My preparation was going well until I realised I'd made a stupid error with one of my variables, and that I  also needed to adjust my analyses. This meant that although my introduction, rationale and method section were fine, I had to re-do part of my results section and run a regression the night before! With advice from my supervisor, I had a clear idea of what I needed to do. I must admit though, I ended up working rather late that night trying to get my results in order, coax an unruly graph into submission and explain my findings. It was all very unlike me, I'm definitely the kind of person who likes to start things early and work slowly and steadily.

Despite the last minute mishaps, the next morning I was looking forward to giving my presentation. I was also reassured because my friend and I had a back-up plan. In case no-one asked any questions at the end of each of our presentations we had devised 'planted' questions to get the ball rolling.

I was first-up, just like old times. Before I knew it, I had come to the end of my speech, more or less without using my cue cards and I managed to get a laugh from the audience. To my apprehension though, I was greeted by silence. Not a single question... Had I rambled? Spoken too fast? Bored them? Before I could dwell on these speculations, my friend who jumped in with her 'question.' Thankfully, that seemed to be the cue for everyone else to contribute. I was so relieved. Mostly, I was asked about how I might explain certain findings and what the literature had to say. These were not too difficult to answer. Someone also gave me a great idea, though something better suited to a PhD.

All in all it went very well and I received a few compliments from students and faculty members. I was on a high for the rest of the day. Another welcome development I attribute to the thesis presentations and the looming thesis deadline is the increased camaraderie between the honours students.  In the weeks leading up to the presentations it was not unusual to bump into other students in computer labs running last minute analyses, to chat about trying to make sense of data, findings that went in the opposite direction to predictions, or for some people what to do about their lack of data! It is always reassuring knowing that we are all going through the same challenges.

So, for anyone out there facing their own thesis presentation, enjoy it, it is a good experience and it can give you a fresh perspective about your project. Good luck!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Data collection 101

Today at 4 o'clock I thanked my final volunteer for participating in my study. I have officially finished data collection! I still can't quite believe it but it certainly feels good to have reached this milestone. I wanted to celebrate with a hot chocolate, but by that time everything was closed so I had a celebratory Turkish delight at home instead.

Now is as good a time as any to reflect on what the experience has taught me. Firstly, data collection was a lesson in adapting to the unexpected. One particularly memorable experience was opening the door to a room I had booked for my study, to be greeted by fifteen people balefully staring back at me. After a hasty retreat I was able to find another room. Secondly, I learned that you can never be too organised. I carried a folder with me filled with spare study materials, which, entitled with the name of my study, doubled as a sign. This certainly paid off. I had arranged to meet my participants at a landmark on campus. The only problem was, I had no idea what each of my participants looked like and the place I had chosen was quite a popular meeting point. I resorted to conspicuously displaying my improvised sign and asking anyone in the vicinity if they were participating in my study. It worked quite well, though on one occasion I was approached by someone who, after some initial confusion on both our parts, turned out to be a curious stranger. Lastly I learned a lesson or three about data entry. If you need to reverse code something, TRIPLE CHECK you have recoded everything you need to. Double checking is not enough, believe me. I also found keeping multiple copies of my data, and a codebook to make sure the 1s and 0s I'd entered in SPSS meant more to me than binary code, quite useful.

Tomorrow I am taking the day to 'regroup.' I want to have a clear plan of where I am headed with my analyses and discussion. It is after all a very significant day today, one month until my thesis is due.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A few days make all the difference

Maybe you had your fingers crossed for me because a few days after I last posted, participants began steadily trickling in. I was so happy to get my first wave of volunteers that I felt like dancing like this chap below. I couldn't settle down to work again for the rest of the day.

The process of data collection has been a learning curve, figuring out what I need to keep a record of, making sure I have covered everything in my research protocol and managing the other little administrative tasks. Speaking of administrative tasks, with all the questionnaires I have been printing I must be responsible for the demise of at least one tree. The actual assessments have been a rewarding experience. Some of the measures I'm using need to be administered by a registered psychologist. It has been great to sit in and see these take place and to interact with the people participating. Also, it feels good seeing what is described in the literature come to life.

Needless to say, having data is also very exciting. I couldn't resist having a go at analysing it, despite having a minute sample size (I think at the time N = 5)! I have a slightly larger sample now and there are a few interesting and at times bizarre things cropping up but it is still too early to draw any firm conclusions. This hasn't stopped me reanalysing my data every time I get a few more participants though...

The blogger statistics tell me that quite a few people have wandered over to this page from around the world. I'd like to pose you a question, what brought you here? An interest in psychology? Research? Or did you find this blog by accident? : ) Speaking of finding blogs, I have a few under 'blogs I read' that I find interesting. Take a look if you get a chance and thanks for reading!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ten precious weeks...

I've written and re-written the first line to this post three times. Why? I don't even know where to begin. So much has happened in the last few weeks.

The first cab off the ranks on my honours news highway is ethics submission. That particular process led me through even more twists and turns than I mentioned in my last post. If I could go back in time and give myself a tip, it would be to expect that process to take longer than anticipated. Regardless, I now have ethics approval for my study!

Subsequently, I have entered the participant recruitment phase like all the other honours students. This means that I am now checking my email with ridiculous frequency, just in case someone has contacted me wanting to volunteer. Sadly, repeatedly hitting your email provider's refresh button will not make the recruitment phase go any faster...

Ever wondered about the inner working of an honours student's mind at this stage of the year? Wonder no more:  
Why isn't anyone signing up? How can I get more participants? What if I don't get enough participants? How many people do I really need? What if it takes me ages to get volunteers and I end up with no data? 
The above is a decent cross-section of discussions with fellow honours students over the last week. You might have noticed the recurring theme, a burning drive for more participants, and quickly! To be honest, I think we all need to relax a bit. Yes, we need to actively search for volunteers, but at the same time volunteers are just that, volunteers. There is only so much you can do to let them know about your study and then the rest is up to them. Let's see how zen I am about this next week though...
I think this growing anxiety over recruitment is because time is galloping away. My thesis is due in TEN WEEKS. In this time I am aiming to (read: must) have collected data from thirty participants, entered it into SPSS, analysed it, written and edited my introduction, method, results, discussion, references and acknowledgements. And of course binding and submission. Piece of cake I say with tongue firmly in cheek! I know that I will make it happen because I must. Life is nothing without a challenge.

While the last few weeks have been eventful, they have been equally surprising. At the end of last semester I sat several exams. It was with trepidation that I made my way upstairs to the noticeboard to find my marks. As usual, it took me three attempts to locate my student ID among the others not to mention those all important grades. I am not exaggerating when I say that I saw my marks and laughed in astonishment. I honestly could not believe it. I thought I had done well on one exam, but not that well! And as for the essay exam that I had been worried about, I had also earned a good grade. Finding out my results was such a morale boost, I now have a fighting chance in the competitive entry process to postgraduate psychology. I 'just' have to defend this chance by throwing my all into the rest of the assessment tasks and my thesis!

Until next time, thanks for reading and good luck with your studies : )

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The highs and lows of research

Earlier in the year a lecturer described research as an emotional process full of highs and lows. Wondering why?  Read on...

About a month ago I broke into a silent victory dance outside the psychology office.  I had just submitted my research proposal!  It felt so good to finally hand it in after two months' research, writing and discussion.  Correction, it did feel good until later that night during 'Gray's Anatomy' when I realised I had made an error with one of my hypotheses.  It turned out later that it was right, but I did not find that out until my thesis committee meeting.  Can you imagine what my stress levels were like during the intervening time?!

My thesis committee meeting fell on a chilly June morning.  I began this rite of passage with a brief summary of my project before my study design, analyses and introduction were discussed.  It might sound daunting being seated round a table with lecturers and trying to hold your own, but the experience was not as intimidating as you might imagine.  It was reassuring to hear that I shared my problem areas with previous honours students and everyone thought my project worthwhile.  The guidance I gained, fresh perspectives and new ideas were invaluable.  I still wonder what I looked like after that meeting though, having watched the mingled expressions of relief, amazement and information overload on the faces of other students after their meetings.  I remember feeling disbelief that it was all over, that I could shelve my introduction for a while and get my study ready.

Applying for ethics approval, the first step in preparing my study, was also an emotive experience.  I had submitted my electronic application and its numerous attachments for letters of introduction and consent forms etc. a few days after the deadline.  I was worried.  My late submission meant I would be unlikely to gain ethics approval until August, giving me less time to collect data.  Someone up there was looking out for me though because I was informed my submission would be reviewed earlier than I expected.  I sat in the library grinning from ear to ear,  fist pumping the air, little caring what anyone thought.  I had been unbelievably lucky.  What did I learn from this experience?  Chiefly, that I never want to be in that situation again.  I plan to check deadlines religiously in future, and to let someone know in advance if I am unlikely to meet them.

Achieving these three research milestones introduced me to the highs and lows of research but I wouldn't trade them, they are all part of the experience.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Some assembly required

Jigsaw puzzles seems daunting at first. The scattered pieces offer glimpses of what might be, but not until you lay out the edges do you begin to get a sense of what you are working towards. My thesis is a puzzle whilst my research proposal and supervisor form the 'edge pieces.' These pieces will help me achieve the final product, a finished thesis, the picture on the front of the box.

Just like those edge pieces, I think a research proposal and a good supervisor are indispensable. Without them, this jigsaw puzzle of mine would never get past the overwhelming stage. That's not to say that it's not daunting even with these two lifelines!

If you've been following my posts you might remember I'd been struggling with a particular problem with my writing. I was launching straight into the details without taking my reader with me. I was frustrated with myself because I continually made this same mistake. I think I am getting better at this now I'm more aware of it. And now I'm working on addressing another problem area within my writing, clearly stating my argument. It really is amazing how ignorant you can be of your flaws until someone else points them out to you. I'm  finding the feedback very useful, hopefully it will help me improve my coursework too.

Speaking of coursework... I had never been more nervous about getting an assignment back than I was for the first assessment I turned in for Honours this year. It's funny how everyone has such different approaches to checking their marks. My approach, and from what I can tell I'm in the minority, is to read all the comments and then look at the mark. I like to have some inkling of what to expect on the back page. Everyone else seems to apply the band-aid approach, racing frantically to the back for that all-important number and then scanning through the rest of the assignment at their leisure.

I was happy with my mark and grateful for the detailed feedback but achieving a higher grade category would have been a nice reaffirming 'I can do this' boost.  You can't have everything in life though and I did my best. I just have to try not to let this unsettle me and throw my energies into the upcoming assignments and exams instead. Easier said than done though. Reading this back I can see I need to believe in myself, after all I have risen to challenges before.

As always, thanks for reading this and feel free to comment or ask me a question. The best of luck putting the pieces together in your thesis.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You know you are an Honours student when...

Finding a computer lab everyone else seems to have forgotten is exciting
You have been on campus regularly before 9 or after 4
Endnote or CiteULike have become part of your arsenal
You have visited the student help centre
The names of the researchers in your thesis area are familiar
You know your way around the academics’ halls
At least once you’ve realised that your thesis project is getting out of control
You know you are going to run out of printing credits this year
First years are impressed that you have been at uni this long
You have strongly considered using a source that you cannot access electronically
Fewer contact hours does not mean less time spent on campus or studying
You never miss an opportunity to explain your thesis to someone
Writing 1500 word assignments seems far less daunting than in first year
You're learning more in a week and having more fun doing so than in other years
Hearing that PhDs are 100,000 words long makes you feel a lot better
You can name at least half the people in your course
Spending lunch debriefing with other honours students becomes a tradition
You have two work modes, extreme procrastination and scarily productive
The number of journal articles you read in a month exceeds that of previous years
You are currently taking a break from studying
You  have dreamt about some aspect of uni work
You know exactly when your thesis is due but not what you'll be doing after honours
You have a plan A, B and C for what you would like to be doing next year
Career fairs and postgrad course information sessions are really important this year
Your thesis has changed directions at least twice
Everyone you know is at a completely different stage in their honours journey
You get great ideas about your thesis at the strangest of times and places

Do any of these experiences resonate with you?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The start of a beautiful friendship?

Have you ever heard the old adage about the people you meet in life? They say there are three types:  acquaintances, friends that come and go and the longstanding variety you can count on. In many ways, I think an honours project is a bit like the people you meet. Some variables inevitably remain acquaintances, never taking on a life of their own. Others blossom initially but eventually wane, serving as important stepping stones to the ideas that stand the test of time. I can see this clearly in the evolution of my study. New aspects have been introduced whilst older features have disappeared, either re-emerging or being replaced. Just like relationships, an honours project is never static.

Inevitably, my 'relationship' with my project is complex. A thesis needs to be explained, defended and supported, a bit like a friend who cannot speak for themselves. At times I feel overwhelmed by it all, especially given the importance of high marks to my future career. Nevertheless, support from those willing to give feedback and listen makes it seem possible.

Despite all this, if my thesis could chat to me right now, it would probably vent its frustration! You see, I've identified a problem and I'm trying to fix it. However, I have not had much success. What is worse, is that I keep making the same mistakes. I'm placating myself with the knowledge that I will overcome this and by doing so will learn a lot from it. Even so, I still need to change my approach because my current tactics are evidently not working. Does anyone out there have any tips for approaching re-occurring problems?

At least writing this post has made me feel better. Challenges are inevitable but they will make it all the more worthwhile in the end. I'll let you know how I get on.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Walking on sunshine

Ever watched a musical and thought that all the singing was so artificial? That no one breaks into song to express their feelings in real life? Well, I can attest that after a meeting with my supervisor, I came quite close to singing in jubilation!

It all began with researching my topic area. I was disheartened to find that my original idea was well researched already. There were a few gaps in the literature, but I was unsure if they justified another project. It seemed like I might have to abandon my original plan. So I sent my supervisor a synopsis of what I had found. Ironically, this proved the springboard for my project taking on a new and exciting direction. So much so, that I walked out of my next meeting with the prospect of doing an even better project that might even be publishable.

I don't mind telling you that I was walking around campus, simply grinning. I was as joyful as Maria in the opening credits of the Sound of Music, so happy I could have sung. It was an amazing confidence boost to realise my supervisor was willing for me to take on such a great project.

So for anyone out there on their honours journey, my story shows that sometimes a hurdle in your journey can be a blessing in disguise. And at the risk of sounding like I am giving a sermon, my other 'tip of the day' would be to always go about researching wholeheartedly. Make an effort with your notes, make sure you understand them. After all, they showcase your work to anyone who reads them. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Great Expectations

Everyone knows that honours year is an expedition into the unknown. The beaten path of structured assignments and lecturer driven lessons are left behind to embark on a new and challenging journey. What I have found surprising is the disconnect between what I thought honours would be like and the reality. I knew I would  hear about current psychological research and research methodology in a more interesting and practically orientated light. However, I was not prepared for how fascinating and entertaining these classes are. A three hour seminar seems to fly by.

I also didn't expect to be drawing so many comparisons to my first year of university. As a first year, do you remember the excitement of learning something in class that just made you think 'Wow, I really have to tell so and so about this'? I'm sure you can also recall the feat of trying to remember people's names and your timidity exploring previously uncharted areas of the university. These aspects of university life have been heightened in my honours year. My class has doubled in size, meaning there are many new people to meet. Likewise, the scarcity of computers this early in the semester, has led me to discover labs overlooked by other students. Every day is a chance to learn something new.

Yes, this journey into the unknown is marked by nerves, self-doubt and the need to grit my teeth and walk over the speed bumps, but it is also one of the most exciting and enjoyable experiences of my university career so far. I am starting to understand what past honours students have said about this year really being one of the most rewarding experiences at uni. Hopefully when the path seems impassible I can look at the post and remember why I am doing this, because I love it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A journey of 12,000 words, begins with a single step

My journey of 12,000 words began with perusing the literature in my area of interest, autism. I must admit I am resorting to reading and noting the articles in short bursts. However, it does seem to be working.  My current approach has been to read around a couple of aspects of autism, paying particular attention to  researchers' suggestions for future research. My plan is to read a few more articles and then brainstorm possible project ideas so I'm ready for my supervisor meeting. 

I'm also finding CiteULike a brilliant resource while I'm researching. For the uninitiated, it is a free site to keep a tab of all your references. It even puts them in your choice of referencing format. It did take me a few attempts to work out how to import citations, but is should save the headache of losing them!

My honours year classes officially started yesterday. It was a gentle start to the academic year. We revised statistical concepts and rediscovered the importance of evidence based practice and remaining cautious when evaluating research.

I also attended the first weekly seminar for research students offered by my university. I am so glad that I went. The seminar highlighted that other students do feel a bit 'at sea' in their research journey too.

 The brown object is an oar, not a bottle. Drawing is not my strongest point...

The session also gave me some useful signposts to navigate the journey. I think the key principle I need to hold onto is that laying a solid foundation for my research is paramount to its success. Now I understand why the first few months of brainstorming, researching and designing a project are said to be the most intense! I'll definitely be going back for the next session.
So to any student undertaking research or studying at uni...

 get thee to your uni's learning programs

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Allocation day

We had been given a broad time frame for when we would find out who our supervisor was. So, it took me completely by surprise when mere days after preference submission I read the announcement that the allocations were up. With a pounding heart, excitement and impatience reminiscent of receiving my year 12 results, I waited for the allocations to load. I frantically scanned through the list, past friends' names, until I found my own. I had been allocated my first preference. I was elated!

The next step was to contact my supervisor and see where my honours journey would go from there.

The hunt

Once the hunt for supervisors began, honours students could be spied pacing round the psychology floor, searching for the right office, and discussing in huddles who had interviewed whom. Ordinarily the prospect of asking a professor a question in a crowded lecture hall or after class wouldn't have phased me. However, even I was incredibly nervous. Luckily, I started my search with a  particularly friendly supervisor.

Now that this process is behind me I know I am lucky to have had the opportunity to meet with potential supervisors. Each meeting gave me a new perspective about the honours process.

For anyone about to embark on their own supervisor hunt, good luck and here are five ideas that you might like to consider:
  1. If your potential supervisors haven't specified any particular projects, coming up with at least two broad ideas is wise, just in case one is not feasible.
  2. Read the recommended readings
  3. Visit more supervisors than you have preferences, to ensure more flexibility at decision time.
  4. Have some idea about what you want in a supervisor and project and discuss their supervisory style
  5. If you have further questions, follow them up with an email or subsequent meeting
Good hunting

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Calm Before the Storm

Happy New Year! My Honours year officially begins with our introductory meeting next week. I am feeling excited, but a little nervous. Honours year really is the great unknown. Everyone I have spoken to has said it is hardest year in psychology but also the most rewarding. Personally, I just want to start and find out what it is all about! 

In my last post I mentioned that I had planned to peruse my statistics notes. That hasn't happened! But I am on my holidays after all. I have however, been reading up on various areas of psychology like autism, children with disabilities and their parents. Unfortunately, a feasible thesis topic has yet to jump out at me. I am sure the introductory meeting and talking to supervisors will soon change this though.

Ideally I will find an original topic that I have an interest in that can also be explored using first year psychology students as participants. My perfect supervisor would be approachable, accessible, knowledgeable and patient with my statistics questions. I am reasonably proficient with statistics but I still like to ask lots of questions and get some reassurance because I do tend to tie myself up in knots every once in a while. I'm sure anyone out there reading this who has studied psychology understands where I am coming from. Keep your fingers crossed I get my wish list please!

In my quest to come up with potential thesis project ideas I've been enjoying reading Oliver Sacks' "Musicophilia." It's a great account of the relationship between music and the brain, and just as good as "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat." For the uninitiated, Sacks' books present case studies about people with various neurological disorders; everything from Autism to Tourette's. They give you an insight into different conditions and what the world looks like from a patients' perspective, posing some interesting questions. I would definitely recommend adding Oliver Sacks to your reading  list. You don't need to be studying psychology or neurology to enjoy them and you can probably find them in your local library. Reading Musicophilia has been a nice way to take a break from reading journal articles whilst still learning about psychology.

Until next time..