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.