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Psycasm

Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The other day I ran my very first experiment. Here, in the company of the Bona Fide scientists, I'm sure someone will understand it's significance. However, I'm not entirely sure how the learning process of science between more tangible biologicial disciplines and psychology vary. And so, just for interests sake, and for every person interested in becoming a Psychologist, a scientist or a student of science I'll put to paper my experience.

Undergrad Psychology is a fairly dry affair - it would be a fair comparison to say that Psychology is more like High School Modern History and/or Sociology than it is like one of the other sciences. I took chemistry in High School and at least once a week we were mixing something up, setting something on fire, or trying to turn lead into gold. Whereas in the social sciences we learned about what other people had been doing and were told to commit it to memory.

Psychology is a little bit like that. We cover hundreds of classic studies and contemporary findings, we write research reports, we read, we talk - and it's interesting. But we don't really cover the science of psychology. Since I began my studies I have conducted 2 or 3 'studies' that might generously be called science. It's just not practical to have a couple hundred undergrads coming up with hypotheses and testing them on the same population. Coupled with the fact that maybe, maybe 10 - 15% of the student body actually want to be come research psychologists there's not much demand (everyone wants to a be a clinician? Why?).

So I head-hunted. A tutor doing his PhD asked for confederates to work for him - so I put my hand up right away. His supervisor was the Head of School (and one of the most interesting and charismatic lecturers on staff to boot). I thought 'I can't pass this up'. So I did a semester of work for him as a conspirator who's role it was to lie to subjects in order to elicit a variety of responses.

That finished and I introduced myself to his supervisor - who fortunately had heard of me, if only in passing - and asked for some Research Assistant (RA) work. After a little bit of too-ing and fro-ing I ended up spending my whole mid-year break coding behaviour from long-lost videos for him. It was boring work and cost me three weeks of holidays.

Then, soon after, the Professor sent me an email saying 'So and so and I have an Idea. We'd like you to run an experiment'. Holy flip'. I expected to be a data bitch for a while to come - doing the grunt work appropriate for an untrained undergrad. So I went to the meeting and I took the lead on an experiment. It was investigating the effects of depletion of executive function on interpersonal behaviour - those are dry terms but I assure you'll laugh when I describe the full experiment (when it's completed). And so, as a lowly undergrad, I was doing for free what honours students are expected to do over a whole year (minus the honours course work).

And so I had my first subjects the other day. As I'm sure all the real scientist here can attest - nothing works the way it's supposed to first time. I spent two days setting it up, trying to figure out novel programmes that I'd never used before, recruiting participants, etc, etc. They came in and the blasted the experiment - we had underestimated the efficacy of our manipulations and they saw through the DV (because if you know a little bit about this Prof's work, you could figure out the trick pretty easily). But it was good - and these were things that even the Prof didn't expect.

So now it's back to the drawing board for some minor changes. It should be fully operational by next week. And yet I'm still a little lost as to what to do. I imagine in Biological sciences it's a bit different, you probably do lab work (as a student) every week cutting stuff open, or creating life in petri dishes, and whatnot. In psychology it's the cake at the end of the party - not until honour do you usually get to do this stuff.

I guess I've lost my experimental virginity now, and it's just like normal virginity. You know what's supposed to happen the first time... but you get it wrong, things don't happen as smoothly as you would like, and you know that next time things will be better; and when you hand them $10 for their involvement, you feel as though someone, somehow, has been cheated - but you're not entirely sure why...

 

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Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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"You know what's supposed to happen the first time... but you get it wrong"
Awesome quote!  Sounds like you had an interesting time.  It's always fun working the bugs out before you get it right.  It's actually really similar in our science.  Except we spend 6 months screwing things up and the finally realize our pipettes are contaminated or something.

Jason Goldman
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Welcome to the club :-)

Tideliar
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"And yet I'm still a little lost as to what to do. I imagine in Biological sciences it's a bit different, you probably do lab work (as a student) every week cutting stuff open, or creating life in petri dishes, and whatnot..."


 


Excellent ,very funny. and I echo jason, well aboard!


Psycasm
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It's nice to be welcomed to such a club. I'll keep everyone posted on the process. I'll also try and figure out what the etiquette is on reporting the nature of experiments is, I'd hate to reveal something in the public domain that I shouldn't have.


What are your thoughts?

Mike Lisieski

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In general, I think, one shouldn't talk about anything in any detail until one has cleared it with the person whose job depends on it eventually being published.My lab head always says that psychological research moves to slow for anybody to steal your ideas, though.Best of luck, though, and congratulations!


Dr Becca, Ph.D.
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"and when you hand them $10 for their involvement,..."


This is exactly what losing my "normal" virginity was like, too.


yannisguerra
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In clinical sciences (medicine) the troubles come when the patients decide to do whatever they want with the experimental medication, or do not know what other medications (that obviously interfere with what you are looking for!) they are taking.

About the revealing of the protocol...yeah, I would wait either until the paper is written/submitted or would ask the PI before, even more if it's an innovative protocol.

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