Reflecting and Ramping Up for the Semester

These past two weeks I have taken a break from working on my thesis to act as an Orientation Counselor for CMU’s Orientation Program. Speaking with first-years about my experiences and ushering in the next class of Tartans has caused me to pause and really reflect on what it means to be a CMU student, a senior, and someone conducting a year-long research project.

I spoke at Dietrich College’s convocation and chose to focus my speech on the concept of openness. CMU is a land of opportunities and the main piece of advice I had for the sea of first-years was to let themselves be open to new opportunities and experiences available here. A misconception held by many students entering college, one that I originally held, is that college is just about taking the required classes for your major and getting out with your degree. But the truth is that CMU is the place to examine your interests and explore what you’re truly passionate about.

Senior year is speeding towards me fast. It’s thrilling and terrifying to be nearly finished with my time as a student, since that’s all I have ever really done. I have only ever been in school for the majority of every year since kindergarten. I like to think that I’ve learned a few things along the way but I always thought I’d feel secure and confident in my position as advice-giver or college senior. I’m still unsure of my path after graduation but I can focus on making the best of my last year and the work I’ll be doing.

With the start of the semester comes classes and and the re-ignition of my thesis project. This break has been a useful palate cleanser as I have to now prepare to work on my thesis in completely new conditions. During the summer, I was able to focus solely on my project for hours on end in the same location. Now I need to adapt and figure out how to weave my project into my schedule of classes and extracurricular activities. Having a daily routine really helps me to focus; when things are often up in the air it’s more difficult for me to plan out how to get things done. Gone are the days of sitting at the same desk from 9 to 5; welcome to balancing act. I know that I’ll have to give myself time to adjust to a new method of working on my thesis, but I’m worried I’ll feel out of sorts or that I’m trying to do too much at once. I need to find time to breathe, and then actually do it.

This is the last of my summer blog posts for the Research Fellowship Blog, and I’m sad to see them go. I enjoyed reading up on what the other fellows were doing but now that the semester’s starting up, I’m excited to see them in person and to throw my heart back into the work.

The End of Summer

Time is passing by quickly and the end of this summer vacation is not far away. I came back home several days ago and I finally got to see my parents and my friends who I haven’t met for about six months. I also got opportunities to visit some newly open restaurants and experience different kinds of delicious food. However, it’s extremely hot in the city I live in — it’s even difficult to walk outside for a while.

Facing the end of summer, maybe it’s time to look back what I have done during this summer vacation. With the help of my advisor and the honors fellowship program, I have finished the literature review about support-seeking and support-provision in close relationships. I have refined my hypotheses, project design and theoretical rationale and more importantly, I have completed some goods drafts for the introduction part and methods part of my honors thesis. During the summer, I also participated in the Speak up! course hosted by the university research office, and I learned from many professionals about how I can effectively introduce my research project to the audience and let the audience understand the significance of my research.  

I will try my best to enjoy the rest summer. When the school starts again, I will resume my project and give you more updates. See you later!

Not Quite the Final Chapter

It’s the end of summer, and so far I’ve gotten a pretty good portion of my novel written. My plans going into the academic year are to finish up the first draft, and then move on to editing. Luckily, some pages have already been workshopped through the program I went to in Prague.

            The time in Prague also helped for inspiration. We went to the Bone Church in Kutná Hora, which is a church where people who died from the Black Death and the Hussite Wars were buried in an unconventional way. Their bones were used to decorate the chapel, as shown in the pictures below.

            The plot of my book deals with family and religious themes, so visiting this was very helpful in terms of inspiration. I got to share a little bit about this experience in my update-presentation, and was excited to receive questions about it; the sources of inspiration and general plot questions. I always get nervous telling people about my work, but it’s really helpful and encouraging when people show genuine interest in it and ask questions about it. I also enjoyed hearing even more about the progress with the other fellows’ projects, and hope to continue keeping in touch with them throughout the year.

This summer has been helpful in a lot of ways with giving me time to write and the opportunity to workshop my pages, and I’m excited to continue writing and editing into the school year.

The last weeks of summer 2019, post from Beijing

The note my mom wrote me and half a corn. This type of corn is different for the ones I can get in U.S. It has a very sticky, chewy texture. Very YUMMY!

When I was younger, summer always felt like an eternity. The long, bright and hot summer days made everything immersed in it become insensitive to the passing of the time. I would spend those humid and cloudy afternoons, sitting in the yard, dipping my toes into the pond, wondering about why the time was so still. 

But this was not what I experienced this summer. All of a sudden it has come to an end. I am actually typing this post in my home back in Beijing, after spending 20 hours on the flights. I still can’t believe that I am approaching the end of summer 2019, the last summer I have as an undergraduate student. 

Everything is going well, I suppose. For my two projects, I have something written up. Nothing fancy and definitely needs more refinement, but those are two starting points and I know where I am heading now. Some good news also came from my project in ILLL: the project I started last summer, after a year of data collection, the results are actually consistent with our hypothesis. It was kind of awkward because I prepared the statistics analysis for Meeting of the Mind all in a hurry, so I didn’t do the right things and found a non-significant results. But after spending more time learning (or relearning) my statistics, the results seem promising, which made my follow-up projects look more exciting. 

It’s funny how I always grow attachment to the studies I’m working on. The term “brain-child” can’t be more appropriate. Honestly, the time I spent on thinking about those two studies would inevitably lead to this kind of attachment, and I would become a “worrying” parent for them: “What would happen when I’m gone. ” I have already implemented the follow-up for FUZZ (the project in ILLL), but what about CALA (the project in ICL)? There is never a single one-shot study in psychology that will be good enough to prove anything seriously, so a follow-up study would be inevitable. I know, of course, when I leave college my connections with my advisors and labs will not be cut. But still, I think I will need to find a babysitter or a foster parent for them. 

I am applying to graduate school this fall, so I sincerely hope my future graduate school advisors will be interested in my brain children as well. Not the “oh-that’s-cute-as-an-undergraduate-project” type of interested, but really really interested in the significance behind them.

Presenting and Pondering

Myself and the other fellows finished our summer of research by presenting our work thus far. Rather than being nervous for my presentation, I was instead surprisingly excited. I find my research of the brain’s visual system to be extremely interesting, and I was looking forward to being able to share this interest with others!

The presentation experience did indeed live up to my expectations. I really enjoyed explaining my initial findings, future plans, and the significance of my work. After my presentation, I was particularly moved by the insightful follow-up questions from the audience. The audience’s relevant questions were not only thought-provoking, but also demonstrated to me that I had explained my area of study well enough that the audience was able to synthesize the information.

In addition to enjoying my own presentation experience, I also enjoyed listening to the presentations of the other fellows. Each of the fellows have been sharing their progress at our weekly meetings, but getting to formally hear about their initial findings provided a new perspective of their work.

Throughout the summer, the fellows and I have established an exciting environment of academic discussion. I hope we continue to share our work and learn from one another as we enter the fall. I look forward to seeing how our projects progress as we continue on this research journey together!

Summer Writing

Recently I’ve been focusing a lot on writing down my experiences that relate to my project — so I’ve been writing about racism that I experienced during my school career (for the most part) — because those experiences are the ones that I remember most vividly.

I have a tendency to ramble when I write, at times, and I feel like I’m doing a lot of rambling when I write these experiences down — I guess it’s better than not having anything to write, however, because then I can condense my rambles into short stories that will make sense (once I start drafting my essay/thesis). I think I also ramble more when I write about memories that I remember more vividly or experiences that I remember the most parts about.

There are also memories that I don’t remember that well, as well — or just remember in pieces — and these I write by looking at this document that my friends and I submitted to our school administration in middle school, when we were experiencing a lot of racism from the same students. It helps because we wrote down things about the racist incident that we experienced (at most one or two sentences) and helps me remember the essence about what happened — but it doesn’t help me remember all the details and such, making it a little bit harder to write in general or write a perfectly accurate account.

Some Thoughts About Final Presentation

Despite my worries, the final presentation went pretty well. I gave a clear speech about my honor thesis and my current work progress, and the audience seemed to be highly engaged.

One thing surprised me a lot was people’s big interest in my project. My honor thesis is about the predictors and consequences of support-seeking in close relationships. When I first introduced my project to others, the first question they had was what could be defined as support-seeking behaviors, and the second question was about the significance of studying specific support-seeking behaviors, given that asking for support and giving support are such natural things happening in daily life. I thought for a long time about how I could introduce support-seeking in a way that people can easily grab and relate to their own lives or even their private relationships. The program director Dr. Devine provided me with some inspiration. In “Modern Family,” an extremely popular show that many people might have watched before, once the husband Phil was enjoying a free spa and he got a phone call from his wife Claire, in which Claire was complaining about all the bad things happened in her terrible day. Phil provided many simple solutions to Claire’s problems, but Claire didn’t want to hear them. So, Phil was confused about the reason why Claire appeared to be so rejective to his suggestions. Later he learnt from his spa friends that what Claire needed were reassuring or comforting statements from her husband instead of a bunch of seemingly practical solutions. The show provided a perfect example of mismatch of support that could frequently happen between couples. To elaborate, mismatch of support refers to the situation in which a person is providing support that his/her spouse doesn’t actually need.

In my final presentation, I used the story in Modern Family to introduce my honor thesis. Most of the audience seemed to understand my research purpose quickly. Particularly, there was one professor who stopped me after my presentation and told me that she would like to read my thesis paper when it is finished because she realized that mismatch of support could sometimes happen in her own life as well. I realized that every research is valuable and there’s always a better way to communicate research to the audience.

The End (of Summer) Is in Sight

These past few weeks have been focused almost exclusively on presentations. The 3MRT, the practice in-progress presentation the week after, and finally the actual in-progress presentation that each of the fellows gave this week. These last two weeks have been a great opportunity to step back and reflect on what I’ve done this summer and how I intend to move forward, especially as the fall semester is about to start. One of the most important aspects of talking about my research in front of an expert and non-expert audience is the opportunity for feedback.

When I get really invested in a project, especially one that is solely my own, I can have difficulties getting feedback. I often feel defensive of my work as though it’s an extension of myself. This is something that I’ve had to work on since it’s such an important part on improving any project. Getting feedback from others is a great way to incorporate multiple perspectives and thus make a better result. This was the theme of the week. Dietrich deans, professors, and faculty were present along with my fellow Fellows, and I was presented with a lot of suggestions and ideas that I hadn’t considered. One was the possible effect of the type of device used to take the survey. People may use different keywords when they type using a keyboard versus when they have to use just their thumbs.

It’s hard to believe that the summer’s almost over. I feel as though I blinked at the start of the summer and all of the sudden I’m heading back to NJ for the last week. To celebrate the end of summer, all the fellows went to the Milkshake Factory. It was nice to wrap up all the presentations with a little ice cream celebration.

The Brain Recovery Project: A Life Changing Weekend in Cleveland

This previous weekend a few lab members and I took a trip to Cleveland in order to attend a neurosurgery conference called, the Brain Recovery Project. This conference is designed to allow patients, family members, clinicians, and researchers to convene and discuss the treatment of epileptic patients with large brain resections.

Now, you may be wondering what exactly is epilepsy? And, what is a brain resection?

Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder characterized by seizures. When we think of a seizure, we often think of muscle and body convulsions. In reality, these convolutions are the result of abnormal and intense brain activation. Seizures are often described by doctors as an electrical storm in the brain. The severity and frequency of seizures associated with epilepsy differs greatly depending on the individual. While approximately 60% of epileptic children’s seizures are controlled with medication, 40% suffer from seizures which are drug-resistant. If the seizures of drug-resistant epilepsy are severe enough to inhibit development and cause brain damage, patients and their families may make the tough decision to be treated with a brain resection.

A brain resection involves surgery to remove the region of the brain from which the seizures, or “electrical storm,” are originating. Many of these epileptic patients must have an entire hemisphere (right or left half of the brain) removed in order to successfully control their seizures. The idea of removing a large portion of ones brain sounds very, very scary. What we are finding, however, is that many of these patients make amazing recoveries and live full seizure-free lives after their surgery. Despite recent advancements, there is lack of research regarding the treatment and development of brain resection patients.

My lab and I specifically attended this conference in order to research how the visual system recovers from brain resections. We sought answers to questions such as, why do some patients regain reading abilities while others do not? How is the perception of faces and contrast altered in these patients? Luckily, the patients at this conference were eager to help us answer these questions. Over the course of two days, 35 amazing patients came to our testing rooms in order to participate (we set up two make-shift testing rooms in the  hotel where the conference was taking place). Thanks to these participants, we now have an unprecedented amount of data and may be able to find some answers to these questions.

On a more personal note, I didn’t expected to be so impacted by my weekend at this conference. At first, I was very nervous for the conference. Many of the patients signed up for our study were children, and I had never conducted research with children before. What I found, however, was that I loved interacting with the participants of our study. I enjoyed helping them to understand the tasks we needed them to do, and I loved answering their wide-array of questions. Most of all, I enjoyed the small talk we shared and hearing about their hobbies, interests, and opinions. My time at this conference has convinced me that I am interested in patient research, and that I like interacting with participants very, very much.

It is hard to express and fully understand how this conference has impacted me, but I feel as though I have undergone a major positive change and a shift in my world view. I am thankful for my advisor and the graduate student in my lab for including me on this trip. I am also thankful to the patients and family members at the conference for being so welcoming and sharing their stories with us. I hope I am able to attend again in the future, and until then, I wish them all the best!

“I can’t believe it’s already late July!”

“I can’t believe it’s already late July!” 

What a corny sentence to start a new blogpost, but it truthfully reflects my thoughts right now. I vaguely remembered that at the end of last semester I was expecting a smooth, long summer, marking the third and last summer of my undergraduate life (Well, I will count the next one as a transition not as within the realm of undergraduate). But astonishingly, it went by extremely fast, and I got to kept myself extremely busy. 

Update on my projects 

a.Things happening in Psychology: 

1. My syntactic bootstrapping experiment is ready-to-go. Hopefully on Wednesday I can test my first baby in the experiment

Noteworthily, I remember this parent and this kiddo. It always feels amazing when I get to witness a kiddo’s growth. There are a couple of returning “customers” and I vividly remembered how, when they first came, the kiddo was a little clump of cuteness in the cradles, and now, when they came for the 7th times, the kiddo was running around like a little wild horse. Human beings are amazing. 

2. My laughter perception project is going on well! We started recruiting. 

So that was a follow-up experiment from my last year’s SURF grant. I’m very grateful for Erik for letting me experiment on experimentation! Laughter! How cool is that! Even if I do have some legitimate reasons to use laughter as my stimuli, still, I firmly believe If there’s a “funniest experiment in psychology department,” I will at least get nominated. 

3. Preparation for next semester’s TA class

I’ve been helping Dr. Heller and Dr. Randalls to implement a demo paradigm using PsychoPy, and it is almost done. I’ll just need to focus on data analysis script as of now. I also plan to make a YouTube video tutorial before the semester starts. I have to say I’m a little bit nervous for TAing for that class: as the only TA, and also that class is a very hands-on class. I love helping out but I’m worried that I might not be able to….so, I’ll use summer to get myself ready 

b.Things happening in Philosophy: 

1.Thesis paper

3000 words, not bad I guess. At least a start. 

I’m always amazed by the fact how philosophers look things differently than the psychologists. To use an example, when I was talking about the attention termination phase, Wayne asked me: “Why would they think those questions are worth asking?” Well, because everyone else is talking about it! That was my first reaction, and then I realized how absurd it is. But this absurdity, in some sense, infuses the science literature (“by convention” “previous studies have suggested”). On the one hand, it is important to build on the previous works. Accumulation is the only path toward breakthrough. On the other hand, this foundation that we are standing on contains so many arbitrariness, coincidence and “historical accidents”. We need philosophical scrutiny to pick the right “foundation” to stand on. 

2. NEW PROJECT!!!

Yep!! I joined a new project! It all began with a casual question that I asked Professor Joel Smith because I wanted to write an article for general audience following a paper on Nature-Human Behavior last month called “What happened to Cognitive Science?” Then after he got me connected with Professor Colin Allen at Pitt, I’ve been working on the webscrapping data collecting since then. The goal is to codify 2000+ CVs of authors who have published on the journal of cognitive science. Speaking of philosophy in a new age: this is how coding experience can help!

Five projects: I’ll think of them as equivalent of five classes now. I actually enjoy switching in between of them and see how they’re connected together. The skills I used for writing python webscrapper can help with writing the data analysis script in preparation of my TA class. The paper I read for my psychology project will pop up in my philosophical discussion as well. I don’t know whether it would sound so naive to say this, and I guess I would certainly, at some point of my life, regret saying this: I can’t wait to get in grad school! Think of all the time that I can spend on my research: it was like this summer, but extended into school year!

But this doesn’t mean that I’m not looking forward to next semester. I’m especially excited about the class I’m going to take at Pitt. Everyone was telling me she’s the one of the BEST philosophers on this area, and SHE! I’ve never got chance to interacted with a female philosopher before, which was a pretty sad fact, but next semester I’m actually going to take her class! The thing I told my mom when I was a sophomore still applies today: “Mom, for me going to classes feels like going to live rock concert and you’ve get to talk to them personally.”