Data Analysis: Remembering the Visual

As soon as I press the “play” button on the voice recorder, I begin to type as fast as I can to transcribe the first few words of the interview. I press pause as soon as the recording gets ahead of me, and then repeat the process. Transcription is a bit tedious and there are moments when my fingers stop typing, because I begin to really listen to what is being said. Then, I have to rewind a few seconds back in the recording and type, again.

Having allocated a few hours on the weekends to transcribe, I finally had the opportunity to lay the transcriptions out on my desk and read (multiple times) the words of my interviewees. Multiple readings alone are insufficient to code and analyze. Time also plays an important role in coding the information that I have. There are moments in between classes that I have to pull out my notebook and jot down a note to go back to when I’m looking at the interviews.

Staring at the transcriptions, I almost forgot that I have other senses. One of my professors reminded me that I have eyes. Since I only have audio recordings of the interviews, I made sure to take time after the interviews (not in front of the interviewee) to take notes of body language, the environment of the interview, facial expressions, etc. that seemed significant and accompanied their words. I find more connections when I don’t get completely absorbed in the words themselves. After all, these words are products of individuals who express themselves in a myriad of ways.

One of my goals in this research project is to encompass as much of the individual voice in the analysis as possible without sacrificing the quality of the analysis. Behind each word, each sentence, is a human being who is sharing various moments of their lives.

As I read through the transcriptions, and often re-listen to the recordings, I remember the facial expressions, the pauses, the shifting in their chairs, etc. These are elements that allow me to interpret their words beyond just the words and I hope I can convey that in my writing.

Part 8: Coding Between the Lines

For the most part, my research has reached a pleasant stasis since my last blog post. A team of experimenters and I have been running sessions every week and slowly but surely collecting data.

That being said, I’m still working on new things. I am now working on a new part of data collection/analysis: coding response data. (I know this is CMU, but no, not programming coding.) A section in my study is where participants write about whether they made a sacrifice for their partner and what their motives were for their actions. My focus is on whether they had intrinsic motivation, but I am also assessing other types of motives to see how they all relate with each other and fit with the literature’s findings. Now we have to take the participants’ responses and code them for what kinds of motivations appear so we can see what kinds of motivation touch promotes.

Unfortunately, no one has released a standardized coding scheme for motivation for writing responses. Researchers have come up with definitions and methods to categorize behaviors as certain types of motives, but no one has implemented a way for how these motivations would manifest in writing. Thus I have to work from scratch. I started with the basic definition of each motivation and then thought about how these would play out in responses. For example, intrinsic motivation is about doing an activity because you truly want to do that activity, such as doing something out of enjoyment or interest. A phrase such as “I wanted to help my partner” would be coded high on intrinsic motivation because phrases like “I want” indicate that the participant truly wanted to make a sacrifice.


Fun fact: 90% of my life is just editing

Of course, there’s always the danger of reading too much into what a participant wrote or making too many leaps of inference. That’s why it’s important for coders to give higher ratings for statements that are explicit and clear and to not overthink ambiguous statements. For now, I am working with my advisor to work out the kinks of how to code these responses and how to make it easy and clear for new coders to learn. We should be able to have a workable coding scheme come January.

No Slacking November


img_5183November is here, and that means two things: it’s almost the holidays(!!!!) and it’s almost time for everything that I have been working on (or not) throughout this semester to be due. Though I am delighted by the prospect of having a month off from school, I know that getting to that point will be no walk in the park.

Throughout this month, I will continue to work on my grad school applications, as well as writing the beginning sections of my final thesis paper. Though both of these tasks are not only very important, but also very time consuming, I must admit that I have fallen prey to the temptation of procrastination. However, now that I only have a month to finish everything, it’s go time. I have always told myself that I work well under pressure, and this month will be the ultimate test of that. Though, as usual, I am worried, I am confident that I will get everything done with the help of my advisor, family, and friends.

Luckily, the beginning of November brought me more than just a reality check. I just recently received data back from the soft launch of my study, and everything seems to be going well! Though the soft launch data only contained data from 12 participants, it provided a final opportunity for edits. In our piloting phase, we were focused on making changes to the study based on flaws in the design, questions, etc. However, this data allows us to make changes based on actual participant responses. I will be presenting my study to the entire Relationships Lab this Friday, and, after getting some final feedback from my colleagues, I should be ready to fully launch the study! Thankfully, data analysis isn’t in my plan until next semester. So, once the study is fully launched, I can keep focus on my current tasks, and just wait until the data is sent back to me.

Let the Adventure Begin

~Awaiting adventure~ with some of my housemates!

~Awaiting adventure~ with some of my housemates!

Now that I’m halfway through the fall semester of my senior year (!!!) I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about the somewhat limited time that I have left at Carnegie Mellon (which is still really hard to believe). When I started off my senior year a few months ago, I promised myself that I would make the most of my time left at Carnegie Mellon, and enjoy every moment I spend here, whether that be in class, at work, or just at hanging out at home with my wonderful housemates (2 of which are pictured above). As cheesy as that sounds, I have actually benefited a great deal from having this perspective. I am not as stressed as I usually am, mainly because I am truly enjoying the work that I’m doing it.  Investing time and energy into my classes and extra curricular activities can be overwhelming and stressful, but since I’ve made more of an effort to enjoy every moment I have left here, I’ve grown to be even more passionate about my courses and activities on campus. I’m incredibly grateful for CMU, my professors and my friends for giving me this kind of environment to thrive in; as a senior, it is making my last semesters extremely valuable. I can only hope that I keep up this attitude for the remaining semester and a half that I have left as an undergrad.

As I walk around campus, I become more sentimental about the adventures that I’ve had but also the adventures that are to come. I hate not knowing where I’ll be a year from now, but I’ve started to embrace the unknown. The future is scary, but exciting.

In the meantime, I am waiting for IRB approval for the online survey that I will send to French and Québecois participants. I’m really looking forward to reading the results from these surveys to see if my archival and library research about La Loi Toubon and La Charte de la Langue Française corresponds with contemporary opinion about these language policies.  I am also starting to engage in more archival research and starting to write my introductory sections to my thesis.

Thanks for reading!

Sweet New Year

The fall is upon us; this is the realization that I had as the temperature took a sudden dive and I pulled a sweater and umbrella out from my closet. This Monday and Tuesday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I celebrated with apples and honey for a “sweet new year”, and dinners filled with my grandma’s recipes (kasha varnishkas, goulash, honey cake). I’ve been thinking about and planning for the year ahead, my final year of undergraduate school, and where it might take me. October is a month filled with job interviews and job fairs. My friends are in Seattle for an interview one day, back in school the next, finishing final touches on medical school and graduate program applications. The next year seems like a distance away, and yet here we are, trying to make decisions that will prepare us for the next move, and then, hopefully, for the next. Wrapping my head around where we may all end up in a year is like writing a collection of tension-filled fiction in itself.


Shanah Tova! Happy New Year!

I have also been thinking about my thesis, and where it may take me. I am grateful for the momentum that I was given over the summer, but now I am forced to be even more mindful of getting myself to the writing table. This past month, I gave myself the commitment to find time to sit and write every single day, weekends and weekdays alike. Amid reading assignments and engineering group projects, job applications and exams, I have been finding the space to give my writing the priority it deserves – to not just let the days slip away. (Of course, weekly meetings with my advisor, Kevin Gonzalez, have provided the necessary encouragement). Some days, this has meant finding the silence early in the morning, and others – later at night.

I have been working on a story that now might be turning into a lengthier novella. There is also the chance that, when I’m through, I will have to untangle it into two distinct stories. I’m not sure where it will end up now, or where the stories of the rest of the year will take me. In any case, I will be writing! Have a happy and healthy new year, everyone!

A GREat start to Senior Year

It is now October, and we are about 6 weeks into the school year. That is 6 weeks into my senior year of college, and it feels absolutely unreal! Actually, I retract my statement. It feels a little bit TOO real. As the school year began, so too did all the responsibilities that come with being a senior: the most notable of which is applying to graduate school. I am applying to Clinical Psychology Ph.D programs, a.k.a. one of the most competitive program types out there. To say I’m stressed out would be an understatement. However, as with everything I do, I’ve got a structured plan, and am making steady progress.

In fact, this past Friday I completed an integral step in the grad school application process: I took the GREs. All I can say is thank goodness that’s over with! For the month of September, I spent, no exaggeration, all of my free time studying for the test. Though it prepared me to do well, it did hinder my ability to work on other things, such as my honors thesis. However, now that the test is over and I have a bit more free time, everything with the study is back on track; it has been piloted and is just about ready to launch! If all goes well, the month of October will be spent collecting data!

I am incredibly excited with all the progress I am making, both in terms of grad school applications and my honors thesis. And, though I know things won’t be slowing down for me any time soon, I am comforted by the fact that I have plans to move forward with, and a support system that can help me get through anything and everything.


Special thanks to my wonderful housemates for my post-GRE surprise: a piece of Prantyl’s burnt almond torte cake saying “U R GREat”


Part 7: Learning Through Teaching

Despite the fact that I have been deep in schoolwork for a little over a month, my honors thesis has been making progress, albeit a little slower than I had hoped (something I’m sure all the fellows here can relate to). Ideally, I had hoped to start my study by the first or second week, but piloting and setting up the study took a little longer than I thought, and it took more like three to four weeks to actually start oops. On the plus side, as of writing this post, I have recruited three couples 😀 Again, I would’ve liked to have recruited more couples at this point in time, but I would rather have everything carefully prepared than rush into things. I also still have until March to recruit all my participants, so anything (good or bad or unexpected) can happen until then.


Some of my TA notes that also apply to my own research

Another plus side to school starting is that my TA job has started. And no, I’m not just happy because I’m earning money. I’m TA’ing for a research methods class in social psychology, where students learn about research methodology in the classroom and also by running their own studies. I not only do the typical grading job but also help out students with their research projects. In a weird way, now I get to be a mentor for these students. Much like how my advisor helped me over the summer with polishing my ideas and offering methodological advice, now I get to help my students figure out how to best conduct their research to study a topic they’re interested in. Of course, I’m not an expert, but hopefully I’ll be able provide some insight since I’ve gone through the research methodology process this past summer.

This role reversal will also help me out in my research because I’ll have more exposure to others conducting research. Just because this is in a class setting doesn’t mean that I won’t experience similar issues that my students are going through now. Deciding how to measure constructs, coming up with study designs, and creating a study procedure is something all researchers deal with no matter how experienced they are. In a sense, I’m really lucky that I get to run my study for my thesis along with guiding my students with their own research because these two experiences play off of each other and provide a unique experience for me to learn from and to continue improving.

Working with Unanticipated Elements That Become a Part of My Own Narrative


Fall 2014 FORGE semester outing with our refugee family

Each week, I open up the thesis proposal I wrote in March to re-evaluate my research goals and scroll down to the timetable that I’d created with my adviser.

Looking at it, I’m realizing that I need to adjust the deadlines I’d set for myself. There were several unanticipated bumps along the road that had kept me from completing the bulk of my fieldwork for my research by the end of September.

I felt disappointed and frustrated. Now that I had classes Monday through Friday, I wondered whether or not I could make up for a few months of fieldwork. For days, I contemplated over how I would reallocate my timetable and it proved to be extremely difficult. Without any data, I struggled to imagine the extent of my abilities to conduct interviews while juggling classes. It’s easy to schedule in time where I work on my literature review and put together my poster for a presentation for a Dietrich College Family Weekend event, but the interviews will require a few hours that include commute time, the actual duration of the interview and the time it will take for me to transcribe the recorded interview and reflect on the interviews as part of the analysis.

The longer I wait for the IRB to approve of my study, the more anxious I am. Whenever anyone asks me how my research is going, I feel a knot in my stomach because all I’ve accomplished in the last week is adding a few more articles to my annotated bibliography.

I still see my FORGE family on the weekends and it’s amazing how a few hours with them helps me relax. I relax because the conversations I have with them are not about my research. I relax because I can sit on their couch with them and watch Hindi movies without subtitles. I relax because they’re looking forward to celebrating the upcoming Nepali holiday. I relax because being present with them reminds me why I was motivated in the first place to pursue my thesis.

I’m looking forward to my weekends as soon as my IRB proposal is approved, because I will be having conversations with a community that reminds me of the importance of the present.

It’s ironic to me that as I constantly think about narrative inquiry, one of the methods I am using for my research, I realize that it’s much easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. Narrative inquiry is a methodology that encourages researchers to value the lived experiences of their subjects.

Lekkie Hopkins, who advocates using narrative inquiry in refugee research, wrote, “Researchers must understand that if storying is to grapple with the richness and complexity of lived experience, it will probably be chaotic and messy, as well as clear and straightforward. Researchers wanting to investigate the sociology of refugee experiences might be well advised to ensure that the stories they gather from research participants are not too neat, too straightforward, too much reduced to bare essentials in their telling, lest the chance to allow the stories to become personally and politically resonant be lost.”

I remember reading Lekkie Hopkins in March of this year and interestingly, I’m looking back at her abstract and making a connection to my own narrative as well as the narratives of the refugees I hope to hear soon. My own narrative, or my own lived experience, will be messy and chaotic at times and that’s how it should be.

I know that this sounds cliché, but it really is important to live in the present. Too much time is spent organizing, and reorganizing, my Google calendar. I’ve adjusted my timetable, come to terms with it and moved on.

Alternate Tunings

With school coming back into session, I’m reminded that it’s time to get back into the grind of my thesis.

The tail-end of the summer and these first few weeks of school have brought my mind back to focusing on my work, and also questioning some of the ideas I’ve had about the final form my project will take.

A quick TL;DR of my life: my band released an album, I played a lobster festival in Chicago, and I’ve been accepted as an Andrew Carnegie Society Scholar, which I hope will fund a trip to SXSW to meet industry executives and leaders in March.


All of these experiences have led me to question what the final form of my thesis project will take.

Initially, I wanted my project to be presented as a film, more specifically a documentary. This film would be 30-45 minutes, and more or less be a traditional linear narrative that puts forth my argument about the Pittsburgh music scene.

However, I find myself now questioning myself. After finishing my research this past summer and limiting my scope, I now worry about almost being too argumentative and having tunnel vision with my film.

My music experiences and interactions with individuals have taught me that, if anything, the developments in the music scene are inextricably tied to huge other cultural factors locally, nationally and regionally. It’s no surprise that with huge amounts of money coming in from the tech boom and with younger, more affluent people moving into the city there has been a shift in the live music scene.

Also, I’m quickly realizing that the notion of making a large film has a learning curve, and even with a team to help, could lead to us getting mired in production aspects rather than focusing on content.

As a result, I’ve been debating using an online, interactive method of conveying my narrative as opposed to a traditional film.

Businessman pressing virtual icons

This narrative would be less “linear” and act more as a timeline that displays information with firsthand videos and documents accessed by the reader. As a result, the reader can move around more and create their own personalized experience in learning about changes in the music scene. Also, as the music scene continues to develop and change, more people could post and add to this narrative.

The one weakness of this change would be that my ability to convey an argument would be weakened. My ability to control how the narrative functions and is followed is hindered by the increased interactivity and responsibility of the user/reader.

Ultimately, I think that this hurdle of deciding the final form of my project is the next challenge for me to tackle (and fast!)

Beginning fall semester


My collection of fragile animals. They'll never move.

My collection of fragile animals. They’ll never move.

I’ve begun work on another story. This story is about a world with only one difference from our own: every person is part of a pair. You recognize this person immediately and get along with him or her better than you get along with anyone else. This kind of setting might sound wonderful, but there are seven billion people in the world. For all you know, you’ll never meet the other half of your pair.

My particular story about this world begins when Weston sees Felicity across a graveyard. He’s visiting his father’s grave. Her mom was just buried. He knows immediately that they’re a pair so he approaches her. Felicity talks to him, but Weston feels as if she’s very unresponsive. Here’s a short excerpt from after Weston moves in with Felicity:

There was that expectation that because we were a pair we would also be in love with each other at first sight. I liked her, but I didn’t love her and I didn’t think that I ever would. There was something too sterile and robotic about her. She cleaned other people’s houses all day then came back and cleaned her house. The vacuum was always on when she was home. Her arm was always going back and forth.

I don’t think she ate in that house. There was no food on the shelves or in the fridge besides what I put there. When I put milk and eggs in the fridge it felt as if I was violating some rule that she had never told me.

I was asked over the summer by a friend why the main characters in this story don’t immediately get together. He said, “I’d get together right quick with my soulmate if I found her.” I told him that my story isn’t about soulmates. It’s about people who have the potential to mean a lot to you. Weston and Felicity aren’t meant to become a couple. They’re just a pair of people who help each other through difficult times.

Here is what Felicity’s perspective might be like:

When both of your housemates are gone, you don’t know what to do but run a sponge over the kitchen counter. You like the way the granite gleams when there’s a residue of water on its surface. You vacuum the floors. Dust the windowsills. You scrub dirt off the molding. Pour bleach in the sinks and toilets. While you move, you feel the same size as your body. When you stop moving, you sink back. Your vision becomes small and surrounded by black.

Your body is a cocoon. It protects you from the harshness of the outside. You think of yourself as different from it. There’s you, then there’s your body. When you don’t want to feel anymore, you loosen up on the controls for your body.

Learn more about my project.