Month: August 2016

Great Lakes of Corn and Wheat

Sternstein - Great Lakes of Corn & Wheat
In the center of Michigan, the lakes are not clear water, but are golden colored wheat and tall corn. The combines are friendly giants that wander outside of the wooden posts, traveling on the main roads even as far as to the McDonalds on the corner of 3 Mile Road, taking up both lanes and forcing the smaller cars to trail behind at the slowed pace. The rural roadways are long and straight and unpopulated, aside from the birds, just enough so as to give drivers the confidence to do unlawful things without thinking twice.

I learned all of this as I spent a few weeks in field research, collecting details of scenery and cultures and conversations. I also learned of the tremendous economic and social impact that a city can feel in the midst of a large acquisition and layoff by their major source of employment. In certain cities in our country, companies seem to grow along with the community, playing a central role in names of high schools and community gardens. These companies sit at the family dinner table; they create story lines from grandfather to grandchild. While I was there, though, this name was suddenly on the lips of everyone around me as a word of caution and worry – who would stay, who would have to move away, as 700 men and women were let go? From my yoga instructor, who worked as a freelance contractor for the company, to a volunteer at the community boathouse who worked as an economic planner for the city government, no one seemed to left out of the conversation. These conversations, these long, quiet roads, have been on my mind as I begin to write my next story.

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Part 5: Piloting (without the planes)

Carnival tickets I'm using for my study, although I'm not going to spoil what they're for yet...

Carnival tickets I’m using for my study, although I’m not going to spoil what they’re for yet…

Since my last blog post, I have finished my IRB proposal and am waiting for the IRB to respond back. Until then, it’s time to pilot my study, and as much as I would love to fly a plane, that’s not what piloting means in my case. (Actually I’m terrified of heights so being a pilot would be awful, but I’m getting way off topic now).

Piloting for studies just means that I’m going to go over my study with people who aren’t actual participants. This week, I’ve started piloting with other research assistants in the Relationships Lab, who pretended to be participants in my study, except they got to be much more critical. I’ve asked them to point out anything that seems weird or confusing, which includes questions in the questionnaires and directions I give as an experimenter, and how I could improve these parts of the study. The point of this is to have people who don’t know about the study to go through it with fresh eyes, unlike me who has been buried in this study for the past three months.

After I’ve asked research assistants to help, I’m going to also look for real couples to help pilot as well. These couples will provide a fresh perspective along and will also provide results and voice concerns closer to what my potential participants would have. Piloting with real couples will then allow me to tune up my study more finely because they are representatives of the sample I’m looking for.

I will get to pilot until the semester starts, and maybe even into the first week of school if need be. I’m sure I will get a lot of feedback since this is the first time I’ve ever designed a study of this magnitude, but it’s still really exciting to finally see my study in action, even if it’s just through some trial runs.

On Change

Nguyen - On Change 1As always, summer breezed straight past me, and I can’t even believe it’s August. I’ve already switched into full denial mode where I refuse to think about how school is coming up so soon. With all the work I spent on my project over the summer, and time divided between friends and jobs, everything seemed to move by so quickly. But after each day ends, another begins. Another challenge to face along with failures and successes. As the sun sets on the summer behind me, it’s a bit sad and exciting. I have found confidence in my own writing and my own progress, no matter how fast or slow it comes. It will be exciting to see how my pieces will continue to grow and change during the fall.

Now, it’s time to switch gears and jump into Resident Assistant duties. I won’t have much time for a break with work starting for me on August 12, so I’m trying to enjoy the idle moments. With first-year students moving in soon and the whirlwind that is orientation week, time spent writing by myself will be a luxury. I’ll miss these quiet moments, living in the world of my characters with only their voices to fill my skull, but I’m ready to embrace change, and both the highs and lows that come with it.

Nguyen - On Change 2

Exploring My Freedom

Makal - Exploring My Freedom
As I sat, just a few days ago, in a conference room in Baker Hall surrounded by my fellow Fellows and their advisers, waiting quite impatiently for my turn to present the work I have done over the summer, I got to thinking about what I’ve done in the past three months. Of course, I know what I have accomplished in terms of my research project, as that was the core of the presentation. For those of you who missed it, here are some of the highlights:

  • I generated two unique research questions and hypotheses.
  • I crafted a research experiment to address these questions and hypotheses.
  • I found and created measures and manipulations with which to perform this research experiment.
  • I formulated these measures and manipulations into a coherent, hopefully acceptable IRB application (for which I am still waiting on approval).
  • I programmed all of the information from the IRB application into the online platform through which my study will eventually be made available to participants.

Though there is still work to be done before the school year, specifically in terms of piloting my study to ensure that there are no further changes to be made, and (God willing!) receiving IRB approval, I am able to look back on this summer and say that I have accomplished most of my goals. This is an incredible feeling – almost as good of a feeling as sitting down after completing my presentation. However, as I sat in that room sweaty and anxious, I was not thinking about my research goals and accomplishments. I was, instead, thinking about the summer I was able to have outside of my research.

This summer, thanks to the flexibility of the fellowship program, I was able to continue on with my job at the Carnegie Mellon University Store, enabling me to make some extra money. I then swiftly blew through this money during my travels, which included my family’s annual summer vacation to Wisconsin, as well as multiple trips to Washington, D.C. to visit my boyfriend and explore a new and historic city. Some of my most fond and educational memories of the summer come from the traveling I was able to do, and I cannot express my gratitude to the fellowship program for making this possible. Additionally, as I have written about before, I found a new love this summer: hot yoga. Having the flexibility to attend daily classes has allowed me to improve myself, both physically and mentally, in ways that I hope will carry into the rest of my life off of the mat.

Though I have already had a very fulfilling summer, it is now time for me to take some time off and regroup before the school year starts. In this next month, I will continue my travels – this time going out west to Utah and then on to California. I will still be in contact with my faculty adviser through email, sorting out any issues that may come about during study piloting that will occur while I’m gone. However, I can confidently say that I have made it through this summer of research, and that I have great momentum and hopes for when I get back to it in the fall.