Month: February 2019

Long term thinking

Traveling all day with a phone that is out of battery gives you a lot of time to think about the preceding and proceeding days. The preceding days were filled with an interview at the University of Minnesota with Dr. Bob Krueger and his colleagues, nights were spent watching The Good Place with my grad student host. The proceeding days will be filled with exams and homework that have been neglected in favor of focusing on interviews and preparation for the next stage of my education.

The next stage of my education definitely involves research, a fact that was cemented in part by the Dietrich Honors Fellowship program. This summer was the first time I got to spend all of my time doing research (whether it was in my lab or on my personal project). I found it really fulfilling to sit down and do the work of preparing my study and manuscript during the summer, and I realized that studying personality was something I wanted to continue.

In order to continue on this path, I applied to PhD programs that would allow me to research personality disorders. In both my personal statement and on the interviews I’ve had for programs, I have talked about my senior project. I’ve talked about the rational, the study design, how I’m paying participants, how I came up with the idea, and every other aspect of my project ad nauseam. This is a good thing, however, considering my whole summer was preparation for just these types of questions. Writing my introduction and methods was just practice for these interviews, where my intellect is judged by my ability to succinctly and intelligently discuss my previous work.

Even though my senior thesis isn’t done yet, I am already flaunting the skills and knowledge that this process has taught me. The study is about to be launched through Qualtrics, and it is just today that I finalized the last details with our representatives at Qualtrics and gave them the go-ahead to launch the survey. While data is being collected, I am going to continue editing my introduction and methods and work on figuring out the syntax needed to run my analyses. Once the data is collected (in a couple weeks time), I will analyze my results and try to understand what they mean in the context of the broader literature on personality and addiction. I can’t wait to see what my contribution can be to the field of personality, both in this senior thesis, and in graduate school.

My July To-Do List (in February)

Back in July, I posted my To-Do List – let’s take a quick look:

1) Complete Thesis Introduction: Well… that was optimistic, to say the least. The introduction certainly took the longest time to complete as Vicki (my advisor) gave it the “all-clear” two weeks ago. The hardest challenge with the writing process has been the massive amounts of self-editing that I can’t seem to silence, if only to just get words on a page. If it’s not perfect the first time, I scrap it completely — admittedly, a bad habit that I need to break soon. I’m barreling through my Methods and Results section because my data analysis is going rather well. We’re seeing preliminary results that look promising, so I might have something worth publishing come May!!

2.) Take an MCAT Practice Exam Every Week: Never again. Glad that’s over.

3.) Maintain a passing grade in 15-110: Got an A – still god-awful at computer science. (Bonus round: I also took an introductory course on R because I like torturing myself)

4.) Catch at least 90% of Pokemon in the National Pokedex: I don’t think I’m quite at 90% but I’m very close. I’ve started playing more video games in my free time because I haven’t done a great job of relaxing the last few months.

5.) Find a new show on Netflix or Hulu: How about 5 shows? Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Big Mouth, South Park, Survivor and The Good Doctor.

6.) Be a better Yinzer: The MCAT sucks — that is all.

7.) Decorate my Fall 2018 room: 3 tapestries, 3 flags, 2 mini-fridges and far too much laundry strewn across the floors.

8.) Breathe and Be Patient: I’ve done my best. Senior year is such a rush and I’ve spent more time listening this semester, which is very new to me. I certainly feel more stressed because of the looming deadlines and lack of certainty regarding my internship this summer but refocusing has never been a problem this year and I’ve been very grateful for that.


Days until Thesis is Due: 60

Days until Graduation: 86

Days until I lose my mind: -3

Making Progress, Maybe?

So, it’s been a while, in terms of how frequent my updates have been. I want to say that while I have made a ton of progress, the process of research is equivalent to hitting yourself in the face multiple times, each time expecting a different outcome other than pain.  I know — sounds brutal, huh? Why would anyone do this? I honestly have no clue. It is important to have research that you like. People say that for a reason. If it wasn’t for something I was not particularly passionate about, I would not be doing this, but the motivation that I am contributing to something important, as paramount as civil liberties guaranteed by our constitution, makes me continue to research, peruse, and seek out knowledge about this topic, even though it can be painstakingly frustrating.

In the past couple of months since my last blog post, I have written three chapters, albeit some a bit more coherent than others, and have made progress on my maps in Tableau, a data visualization tool that is able to show maps and the evolution of districts along with their respective demographics, with the help of two very gifted librarians, Sarah and Emma.

Granted thesis is independent work, but no one does it alone. I think that was, albeit a bit ironically, what I’ve learned and grown to understand in my thesis work. I would not be here without the help of Geoff, my advisor, Emma and Sarah, the best of the best CMU librarians, Karen, the Pitt Law librarian, my mom — wow, this turned into an Oscar speech real quick. Anyways, the acknowledgment section of the thesis is going to be interesting, and also the rest of the thesis, the thing I set out to do, about gerrymandering and minority-majority districts, and ensuring the constitutional right to free and fair elections where one person is entitled to one fair vote. Now, to go back to proofreading these chapters!

Pain, Panic and Pleasure

Ever since the last post, our project has been through a viscous semester–IRB, IRB Mod, Recruiting participants…

So we submitted the IRB for our study at the very end of the summer break, hoping that we would be able to catch up the first round of IRB review of the fall semester. We didn’t. So for the first month of last semester, we could not do anything, apart from receiving endless messages from the IRB team that asked us to further tinker bits and pieces of our study before they would actually review it officially. The horrible wait finally came to an end at the dawn of October when we received the approval for our study. The excitement didn’t last for too long.

In the first week of pilot testing our study, one of the participants (to whom I owe my deep gratitude) pointed out a study design flaw. She was supposed to provide an answer that was based on her previous answer to a question, except that in the study condition/group she was in, she did not see that question at all. Luckily, we caught this in the first week and, subsequently, submitted an IRB Modification request promptly. The approval of the modification took us another two weeks so we didn’t officially recruit our lab participants until mid-October. Given we need around 120 people in total, I was anxious that we won’t be able to have enough people. So I went to Kody Manke, my advisor, and he assured me that it won’t be a problem for the thesis even if we won’t be able to hit the set number of participants because the process of learning is more critical than the actual results. Plus, he reminded me that we have an online counterpart of our study where we recruited a different set of participants on Qualtrics. We were able to have 300 people in less than 4 hours so regardless of the lab study, we would be able to write something anyway from that data.

So even since late last semester, we were simply trying to recruit as many participants as possible–I typically run 15 per week, which already deprived me of my entire weekend time. And because I was extremely busy in applying to graduate schools, I wasn’t able to find much time writing the Intro and the Results sections of my thesis. That being said, I’ve already started actually writing them now. The schedules are tight (because we intend to push the Results and Discussion later in order to have more participants in) but Kody and I have agreed on a timetable which I strive to follow.

It may seem that what’s written above was the panic part of this journey, but it actually isn’t, compared to what’s followed.

I’m fairly certain — like 99.9% certain — that I won’t receive an offer from any of the Ph.D. programs I applied for. I clairvoyantly bought Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B last semester to prepare me for this outcome. It helped eventually, but not so much at first.

Once I knew that those schools have sent out interview invitations and I received none, I panicked. “What else can I do?” I kept asking myself. As an international student, I can only stay for one year after I graduate. Although one extra year of experience in a lab of interest is for sure helpful (as my advisor went through the same process before he went to Stanford), I wasn’t sure if one year of research was a good choice for me personally. Because that would mean I will have to apply again next fall and a couple of months of research didn’t seem to be able to polish my resume or skills much further, I was in a complete loss of sense of direction. I started to doubt what was the point of doing research and even this thesis if I couldn’t even get into a graduate school to continue doing it.

Then, a conference happened. The Society for Personality and Social Psychology was holding an annual conference in Portland last week and I got to present a work I volunteered on with Dr. Angulo and Dr. Oppenheimer last summer as a side-project of my thesis. These past couple of days were extremely intense and exhilarating. I was able to meet a number of faculties of interest (who either don’t take students this year or weren’t on my radar before) and our conversations were so pleasant that I decided to apply to their master programs in psychology. (Master program is not a norm in Psychology which is why I didn’t even casually consider it last semester.) Although they also haven’t decided whether to take master students or not, at least I’m feeling bright that there are this option B. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I was still excited to witness all those great people and research in person during the conference which deeply motivated me to continue my academic trek–which includes finishing this thesis as the first step.

I’m sure things will turn around well. If I’ve learned anything from that great book, it would be that a setback in one area shouldn’t be perceived as pervasive and persistent. Other options are right around the block and we just have to take a step back from staring at option A for too long in order to find them.

Notes on a Process

I hate writing. I love editing.

I can’t remember ever writing a first draft of anything: scripts, essays, nothing. I have a tendency to block those experiences out, largely due to the overwhelming frustration that accompanies the creation of a first draft. And because this is my blog post and I don’t want it to bring me down, I’m going to reflect on the only part of my process I actually enjoy.

I tend to view my process as one of curation rather than creation. I start with a sense of wanting to tell a story about X or interrogate issue Y, from there curate an amalgam of characters, scenarios, ideas, themes, et cetera, and by degrees winnow out unneeded elements until I have something with a structure and an ideology. For this project, I knew I was interested in a few different things:

  • Revenge, as a concept or structure
  • Continuities between antiquity and the present
  • Narrative tension, as an opportunity to expand the kinds of stories I write

As I gathered materials, I assembled more themes I wanted to explore:

  • Relationships between women and men
  • Digital mediation of communication and its effect on dehumanization
  • Obfuscation and paranoia

At the outset I didn’t know where, if anywhere the congruities were between these ideas. I started sketching out scenarios and characters in my notebooks. I began to imagine turning points and revelations. I drew pictures of what the people and places, and things I saw might look like. Eventually I had a story. I put it away for two months.

One of the things my writing teachers have impressed on me is the importance of critical distance, the idea that you cannot write objectively if you are too close to your subject. So, I used my break to work on other projects, relax, play with my dog, spend time with friends and family. I returned to my thesis a little over a month ago and saw a document that needed real work. The dialogue doesn’t cut, many scenes are flat, themes and ideas with potential are either too subdued or too obvious, tense scenes aren’t tense, characters aren’t consistent, the list goes on. Fortunately, these are all fixable problems.

I find that once I identify a problem — say, a character not having a clear arc — I like to do a read-through of my script only focusing on that one problem. I edit, I elide, I expand where necessary. There’s always a ripple effect throughout the rest of the document; often fixing one problem creates half a dozen more. Fortunately, doing this kind of editing work almost always throws other issues into sharper relief, making them generally easier to identify and fix.

I also find that this point in the process is when I really like to identify other works to draw from. For my thesis, I’ve found essays and books by Donna Zuckerberg, the plays of Thomas Middleton, the novels of Thomas Pynchon, and films by David Fincher and Joel and Ethan Coen (among many others) to be instrumental to refining the ideas and techniques in my screenplay.

I’m still refining the script. I’m still busy with classes, drama productions, and post-graduation plans. But I’m more confident than ever that my project is moving in the right direction.

My Exhibition Opens Next Month!

logue_posters_8.5x11It’s been more than a year since I started ideating and working on this project, and about ten months since developing it under the Dietrich Honors Research Fellowship. My project has changed a lot now from the first time I pitched it to my advisors, and on my way to completing my project I’ve had to let go of ambitions to replace them for more feasible goals. However, I am satisfied with the work I have successfully completed within the limited time and resources available.

Like my project’s goals and logistics, my thesis’ schedule has changed repeatedly. I initially planned to have my thesis paper completely written by the spring semester’s first month, but instead found myself working 24/7 on the project’s exhibition – which is a blessing in disguise. The purpose of writing my paper before the exhibition was to establish strategies to test throughout my curatorial work, yet there is a limited amount of challenges one can predict before setting oneself to do something.

Having working knowledge from all the research and writing I completed during the summer and fall semester has surely helped to make informed decisions throughout the curatorial process. Hopefully, those “informed” decisions and guesses will prove successful – we’ll see the outcomes after our thesis’ exhibition opening on March 1 at Assemble. I look forward to hearing others opinions on the project, and analyze my curatorial work as part of my written thesis.

So far, ups and downs, I have loved working on this project, and look forward to similar opportunities in the future.

For now, I will be disappearing from the social map until April, when I will finish my thesis. However, please stop by our exhibit opening Friday, March 1 from 6-10pm and say hi!

Follow my project on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @projectlogue