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.