Month: July 2019

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. 


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.”

3MRT + Updates

I’m one of those students who always dreads giving presentations in class, so preparing for the 3MRT was a nightmare for me. I have a great fear of public speaking, and that makes it sometimes hard for me to speak in front of the class (so I tend to never talk in class). Before giving the presentation, I wrote my entire script out on a piece of paper and on the presentation slides, so that I wouldn’t mess up too horribly if I blanked out during the middle of the presentation.

The presentation, surprisingly, ended up not being as terrible as I thought it would be — I did mess up once, but otherwise, it went pretty well (meaning I didn’t blank out completely or anything of that sort). I think that, ultimately, this made it giving presentations slightly less daunting for me.

In terms of updates, I’ve been writing down/creating a list of different memories/stories that I can remember about my experience as an Asian American student in the American school system in order to help me write the autobiographical section of my project later, down the road.

To-Do List for the Rest of Summer

I have been mainly preparing for my GRE test for the last two weeks, so there’s not much progress with my research. But I have planned a few things to complete before the summer vacation ends.

  1. Continue editing the introduction part of my honor thesis. I have been working on the introduction for a few weeks. My advisor has given me some feedback and I will try to improve my draft based on her suggestions.
  2. Work on the references for my introduction. I cite many research papers in my introduction, so I need to cite all of them properly. Citing papers according to the APA format is a difficult but necessary process. Hopefully I can get the time-consuming process done in the summer.
  3. Finish the first draft of my methods section and aim for a second draft. Since my research project is about the predictors and consequences of support-seeking in stress discussions, I need to determine appropriate measures for all the proposed predictors and consequences and the specific support-seeking behaviors. After reading over all the experiment materials and discussing with my advisor, I will try to get the first draft of my methods section done.
  4. Prepare for the final presentation of the honors fellowship program. As an honors fellow, I’m required to give a presentation about my work progress during the summer. I also get opportunities to have a deeper understanding of the other fellows’ interesting projects. So, I’m really excited for the presentation event.
  5. Wait for my GRE score report. I took my first GRE test this Friday and hopefully I will get a satisfying score.
  6. Take some days off and enjoy the true summer vacation. I’m going back home in the early August. Hopefully I will spend good time with my parents and friends, visiting different restaurants, exploring new places and watching a few interesting movies.

Questions and Communication

In order to create a means of assessing people’s ability to search for information online, I first must understand what makes questions easy or hard to Google. So, my first step involved asking people about any questions they’ve had in past which were difficult to answer using a search engine. To distribute my survey, I used Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a crowdsourcing website for businesses or researchers to hire remotely located “crowdworkers” to perform discrete on-demand tasks that computers are currently unable to do. MTurk has been used to recruit diverse samples of participants of social science experiments since 2010.

I surveyed 100 people about their experience using Google and received some interesting data. There were questions that I could understand people having difficulty answering, such as one that were too broad or too personal. “What is the history of the USA” or “How do I find the meaning of my life?”  In contrast, some people struggled with questions that I thought would be relatively easy to find the right keywords for. This is the root of what I’m trying to understand: What makes it easier for some people to generate keywords for certain searches than it is for others?

Besides conducting my research, I’ve also spent my summer learning how to communicate its novelty and significance depending on the audience. As an Honors Fellow, I participated in the Speak Up! program, a series of communication workshops for Carnegie Mellon undergraduates engaged in summer research. The program focuses on practical skills for communicating your research to a variety of audiences and culminates in a Three-Minute Research Presentation competition, where you have three minutes and no more than three slides to explain your research in a clear, coherent, and compelling way.

Being in the middle of a research project made it difficult for me to pick and chose what and how much I wanted to share about my thesis. Should I focus more on the methodology or how I’m planning on running my study since I haven’t collected the main data yet? Would it better if I lean more into the gap I’m trying to fill or talk more about the potential implications of any findings? How do I make the fact that I’ve been primarily focused on conducting a literature review interesting and engaging to people whose projects only span the summer? These were questions I was grappling with while also preparing to deal with the nerves that accompany presenting in front of large crowds.

In the end, it was a nerve-wracking but still overall beneficial experience. I got experience discussing my research in front of a non-expert audience of over a hundred students and a panel of judges, and… I won.

Piloting and Proficiency

Other than some minor adjustments, I have finally finished coding the scripts which will be used to run my experiment. These scripts are run through an environment called MATLAB. Working with these scripts has been challenging, but I now feel somewhat comfortable operating in MATLAB. I hope to continue fine-tuning my MATLAB skills, and I have even enrolled in a free online MATLAB course.

Now, that my scripts are running, I have begun the process of piloting. Piloting consists of running the experiment on others to test my scripts and catch any initial errors. While piloting, I am working to integrate eye-tracking into my scripts. Eye-tracking involves the use of a special machine which interacts with my script to measure a participants’ eye movements as they are completing assigned tasks. This technology is really useful because it allows me to monitor a participant’s eye movements to ensure they are accurately following the instructions of the study (they are instructed to move their eyes in different ways throughout the study).

Lastly, I am currently writing a short description of my study to post on the university’s participant-pool website. This description must summarize my research in a way which communicates the nature of participation and captures the research’s significance. Ideally, this description should be exciting in order to make participants interested in the study. Writing this paragraph requires the use of a very a different skill set than coding experimental scripts.

My next step is to focus on finishing piloting using eye-tracking. Ideally, I will begin to run participants before the end of summer!

Chapter Two: Prague

So this week I started attending a writing program in Prague. Scheduled throughout the three or so weeks we’re all here for are readings, workshops, and conferences with published writers like Patricia Hampl and Stu Dybek.

            It is both similar and different to the workshops I have taken at CMU. On the one hand, the structure of discussing the author’s work and critiquing it is the same, and the readings and conferences generally have the same structure as those held at CMU. It’s those kinds of familiarity that help to ground me while I’m here. On the other hand, the people in the workshop are from all different places, are different ages, and write in different genres. That’s not to say that CMU is very different from that, but it is like being thrown back into freshman year workshops when I did not know any other writers in the class, and I was just hoping that they might like some aspect of my work.

            It’s opened my eyes up a bit more to just how big the world of writing is, and how many opportunities there actually are for writers. It’s difficult to be sure, to build a career in the industry, but not at all impossible. And meeting fellow aspiring (and some already published) authors that are working towards the same future as me helps put a lot of the work I’ve done into perspective. It also confirmed to me that you’re never really done learning, as many of the people in this program have been working on their pieces for years, and others have published works before, but need fresh eyes to view their latest drafts. I’m very excited to work further with the people here, and to explore this incredible city with them.

Sign, Sealed, Approved!

I’ve received IRB approval to run my study! I’ve prepped my questions and my survey should be ready to launch sometime next week. I can’t wait to start collecting data. I’ve been working on my lit review, and while it’s extremely important to understand what’s currently happening in this field and to build off of what others have contributed, I must say that I’m most excited to contribute something of my own.

The process of obtaining IRB approval involves submitting your study design and methods to be reviewed by one of CMU’s Research Compliance Analysts in the Office of Research Integrity and Compliance. Once submitted, the study protocol (the detailed report of your purposes and methods for collecting and protecting data) goes through a pre-review stage, a formal review stage, as well as a post-review stage where clarifications may be requested at any point. Once the review is complete (and all clarifications and modifications have been made), the primary investigator receives a letter granting approval of the study protocol and may begin conducting the study.

This is where I’m at right now. I’m ready to kick it into a higher gear and start gathering data.

How to Write Introduction for An Honor Thesis?

In the last few weeks, I have been reading various papers in the field of support provision and support-seeking, and I have been trying to write the introduction part of my honors thesis. It’s always a difficult process to put thoughts and ideas into words, such as why I’m doing this research project, what has already been done in this particular area, what I’m examining and predicting in my study and what leads to my predictions. It’s even more difficult to integrate previous research into my own reasoning and use the findings and theories gained by other researchers to support my own hypotheses. Although I have taken a few research methods courses before and I have practiced writing formal research papers, it feels very different and much more time-consuming when I’m writing the introduction of my honors thesis. I summarize a few points in which the introduction writing of an honors thesis differs from the introduction writing of a regular in-class research paper based on my experience.

  • The introduction of an honor thesis is much longer than the introduction of an in-class research paper. My current draft of the introduction (Times New Roman, 12 font) consists of 10 pages, but it’s not completed yet. So, writing the introduction of an honors thesis is very much like writing an essay, explaining your research project, your hypotheses and your theoretical rationale in great detail.
  • The introduction of an honor thesis needs much more citations than the introduction of an in-class research paper. Usually, in a research methods class, the professor will tell us that the minimum number of citations is 5 papers and most people (including me) will just search for 5 papers to fulfill the minimum requirement. However, when it comes to the introduction of an honor thesis, it’s necessary to do a comprehensive literature review and find citations for nearly every assertion we make in the paper. In order to make the honor thesis sound and convincing, it’s very important to find thorough evidence in support of own research arguments.
  • The introduction of an honor thesis needs more theoretical support than the introduction of an in-class research paper. When we’re listing out hypotheses in a research paper, we need to explain why we make such hypotheses and the reasoning needs to be logical and convincing so that the audience can easily comprehend. In an in-class research paper, we can base such hypotheses on some previous research; but in an honor thesis, except for previous research, we also need support from theories. For example, since my research topic is about support-seeking in close relationships and I want to predict support-seeking using the participants’ attachment style, I specifically discuss attachment theory in my introduction.

Hopefully, you get a little more understanding about what the introduction of an honors thesis looks like with my sharing. And see you next time!

Research Part 1

After taking care of a family-related situation, on Thursday, I finally left home to do my first research trip in New York City. I arrived in NYC Thursday night and was able to visit Columbia University’s campus to do some preliminary archival research. I’ve never been to New York City before, it was a little scary because I still get lost in my own home-town, back in St. Louis — but a close friend who lives in New York City helped me to navigate the area. It reminded me a lot of Seoul, which is where I was born and lived briefly before I immigrated to the States, because of the public transportation system and because there’s so many people who live in the city. I’ve never lived in such a big city (since I’ve only really lived in St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Nashville — which are still decent sized cities but definitely not as big as NYC) so it was a big shock for me when I came here. Anyhow, I was able to do a bit of archival research today at Columbia University and will be heading over to do some archival research at the University of Toronto next week and then will be going to Pittsburgh for a few weeks.

Additionally, for research, my advisor put me in contact with a professor who’s an expert in ethnography at CMU so that I’ll have an easier time doing research and understanding how to do research.

But other than that, I haven’t made too much progress on my project since I’ve only been doing very baseline/preliminary research!