Author: Lewis Li

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.


The Progresstination

Caveat: The project doesn’t reach as far as I expected…

Yes I was hoping I could probably finish the IRB approval and run some pilot tests before the fall semester began. But I only managed to submit the IRB proposal (which hasn’t been approved yet). However, now that I trace back all the work that has been done during the summer, I feel like I’ve learned a lot more than I would if only accomplishing the original goals. Of course, having those things done would be great. But taking the time I had, really just diving into the theories, their subtleties and trying to come up with interesting experiments on relevant ideas have taken me to a far better place. If I simply went with the ideas we had before the summer began and did the simple experiment setup (which we indeed considered as one of the experimental options), I would be terribly regretful for sure.

The other great thing about taking time to formulate the ideas is that we get the chance to talk to different people who do research on similar or relevant topics. For example, from the connections my advisor has, I had an opportunity to talk with Dr. Fotuhi from UPitt. He has done some really interesting work on contingency affirmation, which is something I have never heard before but is probably an even more interesting idea to take into account to our project since it’s highly relevant. As such, although the idea of contingency affirmation is not in the scope of our current project, it may be in the next phase, if there is such one, or is simply for my knowledge and entertainment, which is still something significant!

Additionally, I have taken the GRE test and am generally satisfied with my scores, despite not as high as I hoped. But I believe it’s safe to say I can put it on the shelf and leave it there. I have also created all the application accounts for all the graduate schools of interest and completed all the information excluding the writing works (e.g. personal statement).

In all, I’m excited about the new semester with great classes and this project kicking into the active gear: recruiting participants! And I enjoy every bit of this summer. Like I said in my first post, I’m going to miss it. And I’m happy to say they are memories of great experience!


It’s relatively easy to burst with an idea that you want to pursue. It’s a totally different story if you want to dive in and grasp what has been done systematically. I’m sure it’s a common struggle, but we don’t call that a struggle for no reason.

I heard this anecdote from one of the professors that I’ve been working with. This professor once had a project that was ongoing for years. And right when it was almost finished, he realized that a nearly identical study has been done in the ’60s. Of course he had something new in his version, but it wasn’t as ground-breaking as he thought it could be.

The problem then is how shall we properly conduct a literature review in the most efficient fashion? Well, just “read” and “communicate,” especially the latter. I learned my lesson the hard way.

I wouldn’t call my effort for the past two weeks “futile” because I did learn something. But until yesterday, my thesis advisor and I were not on the same page for the grand goal of this project. Hence, I didn’t read and formulate the ideas that are relevant to the ideal scope of this study. To clarify, we had an hour-long meeting every week but we didn’t spend much time taking a step back and evaluating the project in a holistic way. In a hindsight, I should have asked more questions and made less assumptions.

But there we go. The review progress is back in focus now.

Last Summer, Make it Count!


I’m generally a very nostalgic guy. And I can’t help but think that this might be my last summer in Pittsburgh. The summer here is always a gem and the sense of slowly saying goodbye is killing me. I’m from Shenzhen in southern China where it has more rain and humidity so I’m satisfied with Pittsburgh’s weather, despite its reputation. As a result, I wanted to do something meaningful that will make the last summer count. That’s when I saw the email for the Dietrich College Honors Fellowship. And here I am, trying to grasp and enjoy every bit of this summer ride.

I study psychology with a minor in cognitive neuroscience. My broad interests of research are to wear a pair of clearer lens on how the world works but also to attempt to intervene the social issues through my knowledge. I had countless conversations with my thesis adviser, Dr. Kody Manke, about different topics that I may work on. At the end, we agreed to choose the topic of “Environmentalism and Gender Stereotype.” I’m not an avid environmentalist but I’m conscious about my eco-friendly behaviors for the most part. I don’t do them because other people say we should. I do them because I believe it’s the right thing to do. Bad for the mother Earth, not everyone thinks in that way. And that’s where my project enters the spotlight.

My thesis project is built on the idea that men conduct less eco-friendly behaviors and the reason behind it is that those behaviors and green products are regarded as feminine by both men and women. So men often intentionally choose less green products to maintain their masculinity, especially when it’s being threatened. This is a phenomena but how can we mitigate this problem? We need to look into the potential mechanisms: what are barriers in gender stereotype and why do they pose threats to men? Previous studies show that these barriers may be partially removed by affirming the manliness of the participants. Therefore, hopefully this project may be able to bear some potential means to remove or motivate men to overcome those barriers.

In a nutshell, this will probably be my best summer here!