Author: sophiamakal

Surviving the Second Semester

I am a second semester senior, and the struggle to stay motivated is very real. As is evidenced by my lack of blog posts, the first half of this semester was rather slow for me in terms of working on my thesis. Some of this can be accounted for by the fact that I have been much busier than I had originally expected this semester! On top of my classwork, I had the added stress of awaiting decisions and doing interviews for graduate school, was a model for CMU’s Lunar Gala fashion show, and have been working extra shifts at my jobs to prepare for post-grad life–all the while trying to enjoy what is left of my senior year.

However, if I’m being honest (both with myself and all of you), a main holdup for me was finding the motivation to work on my thesis. Because I had collected all of my data by the end of fall, I came into my second semester feeling confident about my thesis. I felt that I was in a good place in terms of my timeline, and that I should focus on more pressing matters before worrying about my thesis–I would get it done eventually. But, here I am, halfway into the second semester and about a month away from the final due date, and it’s still not finished.

Though the clock is definitely ticking, I have recently been able to get back into the swing of things. Though picking up extra work shifts may never end for me, Lunar Gala has ended, and I was finally accepted into a graduate program. Tying up these loose ends has lifted an unbelievable burden off my shoulders, and has allowed me to return my focus to my thesis. In fact, when I was not working on my thesis over spring break last week, I went and visited my potential graduate school. Seeing the place that I might call home for the next5+ years has made me incredibly excited about my future, and I know that an integral step to getting there is finishing my thesis.

A photo taken while visiting my potential grad school, The New School for Social Research, in NYC.

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No Slacking November

 

img_5183November is here, and that means two things: it’s almost the holidays(!!!!) and it’s almost time for everything that I have been working on (or not) throughout this semester to be due. Though I am delighted by the prospect of having a month off from school, I know that getting to that point will be no walk in the park.

Throughout this month, I will continue to work on my grad school applications, as well as writing the beginning sections of my final thesis paper. Though both of these tasks are not only very important, but also very time consuming, I must admit that I have fallen prey to the temptation of procrastination. However, now that I only have a month to finish everything, it’s go time. I have always told myself that I work well under pressure, and this month will be the ultimate test of that. Though, as usual, I am worried, I am confident that I will get everything done with the help of my advisor, family, and friends.

Luckily, the beginning of November brought me more than just a reality check. I just recently received data back from the soft launch of my study, and everything seems to be going well! Though the soft launch data only contained data from 12 participants, it provided a final opportunity for edits. In our piloting phase, we were focused on making changes to the study based on flaws in the design, questions, etc. However, this data allows us to make changes based on actual participant responses. I will be presenting my study to the entire Relationships Lab this Friday, and, after getting some final feedback from my colleagues, I should be ready to fully launch the study! Thankfully, data analysis isn’t in my plan until next semester. So, once the study is fully launched, I can keep focus on my current tasks, and just wait until the data is sent back to me.

A GREat start to Senior Year

It is now October, and we are about 6 weeks into the school year. That is 6 weeks into my senior year of college, and it feels absolutely unreal! Actually, I retract my statement. It feels a little bit TOO real. As the school year began, so too did all the responsibilities that come with being a senior: the most notable of which is applying to graduate school. I am applying to Clinical Psychology Ph.D programs, a.k.a. one of the most competitive program types out there. To say I’m stressed out would be an understatement. However, as with everything I do, I’ve got a structured plan, and am making steady progress.

In fact, this past Friday I completed an integral step in the grad school application process: I took the GREs. All I can say is thank goodness that’s over with! For the month of September, I spent, no exaggeration, all of my free time studying for the test. Though it prepared me to do well, it did hinder my ability to work on other things, such as my honors thesis. However, now that the test is over and I have a bit more free time, everything with the study is back on track; it has been piloted and is just about ready to launch! If all goes well, the month of October will be spent collecting data!

I am incredibly excited with all the progress I am making, both in terms of grad school applications and my honors thesis. And, though I know things won’t be slowing down for me any time soon, I am comforted by the fact that I have plans to move forward with, and a support system that can help me get through anything and everything.

gre-pic

Special thanks to my wonderful housemates for my post-GRE surprise: a piece of Prantyl’s burnt almond torte cake saying “U R GREat”

 

The calm before the semester

Makal - calm before semesterOver the past three weeks, I have done almost no work on my research project. Though it was always in the back of my mind, I was relieved to have the opportunity to take some time off after working on my project for 10 weeks of my precious, far too short summer. As stated in my last post, during my time off I was able to something I’ve never done before: go to the west coast.

The first stop on my west coast journey was in St. George, Utah, a city surrounded by mountains and inhabited by Mormons. My family and I went to St. George to see my uncle in a series of musicals, including “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Peter Pan” and “Tarzan”. As expected, my uncle was amazing. But what I wasn’t quite prepared for is how beautiful the scenery would be. We were surrounded by mountains of red rock as far as the eye could see – good for climbing, hiking and even jumping off of. My days in Utah were filled with breathtaking views of different national or state parks, and my nights were filled with breathtaking performances.

From Utah, my family took a quick one day trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. Though most people enjoy Las Vegas because of the gambling and the night life, I was plenty happy to just sit by the pool and soak up the sun after walking for miles on miles every day in Utah. Because we were only there for one day and night, I wouldn’t really say I got to experience all that Las Vegas had to offer. However, I was able to leave the city with all of the money that I showed up with, so I’d call it a success.

In Las Vegas, my family and I went our separate ways – they flew home, and I flew to San Fransisco, California to visit my boyfriend and his family. As this was my first time in California, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. However, I can tell you for sure that it was not what I had pictured! There were beautiful trees and grassy hills all over the town in which my boyfriend lives, no sand or palm trees to be seen, and, most shocking of all, the city of San Fransisco was absolutely FREEZING. Going from 100-degree weather in Utah to 60-degree weather in San Fransisco was quite a shock, but it was a beautiful city nonetheless. We explored all around the city, my boyfriend’s home town, and, most importantly, the many wineries in Napa.

Over the past three weeks, I have visited three new states, and had countless unforgettable experiences. Now, with just a week left before classes start, it is time for me to get ready to get back into research mode. Once classes begin, so too does the rest of my research (as well as campus jobs, grad school applications and more). I am truly lucky to have been able to spend the last few weeks of my summer exploring with the people that I care about, but it is now time for me to focus on myself, my school work and my research.

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.

Finding Balance

Makal June 29It’s been about a month since I’ve begun my research for the Dietrich College Honors Fellowship Program, and I’m happy to say I’ve finally found what I believe is the perfect balance of work and play within my schedule.

Since beginning my freshman year at CMU, I have worked as a part time employee and the Carnegie Mellon University Store. Though research is my full time job for the summer, I couldn’t quite part ways with my beloved bookstore. So, in addition to my research, for the past couple of weeks I have been working at the store a couple hours a day, not only to make some extra cash (gotta pay those bills $$$$), but also in an effort to give myself some balance. Prior to starting back up at the bookstore, I was spending most of my days just doing research. Though this was quite informative, it could be frustrating at times. And, because I had no other obligations, I would just continue working through this frustration at times when it would have been best for my sanity to just stop and take a step back. However, now that I’m “back to the old grind,” I am better able to balance the time I spend on my research with other things.

What has been most helpful to my balance this summer, however, both in terms of time and physically, has been my newest obsession – hot yoga. My wonderful housemates turned me onto hot yoga over this past year, but I never had the time (or frankly, the commitment) to go on a regular basis. Fortunately, once the summer came around, it seemed as though I had nothing but time. I signed up for a three-month pass, and though it was tough on my bank account, it’s been the best decision I’ve made in recent history. Going to yoga every day has bettered me physically and mentally, and given me yet another activity to balance my research with.

A Tale of Too Many Tabs

I am a planner. I plan my daily activities, my meals, I even plan out my time to relax. I like organization, structure and clear-cut goals. However, since starting my summer research, every time I open my laptop I am reminded of just how unstructured my life currently is.

I use my laptop for almost everything, from taking notes to watching Netflix. Despite this, I do my best to keep it organized, with everything in its correct folder, and everything not in use closed down. At any given time, I usually have three apps running — messaging, music, and Google Chrome — with a maximum of two tabs open at a time on Chrome. I’m not sure if you can tell from the attached photo, but there are nine — I repeat, nine — tabs open on my laptop currently, all having some connection to my research. To me, this is a nightmare. To me, these nine open tabs not only represent my research, but they represent just how unstructured this process is going to be.

Sophia Makal 1

And that’s another thing: This is my research. Not a research study run by the lab that I work in, not a research project my group is working on for a class, but my own, personal research idea and question. I am in charge of this study, how it will grow and progress and whether or not it will succeed. Once again, this is a nightmare to me. I have never had this much uncertainty in my school work, and it scares me. However, I have also never had this much control, and that is what excites me most about this opportunity.

My father is a psychologist who told me on multiple occasions when I was growing up that I have control issues. Well, Dad, you were right! I do like to be in control, and now all of my wildest, “control freak” dreams are coming true. I have only been working on my research for about two weeks now, but already I have a plethora of ideas for how to shape and mold this project. For example, in a meeting with my faculty adviser last week, we, in under 30 minutes, were able to add an entire new dimension to my study, broadening not only the procedure and methods, but more importantly its possible effects. I left this meeting feeling empowered and excited, feelings I seldom get from doing school work. It is feelings like these that help me to move past my fears of uncertainty and disorder, and continue to work toward something that I am truly passionate about.

As I head into this summer, I am both scared and excited. However, more than anything, I am thankful. Thankful to my faculty adviser for agreeing to work with me to try to find answers to a research question that I am passionate about; thankful to Dietrich College and the heads of the Honors Fellowship for allowing me to take part in this wonderful program; and thankful to myself for never growing out of my “control freak” phase.