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!


End of the Summer

This has been, by far, my calmest summer since starting at CMU. In past years I’ve been working on Capitol Hill, often for more than fifty hours a week. One of the many reasons I pursued Dietrich’s honors thesis program was to find time to think and write and read and catch up on all the media I’ve neglected while working, both in Pittsburgh and D.C. In that sense, I can say without qualification that this summer was a success.

In another sense, I feel that as a writer I’m never as far as I want to be. I don’t have a complete first draft, or a concrete roadmap of where I want my project to go. That’s one advantage I believe my peers in more technical, research/experiment-oriented fields have over me. And yet, I’ve always found my scripts to be at their most exciting at the point when I know the least about them. That excitement will sustain me over the course of the fall and spring semesters, as I draft, revise, edit, and cut a new work into existence.

Harold Bloom wrote a book in 1973 called The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. Bloom was interested in how writers struggle with their influences, how we are both inspired by great writers and trapped by fears of never surpassing them. He found that great poets were able to successfully integrate their predecessors into their work, rather than trying to supplant them or sidestep them completely. My goal this summer was to identify and understand those writers who have influenced me for years; my goal in the weeks to come is to integrate them into my process.


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“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished.
That will be the beginning.”
-Louise L’Amour


Before the scene is called and the slate is clapped and the actors are cued with the shout of “Action,” the crew must ready their instruments. The sounds technician must raise the boom pole, turn on the H4N recorder, and respond to the call: Sound Speed. The camera must be set, and the focus marked before it begins to roll. The assistant director asks the questions, the PA responds to the cues, the crew follows instructions. The actors prepare themselves, costumed by the dresser, and rehearsed by the director, waiting patiently for the scene to start. After everything is prepared, and everyone is ready, there are three seconds before the action call. Three precious seconds of peace before organized chaos.

My summer of preparation is over. My semester  of practice and process is is just about to begin.  I am sitting in those three seconds of the in-between now, waiting patiently, eagerly, nervously, unsure of what will happen, but eager to start. These past few weeks have been chaotic. I filmed the raw footage of the project, trained to be an RA, and now am starting orientation. I haven’t honestly had a moment to reflect until now on how the filming process went. I am unsure of where to go from here, unsure of how the scene of this semester will play out, unsure if all of my preparation and planning will amount to anything, or will I have to shout cut, and start the scene over.

Despite my worries, the filming went smoothly. It was challenging, insightful, and exciting. I always feel that I learn more information in less time on a set than I do anywhere else. We shot the film for six days, from August 1-6, and in that time, so many things went wrong. But also so many wonderful things went right. I could not be where I am today with the support of so many wonderful people, who assisted, encouraged, and pushed me, and I am so eager to see where this next semester of my thesis will lead me. Earnestly, I wait for the call to action.

Project Update

So Far:

  • Completed Shooting of the Film
  • Paid Main Cast
  • Debriefed Crew
  • Presented Research
  • Began Music Search

In the Next Few Weeks:

  • Meetings with Advisors
  • First Round of Raw Edits
  • Music Acquisition Research
  • Start drafting animation and title sequence storyboards

About the Project   ♥     About the Studio

Wrapping Up the Summer

redistricting timeline

As my final blog post, I wanted to share sort of a brief recap of what my summer work was. Mainly, it was a lot of reading—sifting through different court cases and establishing a legal timeline for what policies changed when and how partisan gerrymandering evolved into a different entity than racial gerrymandering.

In a nutshell, the Supreme Court first decided to hear cases dealing with apportionment in Baker v. Carr. This case opened the doorway to different kinds of questions appellants could ask the judicial branch of the United States where the law was not necessarily so clear. It wasn’t until later in Reynolds v. Sims where the Supreme Court ruled that districts should be apportioned by equal population. This enforced the “one person, one vote” doctrine, as this would mathematically ensure that no vote in one district was more important, or weighed more, than someone else’s vote in another district. This case also used the Equal Protection Clause under the 14th amendment as the legal basis for equal apportionment. the goal was to make sure everyone’s voice was equally effective.

Now, if everyone’s voice should be equally effective, should race be a factor? In a case called Gomillion v. Lightfoot, African Americans were boxed out of their own city after it redistricted the outer areas outside of the city’s boundaries. This denied African Americans the right to their municipal vote, which resulted in a violation of their equal protection. From this, race was thought to be a factor in that a person could not be excluded from voting, simply because of their race.

In a later court case, Shaw v. Reno, North Carolina had to apportion an additional seat due to an influx of people— in the early 1990s, Charlotte was predicted to be the next New York City, the Big BBQ as they called it. The state legislature created districts that were minority-majority meaning that they essentially isolated the racial minorities of the population and apportioned them into districts solely because of race. The Supreme Court struck these districts down, claiming that while race may be a factor, it may not be the only factor.

So that begs the question, what counts as a minority? Can partisanship be discriminatory, and would those discriminations fall under the Equal Protection Clause? Well, Davis v. Bandemer answered that question—I mean, sort of. The Supreme Court took the case, which inadvertently meant that this was a question the Court could answer, meaning that it wasn’t too much of a political question that the Court would not take it.

This stance was later obfuscated in later rulings like LULAC v. Perry, where the Texas state legislature redistricted for partisan reasons while simultaneously diluting the Latino vote. The Supreme Court ruled that these districts were in violation of the VRA, an act that protected minorities from having their votes diluted or cast out, and did not violate anything constitutionally on the grounds of partisanship. Cases like this make partisanship gerrymandering a grey area compared to racial gerrymandering. I hope to take a deeper look into Pennsylvania and Texas rulings to see how both states frame gerrymandering within their courts. That will be the focus of my work in the fall.

Continue reading

Finally Home

Back home in North Carolina, the work still continues to prepare for the upcoming school year. I submitted my project for IRB approval three days ago, so that is finally off my plate. But, I am still working away at my introduction and the actual survey I’ll be administering. Being back home, I’m trying to balance both making sure everything is ready for August 27th, and also spending time with my parents and sister (who just got engaged on Friday!). I am chipping away at piloting my study, and each run through is getting me closer and closer to my finalized study. I never realized how time consuming it would be to simply have a completed survey, with all of the complicated logic that my survey requires. This project has also showed me how time consuming a literature review can be! When the topic has been discussed since the ‘70s, it is hard to determine what’s important, who’s papers I should read fully, and most importantly, when I have read enough.

To get ready for the beginning of the school year, I’m finalizing my class schedule with my cross-registered class at Pitt, and determining the steps I have to take in my grad school applications this fall. First, I’m studying for the GRE, which I’m taking in September. I’m also researching clinical psychology grad school programs and professors, so I can have a better idea of whom I would want to work with for my PhD. Still much to do on that front, but I’m excited at the prospect of going into grad school next year! Hopefully my senior project will be an integral part of my application to grad school, and help to demonstrate my research proficiency to potential mentors.

Summer might be done, but my project barely started!

Summer may be (almost) done, but my senior project’s just starting to take form.

I am satisfied with the amount of work I’ve accomplished during the past three months, including prepping my elevator pitch, reading over 40+ scholarly articles, and continuing to meet various of Pittsburgh’s diverse communities.

It’s been hard work – and it will certainly continue to be during the academic year – but also, rewarding.

The knowledge I’ve acquired during the summer has proved valuable for both my project, and my academic career. Learning about cultural appropriation, the imposition of cultural values, and cultural exchange initiatives/policies has allowed me to acknowledge that there “are no obvious solutions” – only different ways of approaching and doing things.

Prepped with this mindset, I look forward to the start of the Fall semester. Here we go!

Learning “Soft” Skills

When the summer began, I believed that the purpose of the fellowship program was to give me the time to work on my project at maximum productivity. Without the distractions of coursework or a job, I would be able to fulfill my potential as a writing machine. While of course getting work done is one purpose of the fellowship, I’ve learned that there were many softer goals as well. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a budding academic and writer, lessons that I will be glad I began learning early once I’m in grad school.

One thing my mentor Dr. Roecklein has helped me to learn how to do is work with lots of projects on different burners. This summer, I’ve been planning and writing my senior thesis project, writing the background of a research project with my mentor and another faculty member, training in clinical interviewing, helping with participant recruitment in the lab, and working on an application for a post-grad fellowship — as well as making new friends, exploring Pittsburgh, and easing back into my normal exercise regimen now that I’m six months out from a hip surgery.

The fact that I took all this on this summer is paralleled by my continuing desire to add more and more hypotheses to the study I’m planning. Both Dr. Roecklein and Dr. Creswell (my other adviser) have urged me not to stack too much on my plate. I know that sometimes the solution is to cut out what’s truly excessive — for example, I originally planned to work in both my advisers’ labs this summer, until Dr. Creswell advised me that might be a little unrealistic! However, using that solution every time I have a new idea or side project I’m excited about wouldn’t be very true to my personality. This summer I’ve honed my ability to keep new ideas on my agenda, but ensure that I don’t get to them until I’m where I want to be with higher priorities.This way, the extra ambitions don’t interfere with the top priorities — but they still get their time in the sun!

I’ve also learned a lot about my own way of working. In the beginning of the summer, I was frequently upset with myself at the end of the day because I hadn’t done as much work as I’d wanted to. I’d be upset at the end of the week that I got a lot done on three days of the week, but strayed from my project on two other days. Although my advisers always tell me I’ve done well when I show them my paper, I couldn’t help but feeling I’d have produced something even better if I worked more or worked the “right” way.

By this time, I’ve begun to realize that my way of working is not “wrong,” but is actually just that: my way of working. If some days I relax during the daytime and get the most done after 9 p.m., if some days I write little by little and take frequent breaks watching Netflix, if some weeks I spend a few days away from my project but work feverishly on Friday and Saturday — as long as I produce the same end product as someone who’s worked in a more traditional way, then my way of working is just fine!

I feel confident that the “softer” lessons I’ve learned will benefit me this year and even in grad school. Although I’ve met my goals for tangible work done over the course of the summer, I’m glad that’s not all I achieved — and that I was able to learn by struggling to get there.

Pittsburgh “Humidity” (Redux)

It’s gotten hotter in Pittsburgh in the last couple days and once again, my friends are complaining about the so-called “humidity” here. It takes everything in my being to tell them to visit, but ironically, I haven’t even been back in almost a year, so how would I even know what that humidity feels like? Nevertheless, I find myself missing summers at home less and less, simply because as I’m growing older and becoming more involved in research at CMU—or perhaps this is an offshoot of spending a summer where 100% humidity and 90+ degree weather is not a commonplace. Even when I return in the wintertime, it feels like I’m walking into a sauna, so maybe I’ve just gotten weak?

So despite the heat wave, my summer is still chugging along. Our final presentations for our summer work were last week and while I know it wasn’t my strongest showing in a presentation, it was still helpful to learn more about the quirks of explaining my research to a non-expert audience. This past semester, I had the privilege to compete in the Sigma Xi competition during Meeting of the Minds and my other research focus (communal coping) was far easier to communicate than my current project (unmitigated communion). Oddly enough, I find unmitigated communion far more interesting, so I guess it’s unsurprising that more exciting concepts are sometimes the hardest to communicate. Whether that be from enthusiasm or just sheer complexity, I’m not sure; however, I know that I found myself having a lot to say, not enough time to say it, and not the right words to say it all—yet.

Essentially, this summer has been all about learning and that’s been a new feeling—I enjoy feeling like the only tasks for the entire summer have been to work on my thesis. While every step has not been perfect, it’s been nice to reflect on all of my progress and goal accomplishment thus far:

  • Completion of Former UC Research Study. This project was started back during sophomore and was concerned with motivations behind helping behavior. Data analysis yielded some interesting results and I have another poster out of the work, so I can’t complain. It was my first study in my lab, so it’s also a tad sentimental!
  • All IRB’s are Approved! Wow, this one was a doozy. The IRB is quite the juggernaut for research ethics and each time I’d get an email, I’d hold my breath until I knew my study wasn’t getting cancelled for an out-of-place period or exclamation mark.
  • Self-Designed Studies. This is the first real project where I’ve taken an independent methodological approach; sure, there have been other solo projects I’ve worked on in my lab, but this is the first where I get to hand pick questionnaires and tasks and work out the nitty-gritty of the study. It’s definitely exciting and I look forward to future work like this!

So with this, it’s the end of my summer as the Fall 2018 semester barrels forward. My MCAT is in four weeks, my senior year starts in three weeks, and I’m more than ready for all of it.

Embracing the Confusion

As one of my last summers in Pittsburgh, I can’t help but grow nostalgic about all the things that I’ve come to love in this city. Namely, the tacos, the view from Flagstaff Hill, and the occasional (emphasis on occasional) pierogi. This summer has brought much-needed guidance and unknowing to my project, much of which is incredibly helpful! In a meeting with Dr. Keating, I actually said, “It’s interesting. I feel like the more I know, the less I actually feel like I know. Now, I know that I did this part of the project incorrectly. But, at least, I figured out that the project was done wrong?”

It’s funny—I look at this thesis as a completely different challenge. When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with perfection. If I didn’t like a drawing, I would rip the paper to shreds and start again. With this amount of research, it’s almost impossible to rip it to shreds and start anew. Every mistake and imperfection in what I do for this project leads me towards a different direction with this project. Now, I feel like every tangential occurrence feeds this project, as opposed to veers away from what it’s supposed to do.

In a sense, while I can’t rip up this project to tiny, tiny pieces (even though I want to) it has already taught me the importance of realizing that part of the journey is making mistakes. They contribute to the project just as much as the successful accomplishments. Doing parts of the project over further engrain the ideas and theories into my head, which is helpful.

And as for the element of not knowing, I mean, I’ve read about election law for two months. If the solution was apparent, I wouldn’t have a topic for a thesis. So in a way, I’m thankful for the lack of consensus between state and federal government on redistricting law. That comment might have crossed the line (redistricting pun), but I went into this project thinking that law could not be partisan. The law is the law, and theoretically, should be unbiased. Well, boy have I learned something. The law is a mysterious, politically motivated, illogical entity weaving its way through exceptions and loopholes. I don’t know enough about it, but it has been both insightful and inciteful to go on this year-long endeavor to learn more about it.

The Show Must Go On…

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“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations
and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”
―Bruce Lee


There is a three minute sequence in the film 500 Days of Summer that I think of often. The screen splits into two halves: on the left it is labled Expectations, and on the right, Reality.  In the scene our protagonist attends a dinner party thrown by his ex-girlfriend, and in what I consider to be a heart-wrenching use of cinematic tools, we are shown his idealized expectations while watching them completely shatter. I cannot help but think of this scene in moments like this, where my expectations are not lining up with my reality, and my project is in some ways being split in two.

In the past few weeks my project has gone through several highs and lows. From winning an award at a research presentation, to losing the location I booked and not being able to find another, to hiring a wonderful cast and crew, to fracturing my pillars of support. I am working through the process, trying to learn from this as much as I can. Research is a learning experience after all, and as the mentor that came to speak to us last week said, “Stay grounded. Find a way to impose a structure on yourself.”

So, as I carry on this summer with my research, I am imposing a split structure, one that will hopefully help balance my idealized notions with my actual capabilities. By working on two halves, one in film and one in fiction, I am hoping to create a project that is not necessarily perfect, but demonstrates my dedication, progress, and skill. As the mentor told us, “You want to gain experience doing something well.” So if I can keep my expectations in check and manage all the ever moving pieces of my project, hopefully this split will lead to a positive outcome. Or at least one less heartbreaking than the previously mentioned film.

Project Update

So Far:

  • Completed Third Draft of Film
  • Production Schedule Completed
  • Hired Main Cast and Crew
  • Props, Costumes, and Locations Acquired
  • Storyboards Started
  • Presented Research

In the Next Few Weeks:

  • Meetings with Advisors
  • Third Round of Revisions
  • Transportation and Location Finalization
  • Storyboard Completion
  • Next Research Presentation

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