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Hello from South Korea!

I am currently sitting in a nice hotel writing this blog post, jet lagged but amazingly excited. There hasn’t been a lot of progress on my thesis project since my last post, but this is the post that I have been most excited about all summer. After 24 hours of traveling and 19 total hours sitting on a plane, I am in Seoul, South Korea, and enjoying the exploration time before the semester starts.

Regarding my thesis project, I finished and submitted the IRB form a few days before I left. I also put the finishing touches on the games, namely collecting the objects for the Objects on a Table game, with some plastic vehicles and wooden animals. All the games made it safely to Korea with me, and I have been told that my project has gotten approved by the department in the school I contacted to do the study. Now I am focusing on working out my course schedule for the semester so that I will have time to go to the school and spend time playing the games with children. Basically, I am nearly ready to start running the study with children, and I soon will be sitting in cafes drinking tea and typing parts of the thesis paper.

Between working out the details of the semester, I have visited quite a few places in just the past two days. We went on a palace and garden tour and visited a traditional village as well as several more trendy neighborhoods for shopping and eating. I tried on traditional clothing (which I have been wanting to do since I first saw them), and even though I almost melted in the humidity, it was worth the pictures I managed to take. There are many more adventures to come, and as much as I want to focus on them instead of school, the impending workload for the semester makes me that much more grateful that this fellowship prepared me so well for my thesis project. It’s been a great and productive summer leading up to an amazing semester.

Learn more about my project.

Communicating a Technical Topic

Last week I learned a very crucial lesson: know your audience. While I have given several neuroscience presentations during my college career, until last week I had never given one to an audience of students and faculty without background in the field. Speaking to a group of historians, statisticians, political scientists and writers, I learned firsthand the challenges involved in communicating highly technical neuroscience concepts to non-neuroscientists.

Going into this presentation, I was conscious of the complexity of my project. Most of the words I had to say were at least four syllables long. I had several slides with diagrams of overlapping neural pathways – some represented with blue lines, others with red, some with solid lines, others with dashed ones. It was a lot for me to explain, so I figured that it would be hard for someone unfamiliar with the concepts to follow. However, I underestimated just how challenging it would be for them to understand, and although I worked with my advisors to make the presentation more clear, it was still far too technical.

Looking back at this presentation and the feedback I received afterward, I have come to the conclusion that there were three main mistakes I made in communicating my thesis to this particular audience. My first mistake was failing to do a quick review of basic neuroscience principles at the beginning of the talk. Such a review would have contextualized my project and helped to catch my audience up to a level at which they could better understand my work. My rationale for not including this introduction was time; I wanted to maximize the time I spent talking about topics directly pertaining to my project. Therefore, I was hesitant to waste precious time on more foundational ideas. In reality, however, the time I saved by excluding this introduction was then wasted anyway by adding in other superfluous information elsewhere – my second mistake. I went on tangents thinking that extra information would help complete the picture of the issue I was addressing with my project. Because these tangents were also highly technical, however, all they did was confuse my audience further by distracting them from the more pertinent information. The final mistake I made was in the language I used. While I would argue that there were times when I could not get around using technical language to describe my project (e.g. the first time I introduced a key concept), I certainly did not need to rely on this technical language to the extent that I did. For example, rather than saying “temporal hemifield advantage” ten different times, I could have just said it once to define it and then subsequently referred to it as “a faster response to temporal stimuli.” Another, more simple alternative could have also been “the effect we are looking for.” In hindsight, using less technical language would have kept my audience more engaged with the result that they would have gotten more out of the talk overall.

If I had not made these three mistakes, my audience may have been able to follow my talk more easily. However, I do not regret making these mistakes. Although my audience may not have learned as much from this talk as I initially hoped, it was certainly a learning experience for me. Going forward, I know now that I will be more conscientious of the expertise of the people I am speaking to; I will choose to include specific information and language that will meet my audience’s need, with the hope of keeping them engaged throughout the whole lecture regardless of how technical the subject matter actually is.

Learn more about my project here.

Goodbye Summer

This summer has provided me much insight into the type of researcher that I am and has eliminated a lot of anxiety that completing such a project would have produced. Regarding my work ethic, I like to begin my day early in case I become distracted during my work. I must work in quiet settings so that I can fully concentrate. Lastly, I do not work well at home so I must complete most of my work while I am at the library. Although these may be little, trivial tidbits that I realized throughout the course of my summer, I know that this information will be important during the rest of the thesis process in the fall and spring semesters.

Now that the school year is about to start, I am glad that I took time out this summer to begin my thesis. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, the first part of my project required dedicated research into the beginnings of the American government. This meant that my days were filled with reading several different texts on the Constitution, American presidencies, and Supreme Court cases. Completing this sort of extensive research would be difficult to complete during the school year when I would have other coursework to complete. This summer also removed much stress that I anticipated this project would bring since I have a large chunk of my project done. Waiting until the end of August to begin my work would have been a recipe for disaster.

Overall, this was a very productive summer. I have completed an ample amount of research for the first part of my thesis and I have learned more about the type of worker that I am. However, the progress I have made would not have been possible if I did not have a great support system, like my mentor, to encourage and help me throughout the summer. I am extremely grateful for these individuals and all they have done for me.

Learn more about my project here.

From Then To Now

Over the past 6 weeks I have been able to gain a large start on my project. Coming into the summer I was sure of one thing: My project would have something to do with the connection between communications and nonprofits in the field of global health.

I’ve spent the summer so far researching sustainability, how nonprofits in this field typically work and the research questions I would like to pose. It has been an interested summer figuring out each of those, but I didn’t realize how many times I would change my mind about the direction of my project and the questions I wanted to ask. So far this summer, I have interviewed well-educated professors who have studied education and cultural anthropology, information systems, and nonprofit communications. Through these interviews while also conducting independent research and connecting with international nonprofits, I have been able to realize the direction I want to take beginning this fall semester.

I will look at the connection between communications and nonprofits by asking:

  1. What means and methods of communications do nonprofits use to educate the public about sustainability (or how they at least define it) by analyzing the layout and rhetoric of their websites? I will explore their use of logos, pathos, and ethos as well.
  2. What is the connection between communication methods/strategies and financial gains? How have they developed over time? Audience analysis and social media will also be assessed.
  3. What communication networks are involved in the sustainability of global health projects? This will explore intercultural communications and communications between nonprofits that work together on global health projects.
  4. Understanding communications resilience when nonprofits lose funding.

Of course these questions might change later on, but they’re the questions I currently want to answer with my thesis.

While trying to compose these questions, I not only learned so much about the preliminary process of research, but I also learned so much about myself. My ideas, methods, and direction of my project changed to the point where they looked nothing like I originally planned them to be. I also learned that I love to work on my own research topic. I can answer questions I have about the world and my interests instead of questions others want me to answer. This freedom of my intellectual curiosity makes me more passionate about the research I am doing. I can only hope that I have the opportunity to do something like this in the future.

Learn more about my project.

Wrapping Up

August is already one week in, and I’m finishing up my documentary work for the summer. I have been editing a teaser-trailer video and gathering as much feedback as possible most recently, while continuing to film. Some stills from this are above. I also have a lot of new footage from healthcare providers that focus on a feminist model of care, emphasizing patients’ decisions over their own bodies. I have selected a protagonist, Lena, to follow as a main thread in the film throughout weaving between interviews and treatment shots. Lena is very engaging during interviews and is willing to show all facets of the condition on film.

Looking forward, I will be traveling to Chicago to interview a patient about her Vulvodynia, which began after an episode of obstetric violence during her child’s birth. I also will continue to refine the teaser video while beginning to put together larger edits. As I move into the fall, I am excited to keep filming Lena and find new individuals to speak with.

Learn more about my project.

Home At Last (For Now)

I left Pittsburgh 8 days ago and am just now spending more than 24 hours at home. I spent a long weekend catching up with family around New York City before heading off to Korea for the fall semester. There was a lot of food, not much sleep, and a whole lot of kids (shocker). Now that I am home in Glassboro and have the time to sit down and think, I am concentrating on tying up some loose ends of the fellowship before flying off to the other side of the world for the rest of the year.

My last week of the fellowship at the Children’s School involved me, the printer, and the laminator. I made the games and stimuli that I am using for my study in the next year, and it was the most fun I’ve had since the end of summer camp. I’ll leave all the detailed descriptions for my actual thesis, but I will describe one of the tasks that I am most excited about: Hide & Seek. Since the environment of the study can affect results, I had to figure out a way to play without the risk of accidentally hiding something in a slightly different location around a room. So, I created a paper version. I printed a large picture of a cartoon room, and after lamination, I cut out flaps around the room. Using Velcro, I will hide cartoon animals under the flaps in front of the children and have them try to find the animals based on their memory of where they were hidden. I thought long and hard about how to create a Hide & Seek game with paper, and I am super excited about how it turned out.

There is a total of six different games that I plan to play with the children. I am unsure of how long they will take to play a full round, so the number of games may decrease if time becomes an issue. If all goes well and I get to test my study in Korea, I will take that experience and use it to help polish my methods in preparation for my return in the spring. While I’m still hoping that it works out with the Korean lab school, I will be working on organizing everything I have done this summer into a coherent paper. I was told that the cafés in Korea have a great aesthetic, and I plan to take full advantage of it throughout the entire semester–even though I hate coffee.

The last few weeks passed in a blur, and I am now 11 days away from getting on a 15 hour flight. The next week will involve packing, the IRB form, writing, and more packing. I am excited and proud of how my thesis project has taken form this summer, but also worried on how I will keep up the progress next semester. However, I can’t help but let the opportunity of exploration during a study abroad adventure take priority. All in all, I feel that it was a productive summer, and I can’t wait to write my last blog post in a country that I have dreamed about traveling to for several years.

Learn more about my project.

Halfway through the summer, but not halfway done

I’ve hit the 4 week mark. Somehow in 4 weeks I’ve managed to almost completely change my project outline. It feels surreal how much my project has evolved in the preliminary stage. Now, this change is not that drastic; I can still keep the title. I haven’t changed what my project is about, but rather how I am going about it.

Originally, I was going to mainly focus on the evolution of sustainability in nonprofits and see how their technical communications has enhanced their sustainability. I would talk about a large group of nonprofits, not going into too much depth.

Now, I am going to profile about three nonprofits (maybe only two if I don’t have enough time). I will case study these nonprofits in-depth to understand their technical communication skills. This involves studying their websites, rhetoric, figuring out their target audiences, looking at their financial reports, and social media pages like Facebook and Twitter. Their will now be an introductory like chapter (longer than most introductions, but not larger than the nonprofits section) on the evolution of sustainability and sustainable development. This will include a working definition, excerpts from the nonprofits being researched, as well as cultural aspects of sustainable development.

The outline of my project has evolved into the following: A preface of my time abroad, an introduction to sustainability/ sustainable development, aspects of technical communications, nonprofit case studies, and concluding remarks.

Even though I have much work ahead of me I am excited with how much research the fellowship has allowed me to accomplish.

Learn more about my project.

Editing My Methods

A week ago, I thought I had successfully finished building the MATLAB script that will automatically present my dot stimuli. I had sorted out the last few bugs that were messing with the subject response key presses and had figured out how to fuse the subject’s vision so that each eye appeared to be receiving the same stimuli although, of course, they were not. I had tested it multiple times on myself without a hitch and even run the whole experiment successfully on a friend without any complications. Then, a graduate student in the lab suggested I make the dot stimuli slightly larger to account for the larger computer monitors I was using as part of my stereoscope. While this was a simple enough fix, it got me thinking: How do you know when you have finished editing your methodology?

There are a massive number of research papers out in the world today. Sure, that number shrinks as you specialize more and more – in my case, focusing on neuroscience papers pertaining to the superior colliculus and its role in visual cognition – but there are still a large number of papers, and thus methodologies, to choose from. Without a way for researchers to go back and comment on the validity and feasibility of their varying approaches to the same problem, it can be difficult to pick and choose what parts of their methodologies you should adopt in your own experiment.

For now, I have been mainly avoiding this problem by deferring to the opinions of those senior to me – my advisor, the graduate students and post-doctoral students in her lab. However, there may come a time when I am in a more senior position, myself, and have to advise others on the experiments that they are running. While I hope that by that time I have enough experience to advise them well, I also hope that by then there is a more objective way of distinguishing the relevancy of papers than just experience for even the most knowledgeable can make mistakes.

I’m running out of time!

kyannaAs Monday rolled around it really hit me that summer is almost over. Naturally I started to freak out because there is so much work that I still want to do. There are some gaps in my research that I need to fill and I want to start writing my thesis. I just hope that I can accomplish all of this by the end of the summer.

Now you may be wondering why I am so worried about this when I still have two semesters left to complete my thesis. Well, at the beginning of this summer Geoff and I had set out a preliminary timeline for my project. Summer would be reserved for the more historical part of my thesis. I would gather as much data as I could about the presidency and the courts to understand how their powers have evolved over time. Since my last blog post, I have focused on different tools that the president can use to exert his will. Of the several different instruments that he can use, I mainly focused on executive orders since the second part of my project will center on the Muslim Travel Ban. This line of research led to the discovery of Executive Order 589 concerning the travel of Japanese and Korean labors. Even though I only have a limited understanding of this order so far, I feel as though it will become a crucial part of my project.

For the upcoming week, I will try to focus most of my attention into preparing for my presentation at the end of this month. Geoff and I have already developed an outline for the presentation that should help me create a draft for my talk. Now I need to go back over my notes, which may be the hardest part of the process since there is just so much information that I could talk about. Additionally, I will need to practice before the actual presentation. I am not the biggest fan of public speaking and tend to become very nervous whenever I have to do it. By having a few practice sessions, hopefully I will feel less anxious during the actual presentation.

Learn more about my project.

 

 

Continuing Work on the Novel

I’ve been working full-time on the novel for almost three weeks now, hoping to hit the 10,000 word mark by Friday. Patterns in my work ethic and “idea reception” are beginning to emerge. Keeping a day-to-day journal and using the Habits app since late May have both been particularly informative. Working toward a first draft is beginning to feel like I’m swimming toward shore in a lagoon. Each flurry of ideas and progress feels like a wave lifting me up and carrying me farther, and each period without ideas feels like I’m swimming, sometimes against a strong current.

My novel is set at a large tech company in Silicon Valley, where I went to high school. Over the weekend I drove over to Washington D.C. to spend some time with a couple friends who work at Facebook’s D.C. office. I learned a lot of details about life at Facebook that I could not have come up with on my own, many of which reaffirmed the axiom that the truth is stranger than fiction. Also visited Mt. Vernon while I was there. Definitely an interesting experience. Being there breathed some life into my conception of George Washington, particularly looking over the Potomac and seeing the view George Washington loved so much, as we know from his writings. Before I left I saw some Make America Great Again hats out in the wild for the first time since the election. Very spooky.

The greatest challenge I’ve faced so far writing this novel has been to allow myself write terribly and fix it later, instead of holding every sentence to a final-draft or even just a third-draft standard and not writing anything at all. Not only has relaxing the standards of my first-draft writing allowed me to write more, it has also allowed me to explore the world of the story in more ways than I would have had access to otherwise. This summer is shaping up to be the best I’ve ever had.