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.

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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…

Split Screen.jpg.jpeg

 

“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


SPLIT SCREEN

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
  • FILMING!

About the Project   ♥     About the Studio

Different Perspective

The piece of my project that has been the biggest struggle for me this summer has been my introduction. For psychology research, the introduction is where you lay out all of the background research that motivates your study, the gap that you are filling, all of the work that underlies your hypotheses, and the methodology for the study. The introduction should weave a cohesive and understandable narrative for the psychology researchers that are going to read your paper in the future.

My first introduction draft was a little rough, with not enough explanation on some concepts that I didn’t think warranted attention and not enough of a narrative for my research. Dr. Creswell suggested I go back to the drawing board and re-write my outline: connecting the dots before I sat down to write again.

The same week I was rewriting my introduction, I participated in a three-minute research competition. This competition required me to present on my entire summer research in three minutes to a lay audience. This meant I couldn’t use any shortcuts when explaining my background or methodology. While writing and practicing this presentation, I learned how to concisely explain the reason for my research and its implications, and I understood how to distill my research for anyone to understand.

After the competition, I focused on my introduction once again. And this time, I could use the narrative I used during my presentation to structure my argument and flesh out the research. Being required to look at my research in a different way and tell the story of my research in a different manner ultimately helped me to understand my introduction.

My advice from this experience is to try to look at your research from a different perspective. And sometimes you need to take a step back from one aspect of your work in order to understand it better.

On the Intersection of Feminism and Revenge

“But were she able, thus she would revenge…”
– Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy –

How do works of popular entertainment critique the societies which enabled their creation? In the world of revenge drama, the answer to that question often takes the form of another question: Who has the right to seek revenge? In Aeschylus’ Oresteia, the hero Orestes is caught between a philosophical rock and a hard place. Honor demands that he kill his mother Clytemnestra to avenge his own father’s death, but in doing so he risks his immortal soul. Orestes does not heavily weigh the fact that Clytemnestra herself was an avenger. By murdering her husband Agamemnon, she achieved justice for his murder of their daughter, Orestes’ sister, Iphigenia.

All of which is to say that Orestes and the gods held the life of Mycenae’s king to be more precious than that of her queen. By forgiving Orestes of his crime and empowering the court of Athens to resolve issues of justice in the future, Aeschylus (in the voice of Athena) gives legitimacy to the patriarchal power structures that have enabled the death of multiple women through the trilogy. This is just one reading of an incredibly intricate and impactful text, but it reflects a throughline in revenge drama that has stretched through early modern theatre to the present day.

Questions of gender and society are at the forefront of many revenge plays, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women. These plays often see women as the victims of horrible crimes. Due to the nature of these crimes–ranging from incest to murder–and the restrictions placed on women, female characters are frequently denied any chance to pursue their own catharsis. Lavinia in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is a prime example. Although she suffers greatly, it is her father who is responsible for seeking vengeance (and it is her father who is ultimately directly responsible for Lavinia’s death). Titus is a hard play for modern audiences to wrap their heads around, because in his play Shakespeare deliberately blurs the lines between parody, critique, and tragedy. Nevertheless, one point is painfully clear: In Elizabethan as in Greek drama, women do not have the right to seek their own justice.

These were some of the thoughts running through my mind as I began researching the rape-and-revenge subgenre. Nearly every film in this category has the same basic structure: woman is assaulted, woman escapes or recovers, woman kills her assailants. Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave is perhaps the most infamous example. First released in 1978 and still banned in certain countries today, the film has drawn criticism for its brutal depiction of sexual violence and torture. For years, academics have debated the film’s feminism; Zarchi claims to have made a feminist film. But in 2018, perhaps the best cinematic response we will ever get to I Spit on Your Grave was released in the form of Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge. Fargeat’s film empowers its female protagonist especially through the use of cinematography. Where Zarchi’s camera focused on the suffering of its protagonist, Fargeat focuses on the callousness of the male antagonists. Revenge revels in being an exploitation film just as much as I Spit on Your Grave, but by working to make familiar images uncomfortable it transcends the pulp genre from whence it emerged to become something altogether new, tense, and exhilarating. Filmmakers like Fargeat prove that there is still space for ancient tropes in cinema and power in using those tropes to upend even the most toxic of genre conventions.

My July To-Do List

  1. Complete Thesis Introduction. Thanks to my advisor, Vicki Helgeson, this has been my number one goal for the last two weeks. She’s been extremely encouraging and supportive throughout this whole process and she really believes that getting a head-start on writing the thesis will save precious time in the spring when senioritis will most certainly kick in. As of now, I have a new draft of my goals and hypotheses for my study, with an outline of the section coming soon!
  2. Take an MCAT Practice Exam Every Week. I’m now less than two months away from my exam and it’s getting closer to crunch time. Upon suggestion from current medical students, practicing often and frequently with official material is better than keeping my nose in the books. I’m sitting at a nice place right now with my practice tests thus far, but there is always room for improvement.
  3. Maintain a passing grade in 15-110. Wow, I finally found my worst subject. For a while it was statistics and then it was physics and now the clear frontrunner is computer science—in a word, I’m dreadfully slow at working through these problems and coding is literally like learning a new language. If anyone asks if I plan on taking 15-112, my answer will be a quick “NOPE.”
  4. Catch at least 90% of Pokemon in the National Pokedex. We all need relaxing activities when stressed—but this has been a big goal of mine since I was 7, so let me live!
  5. Find a new show on Netflix or Hulu. I just finished Parks and Recreation, and I’ve been an emotional wreck for the last two weeks, but everyone knows it takes me days to get hooked on a new show (for reference it took me two months to finish one season of The Office). Here’s hoping I don’t take 13 years to finish my next series.
  6. Be a better Yinzer. Much of my summer has been spent indoors, largely due to restrictions beyond my control, but I’m itching to go to Pirates games and Kennywood and explore more of the city on weekends. After this Friday, I’ll have a better idea of how frequently I can use my weekends to explore and I couldn’t be happier—I’m tired of being cooped up inside all weekend!
  7. Decorate my fall 2018 room. My classic formula includes far too many flags and tapestries, with a hint of too many mini-fridges.
  8. Breathe and Be Patient. Simple as that. Summer’s coming to an end quickly and senior year will be here soon enough. Good things are on the way and come to those who wait.

 

 

Lit-wrestling

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.