(This post was originally written on Friday, June 23.)
I have now been working on my thesis for five weeks. While in the first few weeks I was just reading papers in order to compile the beginnings of a literature review, recently I started tackling the MATLAB script that I will use to test my subjects. I have a feeling that this script will be one of the most challenging obstacles that I have to overcome in order to successfully complete my thesis.
I do not have a strong background in programming. Besides some brief experimentation with the language in high school, the only time I have used MATLAB to present stimuli was two years ago. At that time, I was working on the project of a post doc in the same lab that I am now doing my thesis. I only had to make a few minor changes to a script but that still took me a long time as I had to look up the appropriate way to write each command and then try to understand the bugs that invariably showed up. Over the ensuing two years, whatever moderate understanding of the language that I developed during that time seems to have vanished. Initially, this made me worried; there was no way for me to tackle this thesis without a functioning script. Out of this problem, however, emerged both a potential solution and an invaluable life lesson: It is okay to ask for help – I do not need to do this alone.
Since programming is such an integral part of conducting human-based behavioral and cognitive research, everyone in my lab has a lot of experience constructing a script; between all of the post docs and graduate students, they have written thousands of lines of code and worked through innumerable bugs. Consequently, I turned to them for help hoping that they could teach me how to program a script myself. As a skill that I may need to draw upon again and again in the future, I wanted to actually learn the language and how it can best be applied.
I am now in the midst of this learning process. Apart from getting more acquainted with MATLAB, this experience has also reacquainted me with the other members of Dr. Behrmann’s lab. Their support and technical expertise form a solid foundation upon which I have begun developing my own skills. Thus, while the prospect of constructing a script in MATLAB is still daunting, I now find myself looking forward to the challenge as I am no longer facing it alone.