research

Subcortical Visual Processing

bleimeisterMy first neuroscience research experience was in eleventh grade, when I reached out to a lab at UCLA that used Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to study movement disorders. My mother had just started a repetitive TMS program aimed at reducing her depression and I sought to improve my understanding of the procedure by learning how to perform it myself.

From this initial research experience, I discovered that I truly enjoy being in an environment that fosters scientific innovation and creativity. Every lecture and discussion I attended acted as a reminder of just how expansive the field of neuroscience actually is, while every presentation I gave served to further instantiate myself in the world of neuroscience research.

A byproduct of this first research experience was that it also gave me an area of commonality with my mother. Suddenly I became her principal source for understanding the treatments she was undergoing. I was by no means an expert, but I had a background in the area and worked to increase that background over time by reading papers and attending lectures that pertained to her conditions. In this way, without meaning to, my mother inspired my passion for neuroscience and research while neuroscience and research helped me to reconnect with my mother.

With such a personal underlying motivation to do research, it is perhaps unsurprising that I remain as intrigued by the field of neuroscience now as I was in high school. Since this first research experience I have studied the lateralization of face-word processing in hemispherectomy patients and have researched the impact of different rehabilitation techniques on traumatic brain injury. I look forward to expanding the breadth of my neuroscience research experience over the coming year by continuing to investigate new areas of the field.

Learn more about my project.

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Part 11 (Finale): Rest

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A very thick thesis I turned in

The last thing I had to do for undergraduate work was present my thesis at the Meeting of the Minds, an annual research symposium Carnegie Mellon holds every year. I got to share my work with colleagues, friends, family, and even a couple who had donated money to help fund my research. It’s a pretty fitting conclusion to college for me considering that I have devoted much of my time and effort into my thesis and research in general and that I will continue to do research as a career.

That being said, I’m also super hyped about not having to do work for the next 3 months until I go to graduate school. Today I felt bad about not doing work, but then I remembered I didn’t even have any work to do! If anything, the one thing I might do over the summer is to make my thesis publishable. It would be better if I do a follow-up study where I include more measures (such as asking participants whether they perceived a cost in their sacrifice) and maybe another type of intervention other than touch to see how results differ depending on what’s implemented. It wouldn’t be necessary to do, but it will help me build a stronger and more thoughtful case if I add another layer to my study. That will have to wait until graduate school though, and for the most part, I can look forward to pure relaxing, which is something I haven’t felt in a long time.

Anyway, as cheesy as this will sound, I mean this very genuinely. I’m very appreciative of my time at CMU. I have met many intelligent, inspiring people who have been so encouraging and supportive of me. I truly would not have had the fortunate opportunities that I got to experience without the education and advice I’ve received in my time here. I wish all the luck to the fellows who are graduating and to the new fellows as they start their work. You all will do great things 🙂

Part 10: Predictions Can Go Awry, but That’s Okay

The past couple weeks have probably been the most intense weeks of my thesis, but they were intense for a reason. Over the past two weeks,  I have ended my study and analyzed my results. After about 9 months since I came up with my hypotheses, I finally have results to report.

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Figure of my hypotheses, although my results did not work out this way at all

First of all, affectionate touch did not significantly affect any of my results: participants in both the touch and no-touch conditions did not differ in how much they sacrificed, their motivations, or how aware they were of their relationship or how positively they felt about their relationship. There was, however, a marginal effect of touch on altruistic motives, but weirdly enough, participants in the touch condition were less altruistic than participants in the no-touch condition. Other results included that approach (wanting to achieve something) and altruistic (prioritizing the partner) motives were associated with more sacrifice while avoidance and egoistic (prioritizing the self) motives were associated with less sacrifice, which generally aligned with what we predicted. Also, being more aware of one’s relationship was associated with more altruistic motives, but having a more positive orientation towards the relationship was negatively correlated with approach motives, meaning participants were motivated to make sacrifices less. While I didn’t make any predictions about approach motives, this seems to contradict what we would generally expect if we assume that having positive feelings about your relationship makes you want to help your partner more.

For the most part, these results have not really supported my hypotheses, but that’s not a bad thing at all. If anything, it’s more interesting when you find results that are contrary to what you thought would happen. It makes you question existing theories or realize that a theory may not apply in all contexts and needs some revising. In this particular case, touch had the opposite effect of what I predicted, albeit small in magnitude. Even though touch has been theorized to promote trying out challenges via feeling secure, in this case, touch made participants wanted to sacrifice less. When I was thinking about why this was, the first thing I thought of was that touch in my study might have been interpreted differently. Instead of interpreting their partner’s touch as “I support you, and you can take on any challenge,” instead they interpreted their partner’s touch as “I support you, and I will do things for you if you don’t want to do it.” Touch in this case would serve as a reminder that participants can depend on their partner when they were in need, therefore they were less likely to sacrifice and rather have their partner do stressful task for them (the negative relationship between positive orientation and approach motives may support this reasoning too). Also, the situation my participants were in may differ from previous studies. No touch study has looked at how touch would influence sacrifice behaviors, so it’s possible that sacrifice provides a unique context where touch differs in its effects.

Even though many psychologists intend to confirm their hypotheses, I have no problem with my results contradicting my hypotheses instead. If anything, this gives me, and possibly others, the opportunity to reevaluate the meaning of touch and what it means when we touch someone in our daily lives. Of course, I have only ran one (severely underpowered) study, so no one should put too much stock in this study. In order to reach more justifiable conclusions, others (and maybe me too if given the chance again), should run more studies trying to replicate (or even refute) these findings.

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.

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

 

Working with Unanticipated Elements That Become a Part of My Own Narrative

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Fall 2014 FORGE semester outing with our refugee family

Each week, I open up the thesis proposal I wrote in March to re-evaluate my research goals and scroll down to the timetable that I’d created with my adviser.

Looking at it, I’m realizing that I need to adjust the deadlines I’d set for myself. There were several unanticipated bumps along the road that had kept me from completing the bulk of my fieldwork for my research by the end of September.

I felt disappointed and frustrated. Now that I had classes Monday through Friday, I wondered whether or not I could make up for a few months of fieldwork. For days, I contemplated over how I would reallocate my timetable and it proved to be extremely difficult. Without any data, I struggled to imagine the extent of my abilities to conduct interviews while juggling classes. It’s easy to schedule in time where I work on my literature review and put together my poster for a presentation for a Dietrich College Family Weekend event, but the interviews will require a few hours that include commute time, the actual duration of the interview and the time it will take for me to transcribe the recorded interview and reflect on the interviews as part of the analysis.

The longer I wait for the IRB to approve of my study, the more anxious I am. Whenever anyone asks me how my research is going, I feel a knot in my stomach because all I’ve accomplished in the last week is adding a few more articles to my annotated bibliography.

I still see my FORGE family on the weekends and it’s amazing how a few hours with them helps me relax. I relax because the conversations I have with them are not about my research. I relax because I can sit on their couch with them and watch Hindi movies without subtitles. I relax because they’re looking forward to celebrating the upcoming Nepali holiday. I relax because being present with them reminds me why I was motivated in the first place to pursue my thesis.

I’m looking forward to my weekends as soon as my IRB proposal is approved, because I will be having conversations with a community that reminds me of the importance of the present.

It’s ironic to me that as I constantly think about narrative inquiry, one of the methods I am using for my research, I realize that it’s much easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. Narrative inquiry is a methodology that encourages researchers to value the lived experiences of their subjects.

Lekkie Hopkins, who advocates using narrative inquiry in refugee research, wrote, “Researchers must understand that if storying is to grapple with the richness and complexity of lived experience, it will probably be chaotic and messy, as well as clear and straightforward. Researchers wanting to investigate the sociology of refugee experiences might be well advised to ensure that the stories they gather from research participants are not too neat, too straightforward, too much reduced to bare essentials in their telling, lest the chance to allow the stories to become personally and politically resonant be lost.”

I remember reading Lekkie Hopkins in March of this year and interestingly, I’m looking back at her abstract and making a connection to my own narrative as well as the narratives of the refugees I hope to hear soon. My own narrative, or my own lived experience, will be messy and chaotic at times and that’s how it should be.

I know that this sounds cliché, but it really is important to live in the present. Too much time is spent organizing, and reorganizing, my Google calendar. I’ve adjusted my timetable, come to terms with it and moved on.

Adjusting to Change (pt. 2)

devine-adjusting-to-change-pt-2

When I started my research over the summer, I wrote about how difficult it was to adjust to a new schedule of doing research full time. Now, a week and a half into the school year, I find myself adjusting (again) to a new schedule – one that involves classes, campus activities and working on my senior thesis. Initially, the prospect of writing a thesis in addition to my schoolwork seemed daunting and overwhelming.

I decided to give myself at least two weeks off from researching and found this to be very beneficial. I was able to figure out what days I had more free time, so I could more easily schedule time to work on my thesis. I am immensely grateful that I participated in the Dietrich Honors Fellowship Program over the past summer – I feel a lot more comfortable going into my senior year knowing that I have a good foundation for moving forward with my research this semester.

Earlier this week, I met with my adviser to see what I was missing. Moving forward, I will work primarily on my survey about La Loi Toubon and La Charte de La Langue Française. This survey will be sent out to participants based in France and Quebec, and will ask general questions about language use, the importance of speaking French in the public sphere and knowledge about La Loi Toubon and La Charte de La Langue Française. I am primarily interested in better gauging contemporary opinion about language use and identity, and am looking forward to evaluating and analyzing my results later this semester.

August Reflections

Sternstein - August Reflections
The Fourth of July is usually the day that sets me into a panic that the summer is over. In reality, though, at this point the summer is still at its early stages; New York’s beach water has yet to warm by the stored sun, my August birthdate hasn’t reached my radar and my mother has yet to plan the last hurrah family vacation. On the Fourth of July, I remind myself to focus on the present days, that August is sprawled out somewhere far ahead.

But here we are: past the midway point of August, perhaps my favorite month (I mentioned the birthday part, right?), but also a month that feels like one long Sunday. As I soak up some of the final moments, I also reflect on all that I learned while working on my honors fellowship and how I can use the momentum to carry on in the midst of my challenging fall semester course load. Here are a few things that I came up with:

  1. Schedule in daily writing time. Even when I feel bogged down by homework assignments and exams, I need to schedule in my writing time as if it were a class I wouldn’t dare miss.
  1. Tune everything out. Find a quiet space where people won’t be coming in and out, power off my cell phone and tuck it away somewhere out of sight. 
  1. Give a story a chance. I have so many ideas of what I want to write about that sometimes, in the very early stages, I have trouble sticking to a story. Write down those ideas, save them for later. But an idea is not yet a story, and I need to remember to stick it out before swapping out. Usually, once I get three to four pages in, I won’t want to switch anymore.
  1. Ask “What if?” If my characters feel stuck, asking some questions can help me figure out their next moves.
  1. Pick up a book. And if all else fails, reading a little bit of a really well-written story or novel (For example, I recently finished “Half an Inch of Water” by Percival Everett – recommended by my adviser, Kevin González) always inspires me and makes me want to sit down and write again.

Summer Wrap-Up: What I’ve Learned

The soundtrack to my summer

The soundtrack to my summer

At the end of every semester, I always ask myself, “What did I learn this semester?” This question is applicable to all aspects of my life – academic, personal, social, etc. And so, as I’m wrapping up my summer research, I asked myself the same question: What did I learn this summer?

  1. Finding the right work space: I’ve learned to accept that there are places where I’m very productive and places where I am not. This summer, I learned that I do my best work when I switch it up. I would spend some mornings at the library, some at Starbucks and some at cafés around CMU’s campus.
  2. It’s okay to ask for help. When I was about three weeks into my research, I started to experience a lot of self-doubt about my work. I went to multiple sources about this issue, and was given a lot of useful pieces of advice. I learned that it’s okay to have some self-doubt, but that it’s important to keep working.
  3. Take breaks! I also learned that I was more productive doing research when I took the weekends off to relax, spend time with friends and family and read for pleasure. I even picked up extra work shifts at the campus bookstore, which was more helpful than I could have imagined it would be. Researching alone all day can become fairly isolating, so it was nice to go somewhere in the afternoons where I could interact with people and take a break from focusing on French language policy.
  4. Music helps. I’ve always listened to music when I do school work, but found it to be extremely helpful in increasing my productivity over the summer. When I find the right playlist or album, I’m really able to focus on my readings and am more motivated to use my time effectively.

I’m really looking forward to applying what I’ve learned about how I work most productively to my academic work this coming fall. I’m also curious to see what rhythm I fall into once classes start up again.

In terms of what I accomplished in relation to my research this summer, I’ve been able to create a Language Policy and Planning timeline for France and Quebec, and now have a theoretical and historical basis for better understanding language policy and nationalism in these two contexts.

Moving forward, I will be reading public debate surrounding La Loi Toubon (1994-France) and La Charte de la Langue Française (1977- Quebec), and sending an online survey to participants in France and Quebec to better gauge contemporary opinion about the French language and its relation to identity. I hope to determine how multiculturalism and globalization are effecting the somewhat homogenous nature of of French and Quebec language legislation.

Thank you for reading, and I’m really looking forward to how my research will develop over the coming academic year!

Honors Fellows Wrap Up Summer Research

Group photo

Eleven Dietrich College Honors Fellows are poised to begin their senior year with a head start on piloting psychological studies, conducting field research and laying the groundwork for film and writing projects.

Over the past three months, the fellows have examined citizenship and belonging in South Korea, the impact of La Loi Toubon on French nationalism and coming of age as a Vietnamese American, among other topics.

Recently, they presented their works-in-progress to each other and faculty members including their advisers and fellowship program directors Jennifer Keating-Miller, Brian Junker and Joseph E. Devine.

“This summer’s group was particularly impressive,” said Devine, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “While their topics were interestingly diverse, they displayed shared qualities of high enthusiasm, confidence and preparedness that served them well this summer and will surely continue to do so over the coming academic year.”

Read more.

Part 6: Calm Before the Semester

It wouldn't feel right if I didn't end the summer without mentioning Au Bon Pain in some way.

It wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t end the summer without mentioning Au Bon Pain in some way.

As I was writing this blog post, it occurred to me that I’m going to start school in a couple of weeks, meaning that I have two weeks to get my research study ready for the start of the academic year. This is where I would say that’s plenty of time to get my study ready, but to be honest, I won’t actually know if it’ll be enough time until the semester starts because anything can happen in these two weeks. I feel pretty prepared for whatever can come up though, so bring it, last two weeks!

Even if I don’t manage to get piloting done before school starts, I have still accomplished a lot over these past three months. I had to squeeze researching background literature, brainstorming a procedure, crafting questionnaires, writing a proposal and drafting the introduction section of my thesis paper all in one summer. Especially since I haven’t done any of this by myself before, I’m pretty impressed at what I’ve done. I’ve received a lot of guidance and help from my mentor, but I still got to exercise a lot of agency in what I wanted for my project. So, if anything, I can definitely look back at this summer fondly as the summer that I worked my butt off for work that I really enjoy!

Anyway, other than piloting and waiting for the IRB, my schedule regarding the fellowship has calmed down. I’ll be taking my first break and go back home about a week from now (I’ll still be working, but at least it’ll be in a relaxing environment). I’m definitely going to take advantage of this mini vacation because things are going to ramp up once I get back. That said, I love running studies, so despite my busy schedule in the fall, I’m also super looking forward to seeing my summer work flourish into a real study!