Great Lakes of Corn and Wheat

Sternstein - Great Lakes of Corn & Wheat
In the center of Michigan, the lakes are not clear water, but are golden colored wheat and tall corn. The combines are friendly giants that wander outside of the wooden posts, traveling on the main roads even as far as to the McDonalds on the corner of 3 Mile Road, taking up both lanes and forcing the smaller cars to trail behind at the slowed pace. The rural roadways are long and straight and unpopulated, aside from the birds, just enough so as to give drivers the confidence to do unlawful things without thinking twice.

I learned all of this as I spent a few weeks in field research, collecting details of scenery and cultures and conversations. I also learned of the tremendous economic and social impact that a city can feel in the midst of a large acquisition and layoff by their major source of employment. In certain cities in our country, companies seem to grow along with the community, playing a central role in names of high schools and community gardens. These companies sit at the family dinner table; they create story lines from grandfather to grandchild. While I was there, though, this name was suddenly on the lips of everyone around me as a word of caution and worry – who would stay, who would have to move away, as 700 men and women were let go? From my yoga instructor, who worked as a freelance contractor for the company, to a volunteer at the community boathouse who worked as an economic planner for the city government, no one seemed to left out of the conversation. These conversations, these long, quiet roads, have been on my mind as I begin to write my next story.


Part 5: Piloting (without the planes)

Carnival tickets I'm using for my study, although I'm not going to spoil what they're for yet...

Carnival tickets I’m using for my study, although I’m not going to spoil what they’re for yet…

Since my last blog post, I have finished my IRB proposal and am waiting for the IRB to respond back. Until then, it’s time to pilot my study, and as much as I would love to fly a plane, that’s not what piloting means in my case. (Actually I’m terrified of heights so being a pilot would be awful, but I’m getting way off topic now).

Piloting for studies just means that I’m going to go over my study with people who aren’t actual participants. This week, I’ve started piloting with other research assistants in the Relationships Lab, who pretended to be participants in my study, except they got to be much more critical. I’ve asked them to point out anything that seems weird or confusing, which includes questions in the questionnaires and directions I give as an experimenter, and how I could improve these parts of the study. The point of this is to have people who don’t know about the study to go through it with fresh eyes, unlike me who has been buried in this study for the past three months.

After I’ve asked research assistants to help, I’m going to also look for real couples to help pilot as well. These couples will provide a fresh perspective along and will also provide results and voice concerns closer to what my potential participants would have. Piloting with real couples will then allow me to tune up my study more finely because they are representatives of the sample I’m looking for.

I will get to pilot until the semester starts, and maybe even into the first week of school if need be. I’m sure I will get a lot of feedback since this is the first time I’ve ever designed a study of this magnitude, but it’s still really exciting to finally see my study in action, even if it’s just through some trial runs.

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Looking back over the last six weeks, I’ve gained a whole new perspective on my project and the music industry as a whole. Overall, I could characterize these in the form of three insights. 

Insight #1: “Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear”. 

Krishna - objects in mirror

This insight applies to both my project and how the music industry itself works.

Relating back to my project, I’ve learned that sources and resources are not as far off as I originally envisioned.

Although Pittsburgh often isn’t highly ranked nationally for its music as much as other cities, like New York or Austin, it still has a plethora of incredible resources for my thesis.

One form of resources is classic “research” data. These include databases, libraries and other typical sources for information. Just being at Carnegie Mellon University, I’ve had access to an immense amount of data that I still have to scour over!

However, the most fruitful resources I’ve stumbled upon are people! So far, people have been the greatest, and the most interesting, source of information from my project. Whether it be one of my advisers suggesting I check out a certain book, meeting a local musician who experiences the music scene I am studying firsthand, or talking to promoters who have seen the cultural changes affect their work, people have dominated my interest and study in the field.

This emphasis on people also connects my insight to my study of the music industry. Although technology changes and economic models shift, people are the constant in the equation. In many ways, the music industry acts as a giant social network. Very rarely are artists “found”- instead, it’s a process of connecting with others, building connections and being in the right place at the right time with the right people. 

Reading through the history, it’s clear that certain individuals (such as Ahmet Ertegun) are the “right people.” In my insight, they are the “objects” that are always closer than they appear and guide the market with a seemingly invisible hand. These individuals are the key figures of the industry, who seem to continuously pop up and guide the trends and changes that ultimately affect those on the bottom (for better or for worse!)

Understanding this power dynamic and identifying these key individuals has the benefit of streamlining my research in the early stages. By learning about the careers and choices of these people, I am able to get a quick overview of how the music industry has changed and then focus in on finding more specific and “lost” voices to fill out the narrative further.

Insight Two: It’s OK To Be Lost 

Krishna - lost

This insight connects to my method of conducting research, and how it’s changed from previous research experience.

The fellowship is the first time where I’ve truly immersed myself in the literature without a preconceived conclusion or answer.

Usually, and I think this is true of most college students, I’ll enter a research endeavor with a conclusion in mind. My research from that point onward becomes less about “learning,” but more about finding evidence to prove my conclusion correct.

As a result of the time allotted for research and the larger scope of the final thesis, the fellowship allows me to engage in research without these preconceived notions. Instead of finding evidence to support my conclusion, I’m more interested in finding how things work, common narrative threads and a deeper understanding of my field.

Many times this kind of research has led me down a whole bunch of rabbit holes, some helpful, some not. However, the idea of being “lost” has definitely lost its negative connotation and has opened a whole new realm of research methodology for me.

Insight Three: If Lost, Writing Is Your Map!

Krishna - map

Although there are benefits to “being lost” in your research, inevitably you’ll have to define your borders and scope. I’ve learned that writing has been the best way to synthesize my ideas.

If “getting lost” is my research methodology and people are my main source of information, writing is the guide that helps me put all the pieces together. By synthesizing my data, I’m able to really see the forest for the trees.

Writing also reveals gaps in my research. For example, even when writing my blog post I’m realizing I have to find my firsthand sources of individuals who are currently involved in the music scene. I also understand that I have to find more hard data for my research.

Moving Forward 

With six weeks of this project under my belt, I’m about halfway done with the fellowship. Here are some of my goals moving forward:

  • Write a blog post weekly (minimum).
  • Write a final list of individuals to interview and complete it.
  • Finish my annotated bibliography.

I look forward to sharing the rest of my findings with all of you!

Part 4: Gotta Keep It Ethical

Now that I have fully recovered from my authenticity debacle from a couple weeks ago, I’m now starting to write up basically the first official paper that will come out of this project: the IRB proposal.

The IRB (Institutional Review Board) is a group of people who look over proposed studies and make sure they are ethical enough for participants to participate in without being psychologically (or physically) harmed. (For a more thorough description, here’s the Wikipedia article on the IRB.)

Writing that your study is safe for participants to take isn’t enough, though. You have to write what your study is about, what implications your study has (so you’re not doing your study for no reason), where your participants come from (so you’re not just picking on a specific group for no reason), who your participants are, what risks and benefits are there for your participants, how you’ll keep your participants’ data confidential and anonymous, etc. It’s a tedious process, but the welfare of the participants is important, so it must be done.

You also have to provide all the materials you’re planning to use in your study. This includes consent forms, debriefing forms, all the questionnaires and your protocol script, which is a script of everything the experimenter(s) will say in the study, so I’m also writing up all of these.

Measures that have been through editing

Measures that have been through editing

The work has been pretty straightforward so far, but just thinking about turning in the IRB proposal makes me both super excited and nervous. I just have to submit it online, so that part is pretty remote and uneventful, but I’m still thinking about the 15 or so people reading my proposal. There’s nothing unethical at all about my study, so it really shouldn’t be that hard to get it approved, but it’s still tense. Maybe it’s because it’ll take them about a month to get back to me. I could do stuff in that time, like work on my thesis paper, but during that time, I’ll be like, “Gee, I hope everything is going okay over in the IRB!” (Whoops – unintentional rhyme.)

But evaluations like the IRB proposals are inevitable, and there’s no use in me freaking out about it. I mean I still will freak out, but I can at least freak out while working at the same time.

Daily Rituals

Naomi_1As I begin my thesis, I also begin to think about process. I think about committing myself to sitting down to write every day, an action as essential to the day as is my morning routine of grinding the measured amount of coffee beans and brewing espresso on my stovetop moka pot, as pushing myself for that outdoor run.

There is a book titled “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” that describes the daily habits and work regiments of sculptors, composers, writers, filmmakers and other creators. The section on composer Igor Stravinsky describes how he would wake up at 8:00 a.m. to exercise, and then work on his music without a break from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. in solitude with all windows closed. These four hours were often all he could dedicate to his creations in the day, and he would sit down to work each day regardless of inspiration. In a section on Leo Tolstoy, he also describes writing every day from morning until dinner so as not to get out of the habit of daily writing.

Daily writing is essential to almost every writer. It requires diligence and focus, but also the power of schedule. During the school year, I am conscious of my wish to create a time for daily writing outside of classroom assignments. However, in midst of exams and homework and my appreciation of eight hours of sleep, I end up writing in bursts – a few consecutive days here, a few days there, and then perhaps radio silence for weeks.

This summer, I will form the habit of writing or researching for my writing every day. I look forward to acquiring a new daily ritual, and seeing what form my daily writing will take.

Part 2: Asking the Right Questions

Since I’ve started studying research design, I’ve never had to think in so much detail about asking questions. You would think you just put the questions you want to ask, but noooooo, there’s much more to it than that.

For my research, the basic question I want to explore is: what can lead to more authentic or genuine actions for people in relationships? So far, I think that affectionate touch between couple members can promote more authentic behaviors, such as sacrifices made for the partner. But it’s not enough to just ask whether A (touch) leads to B (authenticity); I need to also see how A leads to B. This link between A and B is called a mediator, and it basically explains the reason why A makes B occur.

To get all of the data I need for each part of this process, I will need to manipulate touch (so participants will either touch each other or not), have participants do a task where they have an opportunity to sacrifice for their partner and then ask them how authentic they felt about making that sacrifice. I would similarly do this with the mediator, but my issue is that I don’t know what my mediator(s) should be yet…

Wu Touch Mapping2

Mapping out what the mediator(s) can be

My adviser suggested that I map out what happens in this process to help brainstorm what kind(s) of mediator(s) I should look at. The main ones I’m interested in I’ve circled, so I’m thinking that touch leads to more authenticity because the touch receiver has higher security, empathy, commitment and responsiveness to their partner’s needs. All of these contribute to how salient one’s partner’s needs are to the person receiving the touch.

More specifically, I’m hypothesizing that when you receive touch from your partner, you feel more secure because touch conveys that the touch-provider (your partner) is there for you when you need them. You may also feel more empathetic because there is a physical connection between you and your partner, which makes you think of your partner more and can promote understanding. Touch can also lead to more commitment because now that you know your partner is there for you, you would feel more committed to your relationship at that moment. Responsiveness would also go up because touch would increase how attentive you are to your partner’s needs. Overall, your partner’s touch would make them and their needs more salient to you because touch is a physical indicator that you partner is there and cares for you, thus touch would make you more likely to reciprocate their feelings.

This is just my current, rambling train of thought, though, and I’m going to talk this over more with my adviser to sort out the kinks. Then I’m going to have to do more research (see, you do have to do background research forever!) about how people have measured these mediators, and then write out my questionnaires.

Side note: You know how sometimes you fill out questionnaires and it seems like the questions are asking you the same thing multiple times? That’s on purpose. That’s just how researchers make sure that they’re measuring the correct construct, or concept. In my case, I would want to ask multiple questions along the lines of “How true to yourself were you while doing this task?” to make sure that I’m measuring authenticity as completely as possible. So now you know, so don’t be too weirded out if you see this kind of thing in questionnaires.

Part 1: Background Research for Daaaaaays

So for the past week that I’ve been back on campus, I’ve been trying to eat everything Au Bon Pain has to offer… and starting to work on my fellowship of course.

Wu - Au Bon Pain.jpeg

(Not sponsored by Au Bon Pain)

First thing to do on the summer fellowship checklist: more background research. I did search for some preliminary background literature when writing up my application, but now that I don’t have a hard deadline, I can take more time to go into all of the background research out there.

There are three topics I have been looking up for my project (in the context of romantic relationships): authenticity, willingness to sacrifice and affectionate touch. While my research project focuses on all three topics together, I have to see what researchers have contributed in each of these topics separately. Looking up past literature basically involves me reading a ton of articles and taking notes on their main points. This is as tedious as it sounds (especially when you get a 75-page PDF, while the average article length is 10 pages), but hey, I certainly learn a lot.

“Authenticity” generally means the degree to which you express your true self in what you do. Researchers have found that the more authentic you are, the more satisfied you are in your relationships because you are more open to others about who you are and are not afraid of hiding anything. On the other hand, people low in authenticity, who would rather hide their true selves from others and/or may not acknowledge who they truly are, are often dissatisfied in their relationships. This is because they feel stressed and conflicted that they are not showing others who they really are and are scared about others finding out about their true selves. That being said, forcing yourself to be authentic isn’t good either because even the manner in which you’re authentic has to be authentic, not just because someone told you so or you should feel like you should be authentic. I could go on about authenticity for days, but only so much can be said in one blog post.

Willingness to sacrifice is how willing you are to forego your own self-interests for your someone else’s interest. People do this all the time: from something as small as going to a restaurant your partner likes that you may not like to something as substantial as moving across the country for your partner’s job. (The term sacrifice makes it seem like a much bigger deal than what it can be, so on questionnaires, most researchers just say how willing you are to make a “change.”) While the more willing you are to sacrifice, the more satisfied you are in your relationship, the same is true in the other direction: higher satisfaction in your relationship can lead to being more willing to sacrifice for your partner. Willingness to sacrifice also contributes to a higher level of commitment, which also feeds back into relationship satisfaction. People can differ in why one is willing to sacrifice. You could sacrifice because you really want the best for your partner, or you only make sacrifices because that’s what people in relationships are supposed to do. This has to do with authenticity because authentically making a sacrifice can either be super good or super bad for the relationship. If you don’t really want to make a sacrifice but you do anyway, it can lead to inauthenticity. Hopefully I’ll be able to learn more about the relationship between authenticity and willingness to sacrifice in my research project.

Affectionate touch is exactly what it sounds like: touching others in a way that show you love and care for them. Touch has been shown to be not only great for relationships but also great for your health. Touch can reduce stress psychologically and physiologically, establish intimacy, increase trust, improve security, promote interdependence and closeness, etc. The Relationships Lab I work in has been doing work with affectionate touch for the past few years, and we’ve found that just imagining touch is good enough to reduce stress, promote security and encourage exploration (trying new things). In relation to authenticity and willingness to sacrifice, because touch can increase closeness, this may increase people’s awareness of their partner’s needs and increase motivation to attend to those needs. Being more attentive to partner’s needs can lead to a higher level of willingness to sacrifice and also to more authenticity because the person feels genuine about sacrificing for their partner. Again, hopefully I can see the specifics of this process in my thesis project.

So now that I have researched what have been done in the past (and will continue–researching past literature never ends), I now have to see how I can use this past information to guide me with the current research. As a sort of preview, the next thing I have to do is gather and create materials for my actual study!

On a completely different note, I found a cool article on attachment styles and pets, which has nothing to do with authenticity, sacrifice or touch, but it somehow popped up in my search results. This article is particularly interesting because you normally only hear about attachment styles with respect to other people, so it’s interesting how this concept applies to people’s relationships with their pets. Also, I have always wanted pets and never got to have any (my ideal pets are a Pembroke Welsh corgi and a Russian blue cat, but I will take care of anything), so any mention of a pet will get my immediate attention. Anyway, if just studying people gets boring, I know that I can study pets and people instead.

Hezbollah, the Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Intersection of Militant and Political Identities

Next up in the series of posts on the Dietrich College Honors Fellowship summer presentations is Chloe Thompson, a global studies and Hispanic Studies double major with a creative writing minor.

chloepresentsWhen she applied for the fellowship program, Thompson wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do her thesis on, but she knew that it would involve non-state groups and political actors. She settled on Hezbollah, Arabic for “Party of God,” and the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) because they’re two non-state actors that have separate but active militant and political arms.

Thompson described how she spent the summer looking for answers to questions such as why the PIRA transformed from a militant group to a political one and how Hezbollah maintains having both factions function.

“The great thing about this fellowship was that I didn’t need to produce something right now,” Thompson said. “I could take the time to understand and learn.”

She feels that she now has developed a mastery of the concepts, a depth of knowledge and the vocabulary to analyze and talk about both groups.

“Now, I’m at a jumping off point for figuring out what I want to say,” she said.

Thompson’s most immediate plan to tackle the next stage of her project is to keep looking for ways Hezbollah and the PIRA are similar.

Learn more about her project.

View a group photo of all of the honors fellows before their presentations.

How to Fight Jealousy

Just a reminder that today, the 2015 Dietrich College Honors Fellows presented on their work so far this summer. We had hoped to share videos of each presentation, but due to technical difficulties, we’ll just be sharing recaps and a few photos throughout the week.

For Kaylyn Kim’s Senior Honors Program thesis and fellowship project, she decided to create a psychological study to find out how to fight jealousy using security[1] copy

Kim’s project advisor is Associate Psychology Professor Brooke Feeney, an expert in studying interpersonal relations – particularly in how close relationships help people to thrive through adversity and through the pursuit of life challenges.

First, Kim, a psychology major with a minor in creative writing, talked about how she needed to define “romantic jealousy.”

“It’s the threat of comparison and competition and the fear of being replaced,” she explained. “Jealousy is not inherently a bad emotion. It comes from a place of love, but the outcomes can be negative.”

Security priming has been shown to boost moods and self-esteem, so Kim wanted to explore how it affects jealous thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. She used imagining a partner’s touch or sound of their voice as examples of security primes.

Kim has already started running pilots, and she detailed how her experiment works. Participants must speak English, be at least 18 years old and have a romantic partner that they have been dating for at least three months who is also willing to participate. They will not be aware of the study’s real goal.

The couples will fill out background questionnaires and go through a series of activities designed to gather baseline information and then elicit jealous reactions.

Kim believes that the implications from her work will include creating interventions “to enhance the well-being of individuals and their relationships.”

Read more about Kim’s project.

Check out a photo of all of the Honors Fellows before the presentations.