Friday, June 30, 2006


Finally. Some progress in the work. Wheaa! I think I was talking earlier about the experiments I was going to run/getting ready to run/practically running as we speak/dreaming about running etc. Well, instead of running them yesterday and today as I should have, I've done more and more tweaks to the setting. I really need to get it right... :-/

As always in "behavioural" experiments ("behavioural" as in contrast with brain imaging/ taking physiological measurements/computer modelling/growing mold in a petri dish, not as in contrast with "cognitive"), there are thousands of little things you could do differently. Some are important and will be reflected in the results. Giving people 3, 5, or 8 seconds between trials might turn out to be not only critical in terms of the duration of the whole experiment, but also having a major effect on the results - short term memory might carry over from one trial to another etc. And while most of the issues are trivial and have no effect on the outcome, many of them will still be questioned and contested by paper reviewers, examiners, future generations of scientists, and fellow PhD students eager to impress the professors in the conference crowd. Yes, even though the issues are "irrelevant". That's the name of the game... So not only do you need to know what you are doing, you will also need to be prepared to explain why you did that and not something else. (Now that will impress the professors in the crowd and help you land that post doc job...) :-)

Most of these "things" are only visible to yourself. Nobody will ever question them, nobody even knows there are other ways of doing those things. Just you. But that's enough, and it can lead to a lot of second guessing and feelings of uncertainty. And spending a lot of time trimming the trees when you should get on with landscaping the whole bloody forest.

I must say, though, that the things that have been holding me back have been in category 1; they WILL have an effect, and they will definitely be questioned. I actually bet that the first question in the conference where the results will be premiered will be about these things. It's about stimulus preparation and control, and is too technical to be included in detail in a 15 minute presentation, but the whole research will rise or fall with it. And now, finally, I can say I have made progress: I know now what I'm doing, why, and how it works formally (mathematically, that is).

I'm massively relieved even though there are still some technical obstacles before I can start running the experiment. But somehow this was such a major issue that now I feel much more positive about the whole research and even the whole PhD-business. I can literally see in front of my eyes the 5 pages in "methodology" where this will be discussed. I'd still need to write it, but now I have an idea of what I'm going to write about.

Phew. After working late and under much stress for the last few days I think I'll leave work now, and get ready for today's big match.

No comments: