Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Double black semester

Doing a PhD is like any other job where you’re entitled to take about four weeks holiday per year. Unlike fellow blogger Matt who sometimes spends his holiday rubbing shoulders with legends of psychology, I chose to spend my last holiday in beautiful Queenstown, New Zealand. I just got back from nothing but 10 days of snowboarding, hot chocolates, amazing restaurant meals, and wine tours.

Taking a break at Coronet Peak, NZ.

But for it to have been so much fun, this holiday actually took quite a lot of psychological preparation for me - normally when I go on holidays I fill my spare time with bits and pieces of work that I need to catch up on, reading journal articles in my spare time, and replying to emails of students’ questions.

The truth is, three years is not a long time to do a PhD (in the US as a comparison, a PhD program usually takes about seven years), so I had quite a bit of anxiety about losing almost two weeks of time that I could be getting a lot of work done. But what’s the point of going on a holiday if it’s just going to stress you out? That would be ironical.

I decided that I wasn’t going to look at any data, I wasn’t going to write a word of a manuscript, I wasn’t going to program, and I’d only reply to emails if it seemed urgent.

And it almost worked - I didn’t stress out about what I needed to get done, and I didn’t stress out about not doing any work for such a long period of time. I say it “almost” worked because I couldn’t help myself but to think about all the cool experiments that could be done involving snowboarding, but that just made me enjoy myself more.

For example, I’d like to know if beginner snowboarders’ estimates of the angle of a steep slope are less accurate than professionals’ estimates. I think beginners would overestimate the steepness of a slope, especially if they were standing up the top! Hopefully one day I can get funding to test this out.

So I’m back into things this week, madly scrambling to get an eye tracker working at QBI, learning a new programming language and getting an experiment running by next week, and preparing for tutoring for a subject I’ve never tutored before. It’s only week one, and this is already what my calendar looks like:


Are you studying Psychology@UQ and want to contribute to theuqpsycblog?? Send Will an email to find out how: will.harrison@uqconnect.edu.au


  1. There's already been lots of work on estimates of steepness.

    One cool study found that people wearing a heavy backpack judged hills as being steeper than they actually are, and those people also perceived distances as longer.

    And having friends around--or even just thinking about them--makes a hill seem less steep.

    But I'm not aware of any expert-novice studies specifically.


  2. Yep I'm well aware of the backpack study and that was the basis of my original interest in the question about snowboarders standing at the top of a hill :)

  3. Related:

    ...though I can't find anything on expertise.

  4. Thanks for the reference, Tom.

    With regard to my question about differently skilled snowboarders, I am more interested in whether the skills or confidence of better snowboarders make their estimates more accurate compared to less skilled/less confident riders, independently of their expertise and experience of judging hill slopes. Not sure how to control for that though....