Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Houston, we have a problem.

Keen observers may have noticed that last Friday, a gigantic letter 'F' materialised over the SBS building, accompanied by flocks of birds leaving trees, spontaneous gonging of church bells, and shattered windows throughout the UQ campus.

This was because my data analysis had not gone as planned.

Subsequent to unleashing the linguistic beast that was my stream of profanity (read: giant man tantrum), I girded myself and got back to work. It's tempting at times like this to emotionally flagellate yourself for not seeing the issue beforehand, for feeling like a fool etc etc. It is important to remember that a PhD student is the merest babe in the academic world, superior only to the academic zygote that is an Honours student, and you will make mistakes on occasion.

So let's talk a bit about precisely what happened.

My experiments at present are purely behavioural, and utilise a MatLab program to present stimulus. The program records reaction times and outputs that to two separate files, one of which is nicely formatted to be imported into Excel and SPSS. This particular file did not write properly for some reason, and I realised I would have to go through each file individually and import the data trial by trial. That's 360 trials per participant, for 20 participants.

It was at this moment I felt a bizarre and yet entirely understandable urge to strap my beloved Apple computer to the front of some archaic cannon, and then fire said cannon at the laptop utilised in the experiment. This did not occur; I suspect the Psych department frowns upon wanton destruction that is not ethically approved. The lesson here is to test the hell out of any program that is so central to your experiment, and to ensure that it works EXACTLY as needed before you hurl participants at it.

The silver lining is that despite having to spend many hours at my computer manually importing data (a task to melt the brain of the most devoted of nerds), I also managed to catch up on listening to about 4 different podcasts, as well as several hours of my favourite music. So it's not all bad. Once the red mist had cleared, I realised that I should see the whole episode not as an illustration of my own foolishness, but as an experience for future experiments. I also learned that under no circumstances do you go to Merlos and request 'a coffee so strong you could waterproof an ocean liner with it'. They take that seriously. You will electrocute small insects if you drink it, and your brain will fizzle into some kind of homogenous neural goo.

As of writing this, I am at the SPSS analysis stage of this experiment, and the subject of next week's blog will be the results of this analysis, and what it means for my PhD. As always, I hope I have presented a good/informative read, and I shall see you all next week!



  1. My main question is, why are you doing psychology when you should clearly be a writer?

  2. My main question is, why are you doing psychology when you should clearly be a writer?

  3. Heh, thanks :)

    Mainly because if I was to be a writer I'd have to find something to write about; which is a different kind of motivation. This way, I can be motivated and work at the same time.

  4. It's comforting to know that several months of stress and tears culminating in a 12,000 word monstrosity qualifies us to be considered human only if academia were ruled by the Pope.

    Just joking.

    An Honours Zygote

  5. Heh, I had not intended that particular comment to sound insulting :) My apologies. More that I was offering my perspective on how to keep said perspective when making a mistake or two.