Saturday, February 11, 2012

Meeting Challenges

I could only eat six of them.
This was an eventful week with an abundance of meetings. Tuesday, I met with Johnnie at the Dunkin' Donuts to attempt to eat a dozen doughnuts in under 40 minutes, the time it took him to eat a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts during the Krispy Kreme Challenge. I was able to eat six of the doughnuts in 17 minutes, so I was well on my way to beating his time. However, I started to feel lightheaded and stuffed. The problem is that Dunkin' Donuts are 1) slightly larger than Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and 2) denser than Krispy Kreme doughnuts. So, eating six Dunkin' Donuts is like the equivalent of eating nine Krispy Kreme doughnuts. At any rate, I lost the challenge miserably, and had to apologize personally, and publicly (on Facebook), to Johnnie for calling him a pussy for initially complaining about having to eat the doughnuts during the race. And, I felt really lightheaded and sluggish for the remainder of the afternoon. I really hate having to tuck my tail between my legs on things like this.

On Wednesday morning, I attended the weekly lab meeting with The Good Doctor. The meeting was largely uneventful, as usual. However, a considerable focus of the meeting surrounded a side discussion about applying to graduate schools. A friend from the lab is currently in the application process, and was lamenting her chances to get accepted. She was concerned because her GRE scores, while good, weren't as good as she was hoping. However, her GPA is considerably higher than mine, and she has the benefit of being multilingual, and has experience from a study abroad program in which she took part. The discussion actually aroused anxiety in me, since, if she is having worries about getting accepted, I REALLY should worry. I did considerably better on the GRE, apparently, but my GPA isn't all that close to hers, and I don't have any sort of extracurricular experience to promote on a CV for grad school. Further, she applied to about ten schools around the country. Since it costs $100 for every grad school application, not including the cost of having the GRE scores sent to multiple universities, I simply do not have the sort of money to send out more than a couple of applications. And, I've been wanting to keep myself in North Carolina, which further limits my options for getting into a program where I would fit. I've been hoping to somehow stay at NC State, and get into one of the professors' labs here, if not even stay with The Good Doctor; but this week's set of meetings has thrown the fear of God into me about getting accepted into a program. And, as I've mentioned in the past, I don't have a backup plan in the event that I am not accepted.

Another part of the problem arose during my meeting with The Good Doctor on Thursday. One of the research projects that I have worked on in his lab deals with analyzing the last 30 years of published social psychology articles to see if the sample groups used in the experiments are representative of the greater human population. My (extremely) preliminary analysis has indicated that almost 80% of all sample groups used in the last 30 years were college undergraduates. In other words, the results may be highly skewed, and not representative of the human population in some fundamental ways. The Good Doctor wanted us to go over the data in preparation for a meeting on Friday with a fellow researcher on the project from England. After reviewing the data, we had some extra time to spare, and The Good Doctor wanted to chat further about my preparations for grad school. I feel like I disappointed him during the conversation, although I was quite candid, and didn't see any reason to try and mislead him, even if I had wanted.

I explained that because of my age, and monetary situation, I wasn't going to apply to dozens of schools, and hoped to stay in the state, if at all possible. I also discussed the fact that the sorts of things which I wanted to research weren't really being researched by professors at the major public universities in North Carolina. I listed off the four areas I was mainly interested in researching, and demonstrated that I had looked into schools doing those sorts of work: 1) using artificial intelligence in clinical settings to aid in diagnosis/treatment of depression, addiction, and anxiety disorders (some work is being done in this area at MIT and Stanford), 2) re-examining common pedophilia paradigms (a researcher at McGill University in Canada is doing this), 3) exploring methods for moderating hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance (a few universities around the US are doing this, one of which is in Arizona), and 4) examining changes in the perception of time relative to aging (a small project that The Good Doctor happens to be working on, but is not a major focus of his work, and an area which currently has only a very small body of research).

The Good Doctor seemed frustrated that I couldn't just pick one of these areas, and that none of them were really similar to the others, such that I would almost have to write unique personal statements for each individual research topic if I attempted to apply to different labs doing any of that work. Perhaps more frustrating to him was my acknowledgment that I couldn't commit to only one of them because 1) I genuinely want to research all of them at some point, and 2) research is not what I want to focus my life on. As I've mentioned here before, I want to lecture in classrooms. I want to have everyone focused on me while I prove that I'm the smartest motherfucker in the room. I have actually gotten to a point where I enjoy doing research, but, as I told The Good Doctor, I consider research like a hobby. Although, I acknowledged his contention that professors are hired by universities to do research on specific areas of investigation, I admitted that I was willing to do research as a trade-off for being able to lecture. I told him that this was a common experience for me, as I disliked high school, but loved being editor of the school paper, being in student government, and the school plays. And, at the radio station, I hated all the behind-the-scenes bullshit, but loved that I could be on-air, broadcasting, and that I was willing to put up with the trade-off in order to do the thing I loved. I mentioned that being a professor was a step in a positive direction because, at least, I also enjoyed the research that I would have to use as that trade-off to be able to lecture.

For his part, The Good Doctor recommended that I do some more reading of psych journals and try to find one area of research that I really loved more than others, and try to focus on that before sending out my applications. I told him I would try, but I didn't expect that it would help. I've probably read 300 or more research articles at this point, and every single one fascinated me and made my mind wander with ideas for how I would create experiments to test the topics in those articles. I do the same thing to research articles that I do to books, movies, and TV shows, namely, I try to figure out ways that I would have done it better. That is one of the parts of research that actually excites me: being able to prove that I could have done it better.

On Friday, I met again with The Good Doctor, and also with one of his graduate students, and his fellow researcher from England. The researcher is a petite German woman who is the same age as The Good Doctor. I inferred that they may have originally been friends in university, as she seemed very convivial with The Good Doctor. I was surprised to note that she also wore a nose ring, something I wouldn't have expected of someone in her position as a psychology professor in England. The meeting was a pleasurable one, as we all continued to analyze the data of our study, and tried to coordinate some of the procedures that we used in our lab for organizing the data collection with the procedures that she is currently employing in hers.

After that meeting, I met with a doctor at student health services to get tested for diabetes. It is probably nothing, but I have always had a paranoia about becoming diabetic. No one in my family has diabetes, but instead high blood pressure is common. I have never been afraid of high blood pressure, since I figure a heart attack, while perhaps painful, is a quick way to die. Diabetes, on the other hand, terrifies me because it takes years to die from the disease, and can involve the loss of functioning of hands and feet, and potential amputations. If I'm going to die, I'd like to keep my body parts intact. And, because of my fear of the disease, I seem to get scared that I am coming down with symptoms every three or four years. My attempt at eating the doughnuts earlier in the week sparked this sudden paranoia, so I decided it was better to be safe than sorry. Presumably, I'll get an email with the results of my blood test next week, although a preliminary test wasn't enough to concern the doctor. However, she did try to impress upon me the necessity of losing at least 20 pounds, and trying to eat healthier.

It would seem I still have a ways to go in trying to sort out all of the issues in my life. I just hope I can meet the challenge.

Have fun, and keep living life... Or some approximation thereof.

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