Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

As anyone who’s done a research project knows, research doesn’t begin at the data collection. A chemist doesn’t just put a chemical in a beaker and watch it turn blue, and an archaeologist doesn’t start digging haphazardly hoping something comes up. A foundation has to be laid of other researchers’ related findings, ideas of what you hope to find and what that means for the subject area at large, and finally, a plan of how exactly you plan to execute your research. Because of this, in the weeks before finals and my return to campus, I read hundreds of pages of recent studies and filled the margins with ideas and questions. I was excited because though many people were interested in what I’m studying, no one has performed the exact experiment I had proposed to the Charles Center (which means the findings will hopefully be filled with new information).

Upon my return to campus, Professor Dickter and I discussed my findings. I was then sent to do even more reading before we finally sat down and fine-tuned my project. While I turned in a rough outline of my project to the Charles Center, there are a lot of details that had yet to be figured out. Like, how long exactly does this experiment take? How many pictures are we using?  In what order will participants perform the tasks? What relevant surveys do we want them to take? How do we plan on paying them for their participation, and how much are we paying them? A lot of this information has to be reported to the International Review Board, so though the project had already been approved once, I had to resubmit an application to them with all the changes.

It’s not unusual for approval from the IRB to take several weeks (in fact, I’m still waiting to hear back from them), so in the meantime it was my task to prepare everything related to the study so we could start running participants as soon as we heard the project was approved. First and foremost, this meant collecting and editing over 300 pictures to use as stimuli. Thankfully, a fellow researcher in my lab performed a similar study this past year and had already found 45 pictures that I was able to use. They proved to be a great help in deciding what kind of images to use and how to edit them so they all looked more uniform.  Once I had collected everything, we all voted on what pictures were usable and which needed to be thrown away. Some of the comments were very entertaining! Thankfully, I we didn’t veto enough photos for me to have to find replacements, so it was straight on to programming in my new best friend E Prime (more about that later).