From Start to Finish: What Goes Into a Study -- Day 1067: The end.

This series of posts is documenting the journey of my first first-author project, from the infancy of the research through publishing. I am highlighting the major checkpoints of the project — when things move forward or backward — rather than a daily update because that would seriously be boring. Just about all the content discussed will be directly related to the project I’m working on.

If you haven’t read the previous posts, check these out!
Day 1
Day 2 – 7
Day 27
Day 82
Day 145
Day 193
Day 197
Day 203
Day 216
Day 224
Day 233
Day 235
Day 299
Day 360
Day 463
Day 467
Day 527
Day 674
Day 778

The end

Wow, 1067 days. That's just about 3 years. Apparently that's how long it took to go from start to finish for my first project as the lead ever.

It never got published, and I don't think this project will ever really see the light of day. But it did open up a lot of avenues for other projects.

In the 289 days since the last post, obviously many things happened with this project so let me give everyone a run-down:

Just as we were about to submit this, I included this study into my dissertation proposal. It was torn to shreds -- mainly because of the lack of controls and problems with methods. These were all true factors. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I had to basically try to salvage what I could from the project since it wasn't going to go out as is.

Back track a little for those who don't know about the project: this was an EEG hyperscanning study using the Prisoner's Dilemma. Hyperscanning is a fancy term for simultaneous recording -- essentially, seeing if there is a dual-brain link while playing this game. My initial idea was to probe the levels of cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma and see how increased cooperation in social dilemmas propagated in the brain. The project quickly turned from investigations in cooperation to investigations in strategies during social dilemmas -- we started to analyze different strategies based off of choice behavior to see if there were differences in strategies from a neural perspective. The data and results looked fine, but without proper controls and a relatively poor methodology to test for strategies the paper would have been torn apart.

Based on our findings, however, we ended up writing four small internal grants to further investigate the nature of strategy in the brain in social dilemmas. Out of the four submitted grants, three of them ended up being funded.

At the last Cognitive Neuroscience Society meeting, we presented on preliminary findings from one of the projects with better methods and controls for these experiments and was well-received. We presented on these data at an on-campus research event, to which a current research assistant ended up earning a poster presentation award (good job, Justin!).

A few hiccups caught us on this study. One being our IRB protocol. We have reached the limit of our participants on the protocol this project was under. Due to IRB changes on our campus, they are declining amendments to extend the life of current protocols in favor of brand new protocols for every project. As noted in some of the first posts for this series, the IRB process is somewhat long. So even if we wanted to continue with this project, the current wait time to have an amendment back would be upwards 6 months.

In the rubble of this study, I've tried salvaging the behavioral data to some extent. I'm hoping between this set of behavioral data and a few others, there may be enough to talk about how to engender strategic behavior and accurately assess when strategic behavior in a social dilemma is being executed.

This isn't the cookie cutter tale I was hoping for when I started my first project. My research question was interesting and my hopes were very high that something publishable and fascinating would come of my very first project. A naive notion, perhaps. But this isn't unlike many other projects in the world. Science is unforgiving and will let you know when you are not on the right track. In this case, even though we had marched through data analysis and drafted a manuscript, we still didn't have enough. And that's okay, because that's science.

Science is humbling. If anything, this project has educated me in the sense of humility. I said in a previous post that one thing graduate school doesn't really lend itself to is learning how to fail. A large amount of students in grad school have likely never failed a course or an assignment in their lives. Having a project fail on you -- one bred out of your own desire -- is not so different from other failures. Grant rejections, paper rejections, IRB revisions, etc. The outcome is humbling. We spend a lot of time learning how to avoid failure, but sometimes it takes a few failures to really fine tune your abilities. I believe that's what this project has been. This won't be my last failed attempt at something, but it was a great first one in graduate school.

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Since the beginning of this project, I've had 10 research assistants help me. One of them actually has been a research assistant with me since I got here, which is nothing less than amazing and rare. He's presented at conferences with me -- some of you probably have met Brad or even have had him present to you -- so he gets a huge thanks from me. He actually wrote and landed two of the funded grants that have extended this line of work as an undergrad. He'll be applying to graduate school this fall -- watch out world.

Outside of this project, I've had four manuscripts submitted. Two of them are actually first-authored papers and are currently under review while the other two have been accepted (I wasn't the first-author on the other ones). Currently I'm trying to finish up my program here at Utah State and am seeking out the next step in my life (may it be in academia or otherwise).

All of this work was done in Kerry Jordan's Multisensory Cognition Lab at Utah State.

That's all for this study. Stay tuned in a few months when the next study picks up and I concurrently blog about it.

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