From Start to Finish: What Goes Into a Study -- Day 197: Training RAs

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

Check out the next day, Day 203.

Day 197: Training the research assistants

This being my first study on my own, I'm taking things as they come mainly because I have no idea what to expect. The project itself is very self-contained -- all the instructions are through E-Prime and onscreen -- and all that's needed really is cooperation between researchers since this is an EEG hyperscanning study (where you are recording activity from two brains simultaneously, in this case with EEG). That cooperation between researchers is merely telling the other what the participant's decision was. In my mind, fairly simple.

However, I have seemingly forgot what it meant to be an undergraduate researcher. With no actual lab experience. And has never ran a human study before.

The RA, Ariel, is new. Her experience has been the EEG training I require for all RAs using our EEG instruments. She seemed nervous. She was writing everything down, even if she didn't need to. Even though the instructions were onscreen and the proctoring instructions were pretty simple, she asked me to go through it a few times with her until she understood exactly what was happening.

Good characteristics to see from a new RA, by the way. Lots of questions -- some out of fear, some out of curiosity. Good good good.

Training RAs is something very new for me. I've "trained" them, as in taught them how to use the equipment. But I've never thrown one in the line of fire yet. Not like this.

So, this is a learning experience for me. Teaching people not just how to do the things, but every nook and cranny... participant interactions, how to present the consent forms, when to debrief and discuss the hypothesis, how to avoid questions when a participant asks specifically about something they aren't suppose to know. A question Ariel asked was When we're setting up the cap, can we talk to the participant? That sort of baffled me because in my mind I was very snarky and mentally said well, what else would you do for 15 minute but I already had that moment where I realized this is a new researcher and this is a question I asked once before some years ago. My answer was yes, try to engage in light conversation and basically take their focus away from us soaking their head in saline. And my answers from now on come with a few seconds of delay as I try to put myself back in that position. Where the essence of a particular question comes from. Where I was when I asked that same question.

I am going to try hard to actually put myself in that position again, as opposed to telling RAs about how "easy" or how "simple" things are. Because I could be that person. I could be that researcher for the rest of my life, telling people how things are simple and easy and how if you don't understand things on the first time around then how are you suppose to understand more complex things. I have heard horror stories about those researchers and I don't want to be like that. And I can totally see myself being that -- as that is the easy way out, it seems -- but it's not helpful for me and especially not for my trainees.

I demo the latest (and hopefully, final) version of the experiment for my PI tomorrow. Then I'll officially be in data collection mode.

Exciting times!!

Lastly, even though I'm not heavily involved with the NIH R21 one of my advisors are putting together, I am heavily involved with a 3-page undergraduate summer research proposal due in a little over a month. That proposal is based on a tangent of my current study. I'll have chirps about that here and there -- but I'm optimistically hoping the RA, Brad, will be blogging about his experience in the summer (if he gets awarded).

Check out the next day, Day 203.

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