From Start to Finish: What Goes Into a Study -- Day 233: Training RAs III

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

Check out the next day… Day 235!

Day 233: Training RAs III

As with many data and studies, we have data exclusion. In EEG with typically developing adults, there are a lot of things you can be excluded over: head injuries, poor instrument connection, corrupted data files, not recording EEG data, not recording behavioral data, being left handed... lots of things can go wrong. And if it's a typically developing adult population, it's easy to find those participants so I'm not too worried about data collecting. However, my RAs are. Bless their hearts.

We've thrown out 4 participants: 2 because data wasn't recorded, 1 due to handedness and 1 due to medical reasons. Since this is a hyperscanning study, involving another live participant, all of these participants had a pair which their data is no longer useful since hyperscanned data relies on both participants as a pair. That's 8 participants. Of 20 (10 pairs). For me, no big deal -- we're on schedule. For undergraduates who have only heard and read about practically flawless science, this is a complete implosion doomsday scenario.

First of all, I can't tell you how hard it is for me to walk the fine line of being both realistic and being dramatic. Realistic: telling you I know what I'm doing without sounding like a douche bag (which, at points, I definitely am). Dramatic but realistic: A single error can ruin two participants' worth of data and essentially be a waste of time for everyone. Dramatic and not real: we need this data by April 7th (my personal imposed deadline).

I'd like to get across two ideas that were very similar to my development: Dr. Nakano (my undergrad advisor) used to tell me garbage in, garbage out referring to the impedance of the EEG when setting up a participant -- essentially, the better the impedance (e.g. connection from brain to equipment), the better the data. This applied to everything data related: acquisition, preprocessing, analysis, post-hoc analyses. I hear her voice every time I turn the equipment on. Garbage in, garbage out

Abraham Lincoln had a quote similar to this idea of garbage in and garbage out: If I had 6 hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend 4 sharpening my ax. I thought of both ideas a lot when designing and approaching data and experimental design. Also in cooking. Prep work is what sets you up for success. The better the prep, the smoother the task. EEG is particular since the set of up the cap is very much like sharpening an ax -- you spend a lot of time making sure the connection is right and the cap won't fall off or shift; you speak to the participant about things to do and not do when recording data; you spend a lot of time training people to say and do the things you say and do. If you do all those things right, that's quality in, quality out. That makes the 2 hours of chopping really smooth.

It's hard to convey that message to new researchers. They really need to trek through the depths of "bad" data in order to realize what it means to sharpen their ax prior to chopping down their tree. Dr. Nakano had me go through two or three mock participants before she let me collect data. Even then, she monitored my every step, asking me questions about each step along the way. I want to be this person to my RAs but I do believe in the process of failure. I believe in the concept that failing at things like data collection and instrumentation usage are vehicles for learning. Especially right now, since this study is really at no cost to anyone but the lab.

I hope if my RAs go into research they realize that it's okay to fail. It's okay to fall and get hurt and have to put a band aid on a wound that is too big for the band aid you have. I feel like I went through that and learned from it and became better because of it. I hope that's something they get too, as opposed to just scorn and stress because I'm not hands-on enough or too dramatic or whatnot. I tell the people around me here that I have the best RAs and that I trained Spartan-esque researchers -- one of them is worth five of yours. They don't have to live up to the hype because it's not for them to, but they do so by coming in every day. That's better than anything I can ask for -- every day is a success in my mind. They just don't know that. They think the worst, but need to bathe in the best sometimes too. I'm training bad asses. I want them to know that they are bad asses in training.

You can fail and it's okay to me. You can fail and it's okay.

Check out the next day... Day 235!

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