From Start to Finish: What Goes Into a Study -- Day 299: SfN abstract, REU mentoring

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

Check out the next day, Day 360!

Day 299: Post-SfN abstract submission(s), pre-REU mentoring, grant planning, comprehensive exam, OH MY.

We are in the home stretch of a year since I proposed this project. Science is not a fast thing. Some projects I've had in the last year have "finished", but most of them have taken +6 months and the ones that have "finished" are studies that went through pilot then we collected some preliminary data -- bigger projects based on preliminary data are up ahead.

But that's all OTHER projects. We're talking about one project here. My project. My first project.

A brief overview of my project (TL;DR I use EEG while people play The Prisoner's Dilemma)

For those who have been following along but haven't figured out the project yet, I am doing a comparison of two social dilemma games. A social dilemma situation is very broadly defined as a situation where you have to resolve a problem which will have affects on the social environment. The most popular and most studied social dilemma game is The Prisoner's Dilemma, where you have to choose to either cooperate with your partner (who you may or may not know) or choose not to cooperate (to defect) against your partner. Depending on your choice and your partner's choice, four outcomes may arise:

Both of you cooperate with each other and serve a minimum sentence in jail.
Both of you defect against each other and serve large (but not maximum) sentences in jail.
Your partner cooperates and you defect: your partner goes to jail for the maximum sentence and you go free.
Your partner defects and you cooperate: your partner goes free and you go to jail for the maximum sentence.

The original Prisoner's Dilemma was a thought experimen, in which you only have a single decision to choose to either cooperate or defect. Based off the outcome, you would know whether your partner helped or hurt you. In research, participants would generally play multiple iterations of the Prisoner's Dilemma -- with each decision generally being influenced by the previous outcome.

Therein lies my project in a nutshell: what is the neural makeup of strategy planning during decision making in these social dilemmas? More specifically, what makes someone cooperate and do people who cooperate show some sort of similar neural make up? To test this, I use electroencephalography to determine what extent people are engaging their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area generally implicated in strategy formation and decision making, and if the engagement for cooperative strategies differ from the engagement for defection strategies.

SfN abstract blitz

On top of my project having completed preliminary analyses, I had two other collaborators who wanted to submit abstracts to SfN14. This required two different analyses of the same dataset. Their project is based around education and the role/influence performance in these courses have on certain assessments that are indicative of job placement in engineering. They are using a three-pronged attack to measure this: behavioral, neural, and hormonal measurements. Of course, I am the person who has been brought it to conduct the neural portion of this project. Needless to say, two project analyses in a week is pretty insane. Definitely pulled some +12 hour day-nights in the lab.

This didn't have much impact on my social dilemma analyses. I ended up planning ahead and got my abstract completed two weeks before SfN's May 8th due date. I was just in writing mode with my PI for the next two weeks.

REU mentoring

As many know, I have a summer undergraduate research assistant, Bradley Robinson (check his blog out), who landed a $2000 REU from Utah State University (they call it a SURCO, or a summer undergraduate research or creative opportunity). Brad's project is a project also dealing with decision making in social dilemmas. I'm sure he'll blog about it all soon enough.

My role is to further oversee his development as he takes a huge step towards becoming a researcher. For the most part, I would like to focus this summer on the importance of data collection technique and how it relates to data analysis/statistics. I've found over the last year of mentoring that there is a huge disconnect for new undergrad RAs between data collection and data analysis. There seems to be a very weak bridge between the two -- and when the bridge is made, it is towards scary statistics. I don't know how I started to like statistics, but it was a few professors with a handful of anecdotes and quips that galvanized how stats and science relate. I'm hoping to extend that education to Brad and any other UGs in our lab who want to know more.

Since I'll be collecting a few more participants for my social dilemma + EEG project before SfN, I'm hoping to show the bridge between data collection and data analysis using actual data that will be presented at a science conference. I know for many, that link between stats and science really came on after taking a project from collection to presentation.

Until next time, y'all

There won't be too many FSTF posts between now and SfN. Obviously, I'll highlight the official SfN acceptance. I'll probably have a post in June about a grant I'm applying for. But until the fall semester, this project is just in data collection and data analysis mode until SfN and publication after that.

Check out the next day, Day 360!

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