Saturday, June 19, 2010

On Designing Experiments and Collaboration

Sometimes Most of the time the research process isn't as parsimonious and collaborative as we'd like to think...

I've been busy the last few weeks getting an experiment off the ground.  We'll be using variants of this same study design in a few upcoming projects with a range of different collaborations.  What this means practically is that I've spent a long time programming (and reprogramming) and checking my math.  There are still some kinks to work out, but we're ready to start running some subjects.

When this study design was first conceived it was supposed to be run by one of our undergraduate research assistants.  Initially it was supposed to be work out to be a way for us to collect some plot data while fulfilled the requirements for her honors thesis.  By the end of last semester it become obvious that the data collected wasn't going to be useful due to a long and ridiculous series of programming, counterbalancing, and procedural errors.  Eventually I ended up having to take over all the programming and data analyses for a project I was only supposed to be supervising.

As a result of that catastrophe my lab decided that we would redo the experiment from scratch with better programming and data collection procedures.  Because I'm running a few other projects that are supposed to get going this summer, I was supposed to collaborate with another graduate student in our lab to set everything up.  A week or so it become obvious to me that I was doing the entire thing myself and that it was conflicting with some of my other responsibilities.  Not wanting to put down another student to their advisor (which I happen to think is bad grad student protocol) I just completed my side of the project and waited for my collaborator to finish their's.  It got to the point where I apparently showed enough frustration with the collaboration that my collaborator was pulled off the experiment and I was put in charge.

Now, running an entire experiment on my own isn't exactly a small amount of work but its much easier for me to be accountable only to myself when trying to set up all the practical details of an experiment that, from a subject's point of view, will be very simple.  All thats left is to train our new lab assistants to run subjects while I prepare the next set of experiments.

I'm in the early stages of a few other collaborative projects that I think will turn out to be much more productive than this one.  Mostly its just amazing to me that a something so crucial to what we are doing in the lab, and what we will be doing for years to come, has been so mishandled.

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