A Quick Crash Course in Statistics: Part 1

In PSY/NEU 338, From Animal Learning to Changing People’s Minds, my group recently presented our capstone project for the course: we researched irrationality, trying to understand when humans make irrational decisions, how that is implemented in the brain, and if certain things might actually be incorrectly labeled as ‘irrational’. Our emotions are a leading example: although some call them irrational, in practice, they play a key role in fine-tuning our decision-making and reasoning abilities. When you’re happy, for example, everything might be going more positively than expected. Your mood is thus encouraging you to continue the behaviors that led to those rewards, since that positive trend might continue (for a neuroscientific discussion of this topic, see this paper).

To demonstrate this phenomenon first-hand, we had students in the class play what is known as the Ultimatum Game:

You are the proposer. You have been given $100. You are tasked with splitting your money with a stranger, the responder. If the responder accepts the split that you propose, you both keep the money after the game ends. If the responder does not accept, no one keeps the money.

The question: how much money do you decide to offer the responder?

After reading this, students had five seconds to provide their answer. They were then asked to report their mood. The question we wanted to answer was simple:

Is the amount of money people offered statistically different between those who reported “positive” versus “negative” moods?

In this post, I’ll explain some of the basic statistics I used to formally answer this question, bolding some key terms in the field along the way. In my next post, I’ll walk through the programming aspect for visualizing those statistics. 

In Google Spreadsheet, I calculated the mean dollar amount for the “positive” and “negative” categories, equaling $32.2 and $66 respectively. The “equals” sign indicates a function, and D51:D55 corresponds to the cells containing the data for the “positive” category.
Continue reading A Quick Crash Course in Statistics: Part 1

Maybe Research Isn’t My Thing – A Few Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Give Up on Research

 

This computer and gel scanner were my best friends during my summer internship – I took many, many pictures of DNA samples and made many, many mistakes over the four week period.

As the weather gets warmer and summer gets closer, a lot of people’s minds are on their upcoming summer research internships. I know from my personal experience that doing research over the summer can be quite frustrating — it seems like you’ll never get any results and it’s so easy to say that “research just isn’t my thing.” In this post, I want to highlight a few things to think about before you decide that pursuing research as a profession isn’t for you.

 

Continue reading Maybe Research Isn’t My Thing – A Few Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Give Up on Research

How to Prepare for an Internship

As Princeton students begin to finalize internship plans, excitement and anticipation begin to take over, and we start to think about how to make the most out of our experience. Whether you are preparing for a summer internship or a one-day princeternship in the spring, you will learn the most if you begin preparing ahead of time. In this post, I will give a few tips on how to best prepare for an internship.

Students finalizing internship positions are eager to begin learning, and prior preparation can make a difference in that experience.

Continue reading How to Prepare for an Internship

The Search for Life Work: Netting Bats in Madagascar

“My friends, family, and classmates sometimes ask me why I do the things I do,” muses Ph.D. student Cara Brook in a recent NatGeo blog post. “Why do I spend so much time in remote corners of the world, tracking lethal viruses in enormous bats?”

In its broader form, this is a question all researchers can relate to: not just why she is so passionate, but how she found such passion for her particular research. How can we ever choose one question, of all the world’s exciting unknowns, for a thesis, or Ph.D., or career?

Cara and a Malagasy fruit bat pose in the field
Cara and a Malagasy fruit bat pose in the field.

Cara and I met up in a campus coffee shop – each of us, like good ecologists, bringing a reusable mug – and I asked Cara how she came to her research. Over the past four years, Cara has spent more time in Madagascar than in Princeton. In the field, she camps in the remote wilderness, traps fruit bats, and collects samples of their blood, hair, and (sometimes) teeth, to trace the paths of pathogens through populations. Cara has sacrificed much – warm showers, wi-fi, and uninterrupted sleep, to start – for her research. How did she find a question that drives her so deeply? Continue reading The Search for Life Work: Netting Bats in Madagascar