Suffering is optional
系里要求写的 self reflection。渣渣的英语 >< 还是放在博客里，留个纪念吧。从未做过如此艰难的一个事儿: 问题层出不穷嗷嗷等待思索，无穷琐碎日日忍耐。拼脑力拼体力拼心态，开头诸多不顺遂，结尾扳回一程，也算有始有终了。两年，学业一无所成，泪目 T^T。
In the book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami wrote: suffering is optional. This quote quite suits for the journey of my major project. I choose the challenge, suffer from it, and eventually learn a lot during the journey. It is hard to recall exactly when and why I chose this topic as my major project one year ago. However, even now I can clearly remember and feel the pain when working on it. I met too many difficulties from the very beginning to the end. In my previous education and research experience, I can always read papers and then modify or directly use the methods in the papers to set up my own research. Unfortunately, this time, this research is highly exploratory rather than confirmative. There are only a small number of papers related to my research question and almost no existing method I can rely on. The theoretical background seemed thin and the research method was unknown. When I first presented my research proposal in the labgroup meeting, I received so many doubts and criticisms. Especially, there was a PhD student who continuously asked questions which I cannot answer or even cannot understand and he kept laughing at my proposal.
In the beginning, I almost felt that my major project would be a huge failure. However, I had to move on. I accepted the fact that my proposal had some weak points with the thin theoretical background and incomplete research method. Then, I tried to think in another way. Without enough previous research, I decided to focused more on the phenomenon I was going to explore, observing it and quantifying its characteristics, instead of always arguing all the possible hypotheses and getting stuck. I gradually made some progress. I went to Baby Research Center for a few times to try out my research setting. I made the first version of my coding scheme. I also solved some practical problems. For instance, I cannot speak Dutch, but only Dutch speakers can conduct research in the Baby Research Center. I tried all kinds of ways to find a Dutch speaker assistant. Initially, a classmate would like to help me. However, when I was about to start the project, she told me that she was too busy to do it anymore. I felt that my project was endangered again, but I did not give up. I asked more classmates and my supervisors for help, and sent flyers to approach possible bachelor students. Luckily, in January, I found a native Dutch speaker as my assistant.
When everything seemed ready, I started to collect and code data. I never thought that a baby research can take that long time. I can only recruit up to 3 caregiver-infant dyads each week. Coding data also cost tons of time. It took me three and a half months to finish data collection and data coding, which is quite slower than recruiting undergraduate students and running a short behavioural task. The period of coding was the most depressing experience in this journey. Almost every workday, I stayed in a narrow and crowded computer room, staring at the screen and paying attention on each movements participants made. It was not mentally difficult but one must invest a lot of time and energy in it. For a few times, the idea of giving up just popped up in my mind, but I know that this idea was not real and I was just tired.
After finishing the tedious data coding, the next was data analysis, which was quite thrilling and challenging. When really dealing with the data, I realized that the data format was different from any dataset I tackled before. The data was dyadic but not always in pairs. It contained a series of events occurring along a timeline. I tried to fit my data into the usual statistical methods (normal distribution/t-test/ANOVA). However, it either violated the assumption of independence or some trials should be removed in order to conduct the usual statistics. I did not think that these methods were neat enough to analyse my data. I completely got stuck here for a long time……(very very long)
The turning point was that I talked with a professor in the field of dynamics systems and recurrence quantification analysis (RQA). Even though RQA did suit for my data neither, he recommended another method: time lag analysis. Holding this new piece of information, I found a methodology paper. The research question and the dataset described in that paper perfectly matched my data. Then, I met a technical difficulty: how to implement the analysis. I did not find the appropriate R package or software to run the analysis. Then, I decided to wrote the R script by myself. I did not know advanced R skills before (e.g., for loop or if statement), but I knew some basics in Python. Therefore, with the programming thinking I gained in Python, I worked on the R script. At first, it seemed messy. I tried to split the big problem into small pieces and solved them one by one. I spent the whole weekend to write the R script and got the feeling of flow. Even though It still cost me two more weeks to run some deeper analysis and interpret data, the milestone of my major project was this R script weekend!
Overall, this year was really quite challenging. I tried my best to solve problems and explore my research question. One thing I should largely improve in the future is the communication between me and my supervisors. Sometimes, I forget that my second supervisor is from another department and she is not familiar with the routines in my department. I should always tell her how things work in my department instead of making her feel confused. I also disobey the principle of “ALL KNOW ALL” during collaboration. Sometimes, I had a meeting with two of my supervisors separately, but I did not share the information to three of us every time. Thus, sometimes, our meeting was not every effective because we had to share the information and be on the same page again. To me, this major project seems to be an impossible task. For many times, I feel that I cannot finish it and even worried that I might not be able to graduate. Luckily and eventually, I completed an “impossible” task!