With the end of the semester in sight, I’m sure everyone feels like everything is crashing down on them all at once – this test, that assignment, figuring out storage, or whatever. I know that for me, these last couple of weeks of school not only mean studying for finals, but also putting on our Spring senior-sendoff show with the Octopodes, finishing our studio album, figuring out last minute Summer plans, and finishing up the music cognition research I’ve been working on all year long.
Referring back to a previous blog, I had said that I’d keep a record of my research journey for you guys to follow and for me to remember what the process was like – here’s where I’m currently at in the process:
The first research blog talked about what it was like applying and finding opportunities to conduct research in a very general sense. I talked a little bit about the experience of writing a grant proposal and described the sort of research project I wanted to conduct.
Well 4-months later, a lot has changed and even more has happened. My research experience has shaped up to be something I never imagined it to be. It’s been a ridiculously exciting yet sometimes hair-pulling ride, and I’m just getting started. In getting the research grant I had previously applied for, this semester has all been attributed to preparing for it!
A two-page proposal for a $5000 grant. Done with reasonable procrastination, I managed to create a project with the help of my faculty advisor. In short, the project aims to analyze how prior mental and auditory preparation affects improvisation outcomes. Looking back, the proposal was just the basis for the idea; a lot has changed since actually formulating it.
Celebration of getting the grant over dinner and dessert! We went to a restaurant in Mt. Vernon called Maisy’s, and ordered a ton of “fancy” pizza. (Let me just tell you now, try their loaded nachos.)
The “crap, now we have to actually do this” Meetings
The meetings started off by being a weekly thing; we’d block out a couple hours on the weekend to discuss how we’d create our experiment. I’ve never really done lab-specific research (so I don’t know how much I can speak for it), but doing research from a more musical standpoint while also keeping it scientific is a HUGE challenge I initially overlooked.
Music is such an abstract and subjective idea, while the scientific-method relies more on logic and reproducible testing. In trying to combine the two, there are a lot of blurred lines where we had to try and fit music into numbers. For example, how does one effectively quantify musical results? We could have scorecards and judges, but how much does that limit our data?
In our devised experiment, we plan to analyze music performance components like phrasing of musical lines (sort of like sentences in a spoken language) and articulation (how a musician starts a note), but the musicians have to recreate musical components in pretty uninviting situations. They’re told when to start and stop playing, and are given the limits of what they’re supposed to do. Giving the participant musicians an atmosphere of familiarity was something we tried to recreate too.
Whenever we weren’t working on the protocol/study design, further meetings were dedicated to figuring out recruitment plans and materials. I never realized how specifically clear recruitment processes for research projects had to be. Things like exclusion criteria, cases in which participants might have this health problem are that logistical issue, or interested participants who might not be English-speaking – in many cases you can’t just exclude participants because they don’t fit the ideal subject you’re looking for (otherwise it wouldn’t be scientific, right?).
Maybe about a month ago, we ramped up our 1x per meeting to 2x per week to 3x per week. Our goal was to submit our IRB application (Institutional Review Board that determines whether your research project is doable, appropriate, and fits within standards) by the end of the semester (although we had planned to finish maybe 2 months before). The application seemed never-ending, with long open-ended questions going on for 20+ pages – one of the most challenging parts was making sure all our design and logistics were the same across all questions. Working on a response to one question meant having to change small details in many others.
Our application process finally ended just last week which culminated in a final seven-hour meeting. While I understand that the application has to be so detailed and exact, I’m over the moon that that’s over…
Right now plans are up in the air about when I should come back during the Summer to actually run the experiment (if I do even plan to finish it up this Summer at all). But I guess that’s the nice thing about being able to oversee your own research project; there’s a lot of flexibility in what you want and can do.
With Summer around the corner, there’s still so much to do within these next few weeks. It’s going to be a fun and challenging time, and I can’t wait to do it all.