Archive for February, 2011

A Piece of Independent Study

February 28th, 2011

In this post, I will share part of my last chapter of Independent Study. I will have to edit this heavily before I turn it in because my tutor at the writing center told me this section was too blog-like. That gave me the brilliant idea of posting it right here. Enjoy!

Final Thoughts

There are four final thoughts about this study that I would like to share. First, I found myself wishing that people were mice that you can lock in cages when I was recruiting for participants. Optimistically, I initially invited 160 students that I had randomly selected to participate in my study. The response rate was .006 percent. Yes, one individual signed up for my study. In my second attempt, I was not taking half-measures: I invited about 1,800 students to participate in my study. Out of these 1,800, 41 ended up completing the study; a response rate of .023 percent. That is almost four times as good as the initial response rate, but still a little disappointing. About 55 students signed up for my study but not all of them showed up.  I could go on and on about my difficulties getting people to participate, citing stories about snow days shutting the college down, but I will not go into that. The point should be clear: getting human participants at a college campus without any financial incentives is hard.

Second, things always take longer than you expect. Outside of the difficulties with participants, there are numerous details that you do not foresee and that will eat up your time. One of those little details is that for 41 participants, I had 82 audio recordings that I needed to transcribe. This work took about ten hours resulting in a total of 15,000 transcribed words. Other examples of details that take more time than you expect are: proper formatting of tables, proper formatting of references, editing, editing, editing, learning how to use new software, entering data into SPSS, organizing data in SPSS, and reporting all the correct statistics.

Third, I am convinced that the people in my study used far fewer discourse particles than they do in all the interactions that I observe in my everyday college life. When I overhear people describing the events of the past weekend, when I hear people talk in class, or when I stand in line for the cafeteria, I hear um/uh, you know, and like very frequently. Of course, the fact that my Independent Study was devoted to these utterances made me notice every instance of a discourse particle.  As mentioned in my discussion section, the lower number of discourse particles in my study may have had to do with the formal setting, with the type of controversial topics that students talked about, or with the fact that they were being audio recorded. I do not know the exact reason but I am convinced that people reduced their discourse particle use strongly during my study.

Fourth, my opinion on discourse particles is very mild as a result of completing this study. I went into this process with a slight negative bias towards these utterances, but now I am very much in the middle of the harmful vs. helpful debate. I believe that these utterances are a natural part of language and that they can be helpful when used in moderation, but that they can also harm communication when they are used too frequently.  I have witnessed how my participants started struggling to form proper sentences when they thought they had to reduce their use of discourse particles and I have experienced losing focus on someone message because of an overabundance of discourse particles.

Senior Independent Study at the College of Wooster is a rich academic journey that provides students with the opportunity to experience the joy of learning through a one-year research experience with the one-on-one guidance of a faculty advisor. It is probably not hard to find words similar to those in the admissions materials of my college, and although this one sentence description of our capstone project is probably how I will explain what I did to other people after I graduate in May or ten years from now, the experience of completing an Independent Study cannot be described in words. At times, it feels like you are never going to complete it. At other times, it feels like the level of difficulty of this project is overrated. Then, suddenly, you only have a few weeks left to complete it and it seems that there is too little time between the present moment and the deadline to do what you need to do. And then, finally, when you are writing the last words, it feels like it was not that bad after all. When you realize that you are going to finish this project, you look back at what you learned and you face the future with confidence that you can finish any challenging task that will be assigned to you.

Academics Dominate

February 24th, 2011

The loyal readers of my blog know it, and I certainly know it; many times in my college career, extracurricular activities have dominated my life. That is not necessarily a bad thing, I have tons of positive experiences and I learned a lot. But, of course, I cannot forget that the main reason I am here is to engage in academic work.

Well, this past week, I had no lack of academic work. I have almost finished analyzing my data for Independent Study. In my last post, I wrote that I would finish analyzing my data over the weekend. It proved to be a little more challenging than that. Analyzing data is hard, and organizing and writing it up in a way that it makes sense to a reader is even harder. But, I am really close to finishing this part of my I.S. I have eleven pages of beautifully presented data.

Unfortunately, the wave of momentum was a little choppy. While all I wanted was working on I.S., I had two exams this week. One Theories of Human Communication and one Intrapersonal Communication exam. Of course, that removed two days of doing I.S. from my week. In addition, I had to critique other people’s poetry. In my Intro to Poetry and Fiction Writing class, we are workshopping these days. For a workshop, three people write an elaborate critique on two poems by one of the class members. The rest of the class writes a brief critique and then we talk about the poetry in class. I was doing the elaborate critiques for two of my class members for Tuesday, so that added to the academic domination.

Finally, I was also working on finishing my application for graduate school. My dad sent in all the required materials today, so all that is left for me is waiting and hoping.

One of my poems that my class will workshop for me is called “Leaving Babcock Hall.” The assignment was to work with sound devices while describing a place that someone has left behind.

Leaving Babcock Hall

I pulled the
push-pins out of my
poster, chipping
paint and exposing
plaster.

I uncovered water stains
where my plant once was,
removed my sticky styling gel
and shampoo from the shelves.

No more coffee cream containers
in the garbage can .
No more sweaty socks
on the clean carpet.
No more Christmas lights
cling clang clung
to the pipes
in need of plumbing.

That dark dungeon
in the basement of Babcock,
no longer belongs to me.

Leaving Babcock Hall

I pulled the

push-pins out of my

poster, chipping

paint and exposing

plaster.

I uncovered water stains

where my plant once was,

removed my sticky styling gel

and shampoo from the shelves.

No more coffee cream containers

in the garbage can .

No more sweaty socks

on the clean carpet.

No more Christmas lights

cling clang clung

to the pipes

in need of plumbing.

That dark dungeon

in the basement of Babcock,

no longer belongs to me.

Riding the Wave of Momentum

February 18th, 2011

In my native language, we have an expression that freely translates to “the horse smells the stable.”  It refers to a horse speeding up when coming closer to home so that it can get to the stable faster. Well, to make it even more obvious, I am that horse and the stable is where I turn in that Independent Study. By now, I have written my literature review, gathered my data, and entered what I collected into some statistical software called SPSS. Saturday and Sunday I will be analyzing my data. The rest of the week I’ll write a discussion of my data, and then, over next weekend, I’ll conclude. Then all that is left is a little bit of polishing and I can turn it in. I can start thinking about what I want to do for spring break because I am pretty sure I’ll be done by then. Today, I was extremely productive. All day long, I was an I.S. machine. I have built so much momentum that I already can’t wait to start working again tomorrow. It is exciting to have all my data ready for analysis, although it was not a fun job to get it to this point. I spent hours and hours transcribing audio clips, analyzing the transcripts with software called Salt, and entering the results from that analysis and from my surveys into an SPSS file.

However, right now it is Friday night. I am taking a deserved break. Enjoying the NBA All Star Rookies vs. Sophomores game. I’ll take some time off so that tomorrow, I can ride on that wave of momentum, all the way to the finish line.

Mission Data Collection Complete

February 13th, 2011

This feels very good. After watching the same videos more than 40 times, recording over 80 audio fragments, and spending over 20 hours in a sound proof prison cell, I have all the data that I need to complete my Independent Study. This doesn’t mean that I am done with this project. I still have to report, analyze, discuss, and conclude. That will take time, lots of it. However, I am not depending on other people to complete this study anymore . If I work hard, really, really hard, I can finish my Independent Study in two weeks.

Other news is that I have started the process of applying to graduate school. My hope is that next year I will be working on completing a Master’s Degree at the University of Amsterdam. The application process takes quite some time and I don’t have much of that resource at this point in my college career. Independent Study seems to dominate, but as human beings, we always have to plan our future.

This morning, I dropped off my sister at the airport. She spent 10 days in Wooster to visit friends that she made when she studied here last year as an exchange student. I witnessed the emotional moment when she hugged 12 of her friends goodbye in the cafeteria.

This semester’s intramural basketball season has started. I showed up for the last game and so did the rest of my team. However, the other team failed to show. So, we decided to play a little scrimmage. When we were done, I decided to test my dunking abilities. I am 6′ 6” tall, but dunking is still harder than it may seem for someone my height. This must have been my night, however. I grabbed the basketball in two hands and slammed it down the rim. It felt amazing. My teammates referred to me as the Dutch Blake Griffin. That is quite an honor, but also a gross exaggeration. When I tried to repeat my stunt, I almost broke my legs, so I decided to be satisfied with that one monster jam. Tonight at 6:00 p.m. is our next game, but unfortunately I’ll be working in the library.

Bastiaan

Prison Break

February 9th, 2011

I am still locked away for most of the day. The room that I do my study in is about the half the size of a pool table. The ceiling is so low that I cannot stand up straight in the room. There is no window letting in natural light. It is a very isolated space. You need to walk through a narrow hallway and at the end you take a left. The walls of the room are sound absorbing, so there is no echo. It is a strange place to spend hours and hours of the week. This is called research.

Since my last post, I have learned to get less frustrated. Instead of being irritated if someone does not show up for my study, I use the time to transcribe my interviews. For the transcribing, I use a Wave Pedal which is a pretty cool machine. I put my foot down on the gas pedal if I want the audio recording to play. If I release my foot from the pedal, the recording stops playing and jumps back one second. If one second is not enough, I can press a different pedal (the break) and the audio recording rewinds. It makes transcribing a breeze. It is almost a mediation. I do not have to think. I just have to listen and type the words that I hearing. Very soothing.

Yesterday, after spending an our in my prison cell, I had dinner at the president’s house. The president of our college, Grant Cornwell, has regular dinners with different parts of the student population. This way he stays connected with the student body. For this occasion, he had invited all the senior international students to his house. He always makes sure there is good food and he always brings some interesting topics to the table. First, we discussed the president’s recent trip to India and Morocco. Then, we discussed the current situation in Egypt in depth. Adel and Bassel – an Egyptian student an a student who has lived in Egypt for a long time – shared their perspectives on the ongoing protests. After this discussion, the president brought up the topic of Independent Study. Most of the students preferred talking about Egypt because these weeks are crunch time for seniors. Lastly, the president asked if there were some things that could be improved on campus. Students shared that although they love the college, they believe that aspects including transportation, summer storage, and career services could be improved.

That’s all I have for now. It is time for me to look at some graduate school application stuff.

Bastiaan

PS I’d like to share a new poem I am working on. Any feedback is welcome, but if you have some, post it now, because I am turning this in tomorrow. The assignment was to compare part of an animals body to something outside the natural world.

The Shredder

The dog does not want to let go
of the stick she found in the woods.

Our eyes meet while
drool and pieces of wood
infiltrate the thick wool carpet.

I tug, her tail wiggles in the air.

More stick and carpet mix,
As dog and man fight a battle
that can only be won if one surrenders;
man, dog, or stick will have to give.

My dog’s jaws are like a shredder
grinding up a stick into my great carpet.
My arms are facilitating a process
by trying to prevent it.

A man’s best friend knows how to illustrate
that love and hate are never more than a stick apart.

iSerious

February 5th, 2011

Senior year is not disappointing. It is also not easy. Independent Study is as real as it will ever be at the moment. I am working every day to ensure I will have 40 participants in my study. It turns out that working with human participants is not that easy. People have busy lives and people are forgetful. That means that people are reluctant to sign up for studies and even if they do it is no guarantee that they will show up. It is a frustrating process, but it is also the real deal. This is what research is like. I have talked to several professors about my struggles and they have all shared similar stories. One professor told a story about a colleague who had responded to her struggles by stating: “that is why I work with mice, I can keep them in cages.” Yes, sometimes I wish I could keep some of my fellow students in cages so that they would participate. Alright, if you are still reading this I’ll move on from sharing my frustrations. Every human being can only take so much reading about or listening to frustrations.

Suzanna van de Lagemaat, sister of Bastiaan van de Lagemaat (me), is on campus right now. She arrived last night and I picked her up at the airport after a long day of running my study (alright, I slipped in a little more venting of frustrations). Suzanna was exhausted but happy to land in snowy Ohio. When she came to campus, she went out to meet a few friends (she studied here last year as an exchange student), but she came back to my apartment within two hours, too tired to do anything other than falling asleep.

Wednesday, we had the first day of canceled classes of my 3.5-year college career. Tuesday night an ice storm escalated and turned the entire campus plus surroundings into an ice rink. People decided to put on skates to go for a ride on the tennis courts. All trees looked like they were ice sculptures. When I tried to clear ice off of my car, it looked like I was breaking the windows of the vehicle. But, of course, it was just the layer of ice that looked like cracking glass. It was the first snow (ice) day of my college career and of my life, but it was also the first ice storm that I experienced in my life. Although it was an intriguing meteorological event, any day would have been better for me. People were delighted to have a day off, but I had participants scheduled for my study. Most of them didn’t show up because they assumed closed college meant canceled study (a little more frustration here).

Earlier on Tuesday, before liquid ice started falling from the sky, I attended one of the Senior Etiquette Dinners. The seniors got together for a nice meal at The Wooster Inn to learn about proper table manners. Each table had up to three table hosts. The students were supposed to follow the behavior of the host while the host explained what is proper and what is not.

Today was a long Saturday. This morning I woke up at 8:00 a.m. for student staff selection for Residence Life. We have about 120 candidates that want to be part of next year’s ResLife team. In the morning, we had group interviews. The candidates in the activity that I was observing had to send out one representative who had to look at a drawing. Next, the other members of the group had to listen to their representative’s explanation in order to recreate the original drawing. My job was to observe the group process. In the afternoon, we had individual interviews. I interviewed 6 people, each for 45 minutes. You can probably imagine that it was a long day.

Bastiaan