And so now begins my summer research project. All other assessments are done and out of the way*. PhD funding application is submitted. I am now suffering from a sneezing fit but honestly the research project is now my main focus (once this sneezing has gone away, I promise. I do NOT have hay fever!). I have gone through all the emotions over the past month: relief, despair, panic paralysis, excitement, boredom, frustration, invigoration and genuine joy. I have decided to give up this masters on several occasions. I have been persuaded to continue on several occasions. And now, here I am (the sneezing has passed!) with only one goal and less than three months to go. A real slog.
Before beginning a review on the project thus far (which is minimal) and an account of my first proper supervision meeting, I will provide some extra context to explain my frame of mind. *As mentioned above, I said all my other assessments were “out of the way” but in a sense that isn’t true until the end of next week. I had a meeting yesterday for academic misconduct and I am waiting for the outcome of that. For the record, I never imagined being in this situation ever. I think of myself as too smart and too moral. But here I am. And I am starting to second guess myself – was I clear enough about it not being intentional? Do they think it wasn’t intentional? I have already submitted my student statement but I should have slept on it and now reading it back it looks like I am admitting to purposeful plagiarism. AH crap. So anyway, two of my essays for that module were flagged as plagiarised. Not the entire thing or massive chunks. But bits and pieces and I am now wondering if they will just give me a mark of 0 for the whole thing. Mark reduction (to a certain extent), I can deal with. ANYWAY, I can’t spend the whole day dwelling on it. If it does get to being a mark of 0 then I will contend it. There. My point is, I am now acutely aware of how important it is to stay on the ball and to not let stress and poor time management get the better of me again. I am also starting this with quite a bruised ego, but a little humility every now and again is good for character, I believe.
So, onto the research project itself. I have RN as a supervisor and I was previously a bit wary of this as he seemed forgetful and too laid back. I thought I had bitten off more than I can chew with a very scientific topic surrounding Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, pain and temperature mechanisms. I also remember feeling much more of a connection with another supervisor, ET, who had a topic that I would find easier. Thankfully, after our last meeting, these fears have dissipated. We got on, we laughed, his informality set me at ease, and he just felt like such a contrast to my previous research internship supervisor, MB, that I can already feel much more of a lightness when I think of academia (all doom and gloom before!).
In the meeting itself, we discussed quite a lot in a short space of time. We started with discussion of how to induce and measure pain perception without causing actual pain. In his previous studies, he has tended to use skin conductance to measure threat perception as an indication of pain reaction, which is what I thought we would be using. However, he stated that skin conductance has a lot of flaws to getting the data, matching the data to time points and to actually always having “normal” results. Skin conductance doesn’t always necessarily predict pain sensation, either. What he suggested was reaction time, which gives an indication of embodiment issues. Chronic pain, for example, gives slower reaction times in mental rotation tasks. Recent pain, on the other hand, creates faster reaction times. This is obviously something I will need to do more research into myself for the literature review/design justification.
Therefore, his initial idea for a study, which is much more straightforward that what I had envisioned, was using an ice bucket to change the temperature of one hand, and then see if this causes slower or faster reaction times (either due to cold which will detract attention or pain which will focus attention).
This gave us a 2×2 factorial design: before and after immersion, immersed and non-immersed hand.
I then suggested at this point that dominant hand may have an effect so we decided it would be easiest to counter-balance this in the study. I also wondered if gender would play a part as women tend to suffer from chronic pain and CRPS much more than men. This is something to look into, and may need controlling for.
This study still has a relevance for CRPS as it is looking at a lateralised, thermal effect, but remains straightforward to analyse as it does not introduce too many factors. We did, however, introduce one other factor (but left it at that!) which was different hand positions. This is because that while imagined movement is used often for rehabilitation, it is often fine motor tasks that CRPS patients find most difficult. Therefore, we are going to examine if fine motor hand postures are harder to mentally rotate.
We discussed the need for an immersion thermometer for standardisation or if we could use ice blocks instead of or as well as an ice bucket. This is something to establish in a pilot study, along with using an insulator to keep the opposite hand from becoming cold, as well. We can also use the pilot study to work out how long the study will take and how long the hand will stay cold for.
I also queried if looking at a different hand to your own would modulate the effects of a cold hand, maybe making it easier if you do not embody the hand you are seeing. This is because me and my supervisor would use pictures of our own hands in the study, as using the participants’ would take too long. Therefore, this introduced a second, separate study to compare the use of an individual’s hands with the hand of another on reaction times.
All in all, a very productive, positive experience.
Researching reaction times as an indication of pain and embodiment problems. (DONE 22/06)
– Researching mental rotation/imagery
– Different effects of cold/heat/temperature asymmetries on embodiment and mental imagery
– Is gender an important factor for pain? How to control for this? (DONE 26/06)
– Fine motor movement for CRPS
– Different ways to induce coldness in studies
– Begin working on Ethics Approval (Started 21/06)