I feel incredibly lucky to be able to be part of this clinical lab. For the past month, I have become exposed to many areas, been given more challenging tasks and responsibilities, and also became great friends with the two other interns, Jeanne and Margaux, who both happen to be exchange students from France. I’m grateful to work with Jeanne and my research coordinator, Ismel, along with other people in the lab, as they have all helped and guided me countless times.
In my last report, one of my goals was to understand all the theoretical aspects of the study, to understand the details of why each test is conducted and how it would contribute to answering our hypothesis – that mild sleep restriction will negatively affect our mood, cognitive, and physical performance. Because this study looks at overweight people specifically, we also have another hypothesis that mild sleep restriction is a contributing factor to overweight people’s risk of obesity. Another one of my more specific goals was to become independent and be able to conduct interviews/visits/tasks on my own without the supervision of Ismel or Kristen. Ismel once told me that paying attention to detail is the key to this research project due to the quantity of all the aspects that we’re trying to monitor in each participant, and I’ve kept this at heart. Looking back, in the past two weeks I’ve interviewed people for in-person screenings, which consists of checking their BMI, walking them through the outline of the project, and making sure they don’t have concerns with needles (from taking their blood), closed spaces (MRI + fMRI scans), etc. This is one of my favorite parts of this study – from in-person screenings I’ve met people from an eclectic source of backgrounds. Several participants are working on the medical campus, some are also working in research, others are pursuing a PhD. I’ve also met people who work in a retail, mothers with their children, even a hypnotherapist once! It’s always brings me joy to be able to interact with people and learn from their experience – whether in their professional careers or personal lives. Besides that, I’ve also conducted screening visits – analyzing individuals’ watch data by checking the hours and the efficiency of their sleep. Furthermore, after the blood draw in the third and sixth week of each phase, I’ve also processed the blood samples – centrifuging and separating the red from the white blood cells. Thus, all in all, I feel like I have accomplished my goals of understanding the study more in-depth. Because I’ve gained more knowledge, I’ve also internalized the process of each visit, where I no longer constantly question and doubt myself for tasks like how I name files or answer participants’ questions. Therefore, I’ve also become more independent through my budding confidence in handling visits and representing the lab.
Although I’ve conducted these visits independently, in the past few weeks our lab has been having trouble/difficulty recruiting participants. There is a plethora of people who are interested, but most of the time they don’t make it to the stage where we invite them into the study. This might be because of their schedules or because their total sleep time per night doesn’t meet the range (7-9 hours). Therefore, in attempt to counteract this problem, we decided to flyer all around the medical campus, which hopefully garnered more emails for our research coordinator to respond to. Initially, I felt a little irritated and frustrated because we’ve been at a stagnant place for over a month, having a total of 9 participants who have joined and at this point 6 people who have completed the study. However, after talking to Ismel, he helped me realize that this isn’t part of our control. In fact, in March, he had five people start the study in the course of a month. All we can do is continue what we’re doing, become more efficient in any way that we can, and enjoy the process as we work through this slump. Fortunately, as I am writing this there was a screening visit this morning whose total sleep time landed right at ~8 hours and another person who’s expected to start next week if his second screening work is as well as his first.
My other goal was to expand my hard skills set, especially with data analysis programs like R, SPSS, and Excel. I’ve only been exposed to the very basics of R, and since the analysis that my research coordinator wants us to do is far beyond simple regressions, Jeanne has mostly been working with R. On the other hand, a couple of weeks ago I was assigned with the task of first finding how to grade some screening questionnaires (some weren’t documented, I was quite shocked upon realizing this) and consequently coding the auto-grading functions for all the data. Potential participants fill out these screening questionnaires to help us gage their eligibility that couldn’t be easily perceived: such as whether they have sleep apnea, or whether they restrict their meals, and if they do how often they do it. There are ~10 screening questionnaires, and the grading functions were only inputted for three of them before I started on this. After scouring the internet to first understand the reason behind each questionnaire and gaging a vague idea of how to grade each one, I then started to code. Some were straightforward that only included sums, but some were much more complex – especially those that calculated multiple domains. My biggest struggle was the Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire, a questionnaire that calculated whether you have uncontrolled eating, cognitive restraint, and emotional eating. It was difficult to calculate each domain because there was a hypothetical situation for each question, and each question caters to a specific domain. Nonetheless, I persisted and ultimately accomplished the task. I was proud and felt like I made an impact, even though it was trivial, because now we can see whether a screening participant is eligible or not instantly in their first visit, before giving them an actiwatch to track their sleep, which is more efficient both time and inventory-wise.
With this upcoming poster session and presentation for SRI and Noyce, I’m feeling nervous and a little anxious because first, I’ve always struggled with public speaking. Secondly, I feel like this research project is still too much in the beginning stages to make an impactful and rich presentation. Third, there are so many dependent variables that we’re looking at about the individual’s health that I am having trouble picking the area to focus on and how to present the data we have of those multiple areas. Finally, and most nerve-wracking, is that some of the results, especially from the participants’ nutrition logs, are completely opposite from what we expected. Thus, we need to either research more to figure out the reasons behind our data trends or look back and see if we committed any technical errors. All in all, my goal is to be able to overcome both these internal and external obstacles to hopefully present my research experience in a well-prepared and impactful manner.