Hey folks. I’ve been busy, which still isn’t a good excuse for not having posted anything substantial in something like seven months. I kept procrastinating about blogging throughout the majority of the second semester, coming up with some ideas but telling myself there would more time during the summer to sit down and write them out.
Two semesters in, and the information on the banner above is already outdated. I declared Course 9, Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Having lost interest in economics, I figured I’d like to major in a life science. Biology is boring in my humblest of opinions, but the mind has always been fascinating to me. This is one of the greatest draws of MIT–I came here kind-of-but-not-really-sure I wanted one major, but with so many fantastic departments it’s hard to go wrong. Still, I feel fairly confident in my declaration of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. The departmental requirements are full of classes I would like to take as electives no matter what my major turns out to be. I figured this was a fair benchmark for which course to declare, so Brain and Cog it is.
A month or so before the end of the semester I sent an employment application to Cataldo EMS, a private ambulance service for which many MIT-EMS EMTs work. They tend to hire us, they pay, and most of all, they are an urban 9-1-1 contractor. Translated, this means lots of good experience. Possessing all of three months and 60 hours of experience, I was doubtful that they’d hire me. They asked me to come in for pre-employment testing, consisting of a multiple choice exam, mapbook reading assessment, and a practical skills portion. Excited to have gotten that far in the process, I was quite disheartened to receive their decision. Basically, they said that though I passed all the requirements, they didn’t have enough open shifts available to justify hiring new EMTs. All other MIT EMTs got the same message–victims of the economic downturn?
Before summer began, I realized I should probably have a backup plan if this EMS business didn’t work out. So that I wouldn’t have a completely useless summer, I sent emails to see about UROP openings. I had two interviews, one for a UROP in course 14 (Economics) and another in course 9. I didn’t get the economics position, but I was offered a spot with the Brain and Cog project. I’m glad I was, too. Otherwise I’d have nothing to do this summer.
The research deals with developmental psychology. Through a couple of different experiments, we’re trying to shed some light on how infants become social. In one test, we show babies (age 1-2 years) videos of Mr. Rogers and Alton Brown on an eyetracking monitor. The videos are exploratory, in which someone is talking about and describing an object. We want to see at what age babies learn to look at social interactions the way we do: when they start looking at faces when people address them, and objects when people are describing them.
Another test also involves the eyetracking monitor, this time in a language acquisition study. In this experiment, we show the children a series slides, each with two images. As these images are shown, two made-up words are stated. The video cycles through different combinations of images and words such that you can figure out which word corresponds to which image. At the end, two images are displayed again, but this time only one word (corresponding to one of the images on the screen) is repeated. We want to see if infants this young can determine which words mean which picture. The hope is that in the testing portion at the end they will look preferentially at the correct image.
The last study I’m working on is a bit different. For this experiment, I’ve built two boxes. Each has two big buttons, and when both are pressed, the box lights up and makes noise. With the child (3-5 years old this time) on the other end of the table, I’ll say something like “Check out my cool toy! Look what happens when I do this!” [press buttons]. Then I’ll ask the kid what he thinks will happen if I only press one button. Then with the other box, I’ll “accidentally” drop a pencil and “accidentally” trigger the effect on my way down to pick it up. Then I’ll ask the same question again. The aim here is to see if there is a difference in the children’s responses in the goal-oriented and accidental conditions. Our hypothesis is that the kids will pick up on social cues and be more likely to say that both buttons are required in the goal condition, and that only one is required for the second. This is the project that I have the most ownership over–I’ve built the boxes myself, demonstrated the experiment for the leaders at the Museum of Science where we will be testing, and in the next week or so, I will start collecting data.
So far, to be honest, the job has been a bit tedious. I’m glad to get my feet wet with research, though. And in a way, it was a mixed blessing to not be hired by the EMS. My summer is productive, but not too taxing. I can still relax and recharge after the first year at MIT. I’m doing the research for academic credit, so pocket change is a bit hard to come by. But otherwise my Cataldo pre-employment testing results stand for a year, so I don’t have to take the exam again if I want to apply for work next summer. To keep my options open for next summer, I’ve gained certification with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians by passing a written exam. This doesn’t mean too much in and of itself, but it makes getting EMT certification in Texas only a matter of paperwork (no more tests!). Also, I get a cool patch for my uniform. Perhaps next summer I’ll work for an ambulance company back home in Houston to get experience, get paid, and get by without a summer housing bill.
So what are you guys up to this summer? I haven’t been keeping up with the discussions in the Class of 2013 Facebook group, but if you have any questions about the move to college, feel free to ask below and I’ll give you my two cents.