About my PhD

Following Laura’s lead (and the fact that I’ve not blogged anything here in quite a while!), I’ve decided to blog a little about my PhD. And I say a little for good reason, as it does change from week to week depending on who I’ve spoken to and what I’ve read.

I started in October at the university of Southampton, as mentioned previously. I primarily belong to the School of Chemistry, but I also have a supervisor in the School of Psychology. Which is just as well, as the project is very multi-disciplinary across chemistry, computing, psychology and at least a little bit of education on the side. Fortunately it is also part-time, and as Laura says, I’ve still got to pay the bills!

When students and researchers perform experiments, or scientists out in the natural world have historically written up their observations and analyses using a good old paper based system – the notebook. I still have my geology and archaeology notebooks for example. In this age of electronic sensors, equipment and the interconnected networks though, much of the information (in lab experiments at least) is collected in electronic form, everything from traces from sensors or analysing equipment to photographs of thin sections under microscopes. There is a huge potential to turn all the recording in the experiments into electronic forms, and this includes the notebook.

That all sounds pretty simple, but there are complications in terms of linking all the information up, and how you provide something as flexible and as personal as a notebook in electronic form. The problems of getting an effective electronic to work for both the users of the notebook for recording, but also the potential other people who may want to access the information in the notebook, to replicate experiments for example, extends beyond the technical issues of designing a system.

And this is where the psychology comes in, how do we ensure that the right information is captured? Does the use of an electronic notebook change the information that is produced? Does the perceived audience change with this potentially public interface? Are there ways of improving the accuracy and usefulness of the information that is recorded in the interface, by changing the instructions given? And so on.. these are just some initial questions, and these will surely change over the next few weeks.

At the moment I am at the stage of reading, in fact buried under some 400+ cognitive psychology papers. Although quite soon I need to firm up the plans for my first experiment, which I will be running with some summer students this year. I’m starting with a disadvantage as my only formal psychology education was a small amount of developmental psychology nearly 20 years ago!

Still, I’m always up for a challenge!

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