When every single worker at the gym knows you, and when the receptionist lets you in as soon as she sees you, that’s when you know you’ve been spending too much time at the sports centre. My project involves testing the cognitive performance of individuals before and after an acute bout of running, investigating the extent to which potential positive or negative effects can come to last throughout the day. So, naturally I get to spend most of my time at the gym testing participants, coming to realise just how monotonous research can get. The first time you test someone, it feels quite exciting. You feel very important and grand for being able to actually carry out a project all by yourself: you’re a researcher now! Unfortunately, I did not find my initial and childish enthusiasm to be long-lasting. Sitting right next to a person while they’re completing a cognitive task is not a thrilling experience. Yet, I do have to admit it’s preferable to actually setting up the study.
Before the start of the internship, I was naive enough to believe that, as I had already come up with a protocol for my topic, actually designing and implementing the study was going to be a very straightforward process. I was wrong. First of all, getting ethical approval can be a pain. Having to fill in dozens of forms, while at the same time making sure to be consistent throughout the application, is an extremely frustrating and nerve racking process. Adding to the mix the fact that I needed to get approval before actually coming up with the technicalities of implementing the design, I can confidently say that June was a slow and annoying month. I’d sometimes find myself wondering whether I was doing something wrong, as I felt as if I had nothing left to do. I even started learning coding by myself (which was a big disaster), attempting to polish my skills for the future. I had never worked solely on a project before, so all the extra time was making me feel paranoid. I thought I wasn’t working hard enough, and I got quite confused every time I met my supervisor and received positive comments regarding my diligence and discipline. How was that even possible? In my mind, I was barely doing anything!
Then, approval came, and I realised that the previous period was not that bad… Using coding software to set up cognitive tasks proved to be a very taxing task. Trying to find scripts online, while also despairing in the thought of having to come up with a code all by myself, certainly stressed me out, making me realise that research is not only about coming up with a proposal. Instead, it is the practical bits that can be the hardest. Fortunately, thanks to my supervisor’s effective intervention, which also included him being frustrated with MatLab, I was able to put everything into place and start testing participants. However, I came across a new problem: I had no participants! I had been so preoccupied with setting up the study, that I had not found anyone who was willing to participate at that point. In my defence, I wasn’t sure whether I would have been ready enough to start testing on a potential starting date, so I tried avoiding coming up with a testing schedule before I was confident enough of its plausibility. Nonetheless, I was glad enough to find out that there were actually people who were keen on torturing themselves with my exercise tasks, coming to provide salvation for my study. Thus, I am in the (un)fortunate position to be able to test a participant every single day (yes, including weekends) until the end of the month, barely having time to engage in other activities which are unrelated to my experiment.
Hopefully, I will be able to get as many participants as I want. Yet, regardless of whether I succeed in doing so, this project has been very enlightening in helping me understand how scientific research works, equipping me with valuable knowledge for my future endeavours in academia. I hope that my recollection of my summer work so far was not an excruciatingly painful experience for anyone who was unlucky enough to read it. Even if it was though, keep in mind that while you were reading this, it is most probable that I was at the sports centre, waiting for a participant to finish pressing the spacebar.