Freedom can be scary

Mary Chan
Thursday 18 August 2016

One of the neatest things I think this internship scheme offers is freedom. Freedom to explore the topic we have developed interest in ourselves, and the freedom to do so in whatever way we choose to.

For me, this freedom was both a wonderful privilege and terrifying too. With [great] freedom comes [great] accountability, accountability for the decisions and directions I decided to take. I was fortunate enough to have some insightful and comprehensive guidance from my supervisor, who became like a lifebuoy to help me stay afloat whenever I was drowning in waters of knowledge too deep to understand. Dodgy metaphors aside, I’m truly grateful to Kate for taking the time every week to meet and help me stay focused on the core questions of the project.

So, this project. Essentially I’ve been investigating gender differences (or lack thereof) in meeting participation and how this might link to the individual’s sensitivity to punishment and reward. I’ve measured the latter according to scores on the Behaviour Inhibition and Activation scales, already tried and tested for reliability. Measuring meeting participation attitudes was a little more interesting. We realised very quickly that a narrower focus was needed, as there was no way I could measure all aspects of meetings in the timeslot I had. We needed a concrete measurable aspect, which eventually boiled down to question-asking during meetings.  One of the most out-of-depth moments I had during the internship was trying to come up with a suitable scale for measuring participant’s attitudes towards asking questions, from what felt like thin air. Drawing inspiration from the conception of other psychological scales, such as Jostl’s imposter syndrome, a scale was eventually finalised and from this, my first ever questionnaire was born.


The rest of the internship essentially consisted of: (i) obtaining ethical approval, in order to ensure the project could go ahead; (ii) the distribution of the survey via an online platform and collection of as much data as possible; and (iii) the analysis of the data and reporting of results. As many would probably sympathise with, I found the stats a struggle to begin with. I was mostly relying on textbooks and internet guides to understand analyses and sometimes found myself utterly perplexed. Then, I started to get brief flashes of insight where I think I got it, and supervisor Kate would either confirm or look at the analyses herself and draw other conclusions that I could only nod and smile at. After many hours staring blank-faced at my computer screen and semi-fruitful internet searched such as “what is the heck is a Wald statistic”, I eventually built up a reasonable understanding of the precious data I had collected and what insights they could suggest.

Here are some of low and high points I experienced.


  • Some mixed and muggy results from the data, which has given an interesting but difficult-to-draw-conclusions-from picture, like a cubism painting.
  • A series of misunderstandings causing a few stressful situations with the online survey being weirdly altered, resulting in some panicked emails from my end because the survey felt like my child and it had been modified,


  • Maintaining my position as the top item in the St Andrews Undergraduate student memos for 3 weeks running
  • A newfound appreciation of the psychology building computer labs and the tranquillity it offers to easily distracted pseudo- workers like me
  • More participants than expected! Mostly because I had pretty pessimistic expectations.

The eight weeks of the project felt simultaneously long (mostly during the Statistics Slog), and also much too short. By the end of it, I had mapped out my own journey into this little field of knowledge I had chosen to explore, and learnt skills and new ways of thinking along the way. A huge thank you to Lord Laidlaw and everyone involved in this internship scheme for giving me and others the freedom to do so.

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