My First Summer in the Cognitive Science Lab

I began my time as a research assistant at the Cognitive Sciences Lab May 7th, 2010. Since that time I have learned a ton and met some amazing people.  In the past few months, I have learned basic programming skills to work in both MATLAB and ePrime. A number of people in the lab spent quite a lot of time talking me and my “new programmer” comrades through the various steps of learning a programming language. Although it may have been frustrating for them at times, they were remarkably patient and thorough in showing us how to develop, test and troubleshoot our own code. One of the really neat things about developing these skills was that I was able to team up with some of my colleagues to program our very own experiment. We were able to sort out the various steps of experimental design and gain many of our skills through working on our own experiment code or analyzing our own data.

Although much of my time has been dedicated to developing programming skills, I have been introduced to much more than just programming syntax! During my first three weeks, I focused on a literature review which offered an opportunity to learn about methodologies and experimental designs of particular interest to people in the Cognitive Science Lab. It was a good chance to hear some stories about some of the Cogs Lab veterans’ favourite experiments. Each paper I read offers a reminder or a new idea to consider when developing my own ideas.

After the literature review, I focused on learning how to program for a couple of weeks. Between both trial and error and some informal tutorials with the Cogs Lab programming gurus, I started to get a grasp of the skills that I would need to work on my own projects. Coding for our summer experiment began early in June, and involved of Aaron and I staring quizzically at a single line of code for quite some time. Once we got started, however, we had pretty good luck in getting the experiment up and running.  Within a pretty short period of time, and with lots of help from the Cogs Lab team, we had an experiment coded, tested and ready to go!

Throughout my initiation to Simon Fraser University and the Cognitive Sciences, I have been very fortunate to meet and work with a stellar group of people. Since I’m originally from Ontario, people from the lab have been kind enough to invite me along on their adventures and introduce me to great spots to hear music and experience some Vancouver culture.  My colleagues keep the Toronto Maple Leafs jokes to a minimum and don’t make fun of my inability to ski which offers you a great example of how kind the people here really are.  The lab went on a team hike/picnic (some photos are below), and we have been known to play some StarCraft from time to time.  I hadn’t heard of a zergling before my time at the Cogs Lab, but I’m often scoring in the middle of the pack now which is a welcome improvement  — especially for my teammates.

The last couple of months have been dedicated to improving my programming skills, and setting up various scripts for analyzing the data from our summer experiment. Exciting times are coming while we talk through plans and begin coding a follow up study!  In less than four months, I have had the opportunity to learn many useful skills, meet a bunch of super smart people, gain knowledge of two different programming languages, get to know a new city, have more exposure to category learning experiments, have a turn in developing and coding an experiment, and become even more excited about cognitive psychology!

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