Monday, July 19, 2010

McNair Update

Well, Goldfinches, I can tell you that my McNair project is coming along nicely, but I still have loads and loads of work to do.  The final paper is due in less than a month so it's down to the final crunch, but the final crunch is always my most productive time.  I love deadlines.  They get me PUMPED.  If it wasn't for deadlines forcing me to do stuff, I'd spend my entire life lounging in bed reading trashy tabloids. 

I'm also jazzed to tell you that I've finally found a more concise way to describe what I'm doing: A study of the Hawthorne effect in civic engagement surveys of American youth.  The Hawthorne effect, named after a study done in the 1920s and 1930s, is when you're observing or surveying people and they change their behavior because they know they're being watched or surveyed, and that screws up your study.  The Hawthorne effect is a certain type of research reactivity (when subjects are reacting to being researched), and this negatively affects your external validity (the ability to generalize your findings to situations outside of your research setting).  Experimenter expectancy (when the researcher unwittingly treats some of his/her subjects differently than the rest) can also affect your project's validity, and this is another issue that may be affecting engagement surveys.  I'll be focusing on the methodologies of survey data sets from three books, and comparing those results with the commentary I've collected from my three teen websites to see if young people give different reasons for their rates of civic participation when being surveyed by researchers as opposed to just chatting online with their friends. 

The other thing I'll tell you is that having a separate office makes a WORLD of difference in productivity, at least for me.  I have a desktop computer at home, which sits on a folding table in it's own room, a room I like to think of as my "home office."  Thousands of times I've heard other people say that they can't work at home because there are "too many distractions, like kids and spouses and TV," and I always thought, "Well, I don't have any of those things, so I can work at home just fine."  And for the first three years of college, I did exactly that.  I wrote all my papers at home and did very well on all of them, except that they always took me a long time, because college paper topics are typcially very boring, and when you're at home, there's nothing stopping you from putting your head down on your desk and conking out for 2-3 hours, or sliding out of your chair and napping on the floor for 8.  

But a few weeks ago I decided I wanted a change of scenery and started using the student computer room in the poli sci department at school.  Now, this room is a barren, cinderblock, freezing cold mausoleum, home to four dusty computers and a very sad couch.  The computers are, of course, not loaded with all my music and bookmarks and favorites lists, and they have no speakers so I can't be tempted by YouTube.  But I think the rigid, knobby, sticky vinyl computer chairs are what really keep me awake and focused.  You couldn't slouch in those things if you wanted to, not without slipping a disk, anyway.  In this room I don't have the option of napping, because there's no carpet and because all my professors would see me, and they'd probably interrupt my nap asking if I was okay, thinking I'd been poisoned or something.  I can't even steal a few winks on the Sad Couch, because I tried that once but just as I was about to lay my head down I found myself eye to eye with a little moth larva.  Yuck! 

Productivity is also increased by the fact that my research mentor is right down the hallway, so when I have questions, I can just jump up and ask him right away, instead of typing out an email and waiting a few hours or a day for a response.  I'm inspired, too, by just being on that floor, even though most of the profs aren't there in the summer.  Those gray walls and ancient fluorescent lights make me feel smarter and more serious. 

So what I'm trying to say is that completely and physically separating my "fun" computer time from my "work" computer time has resulted in amazing productivity even though I always doubted it would help, and I now wonder how anyone can work at home.  I've considered making my home office look and feel like the mausoleum, but the fact remains that my home office is still at home, which is just too close to my bed and my tabloids, and there you have that lounging-in-bed-reading-tabloids thing again.