The Political Obsession

Recently a friend posted an article to Facebook about a colossally stupid thing two individuals did. The story wasn’t important, although it was interesting within it’s context. What I found really interesting was the first comment, which read “I bet they voted for Trump!”. Given our political climate in the United States over the past several years, it got me thinking: What causes people to become politically obsessed to the point that literally everything revolves around politics?

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My Centenary Story

Over the past few months I’ve had many students, colleagues, and friends ask about my 2 years at Centenary College of Louisiana as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology, and I wanted to take this time to a) tell the full story and b) reflect. I’ve enjoyed my time at Centenary, and am sad to be leaving. But I suppose all good things come to an end!

It’s always tough to say goodbye to a place you’ve worked, and when it’s academia, it can be very bittersweet. I realize that some of my students (and friends) are a bit confused about what a “Visiting” professor is, so I’ll start this post with a timeline of events, and fill in my reflections at the end. My Centenary situation wasn’t exactly what I expected!

Timeline

In February 2012 I saw an ad for a tenure-track position in psychology at Centenary (Which is conveniently still online). Tenure-track means that the position is a permanent position offered for a minimum of 6 years (unless you do something egregiously bad). Over that time you get to build up your teaching, research, and service record and at the end of the 6 years, be considered for tenure. If you get tenure, then you are (more or less, exceptions apply) offered a permanent position for life. Short of doing something horribly illegal, you will have a job as long as you want it. Tenure is kinda the Holy Grail for academics. Anyway, the tenure-track ad started:

Centenary College of Louisiana invites applications for a tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. An ideal candidate would demonstrate excellence in teaching and scholarship, particularly scholarship involving student collaborators. Area of specialization is open, though candidates with expertise in clinical-counseling or cognition are particularly encouraged to apply.

Seemed like a good fit – I love involving students in my research, had teaching experience prior, and am a cognitive psychologist. I applied, had a phone interview, and was invited to campus. Centenary is a pretty small school – the Psychology department only has 3 full-time faculty, with 1 adjunct who teaches a single class a semester.

About 10 days after the campus interview, I got a call from the department chair, Matt Weeks. He informed me that…

  1. They had made a tenure-track offer to clinical-counseling candidate, and he passed.
  2. They then decided that they really wanted a clinical-counseling person, even though they had advertised for clinical OR cognitive.
  3. So they’d be willing to offer me a 2-year visiting position, instead of the tenure-track position I had applied and been interviewed for.

This was not what I had expected and is a pretty radical change to the position. Making it a visiting position when it was advertised as tenure-track kinda feels like the rug has been pulled out. However It was hoped that this would be a good compromise for both parties: I’d get some teaching experience, and they would have someone to teach a full load in the fall. I was never assured that the visiting position would turn into anything more, however Matt told me that they’d plan to run another search in 2 years (in Fall 2013) for a clinical-counseling again, and I would be “welcome to apply”. This would be a tenure-track position, and I believe his exact words were “we’re not ready to give up just yet” on the prospect of getting a clinical-counseling person.

My assumption, which I don’t think was a stretch based on the facts, was that they’d try one more time for a clinical / counseling person. If that failed, I’d already have 2 years experience, so I’d be a stronger candidate at Centenary or elsewhere. I made this assumption (with others echoing it to me), and was hopeful that perhaps the visiting would become something more. Since I had favorable impressions of the college, the students, and the faculty/staff, I decided to take the 2 year visiting position and conduct myself as if staying beyond 2 years was a real possibility (since it appeared to be). Plus it makes it easier when you feel personal investment, so I tried to put the “2 year ticking clock” out of my mind and be the best professor I could be. I must confess though, it always felt a bit bitter in my mouth to have the position switched from tenure-track to visiting. The bitterness became bittersweet, over time, as I grew to love my work at Centenary.

Fast forward to last fall (Fall 2013). The new advertisement was placed for a tenure-track position. This time it read…

Centenary College of Louisiana invites applications for a tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. An ideal candidate would demonstrate excellence in teaching and scholarship, particularly scholarship involving student collaborators. Area of specialization is open, though candidates with expertise in clinical or counseling psychology, or those who add to the breadth of the department are particularly encouraged to apply.

I’m still not a clinical or counseling psychologist, however I do add breadth to the department (I’m the only cognitive person, the only one who has done research on consumer psychology / marketing, the only one who conducts online research, and other elements). I was told by Matt to apply, which I did.

In December, I was told they had done a few phone interviews but weren’t able to find anyone strong enough to bring to campus. I hadn’t been interviewed (although the committee was exactly the same as the one who had interviewed me in 2012), but instead of moving forward with the position, they decided to declare a failed search and try again in the spring since Matt was leaving. At this point, Amy Hammond became de-facto department chair, and search chair.

At this point, the story become a bit unclear even to me. I was under the impression that since two tenure-track lines were open (My visiting position was originally a tenure-track line, Matt’s position was tenure-track), Centenary would be hiring two tenure-track people. But instead, for probably a number of reasons, the jobs posted were a tenure-track line and a visiting position.  Both ads were virtually identical, including the line:

Area of specialization is open, though candidates with expertise in social, clinical or counseling psychology, biological, cognitive and those who add to the breadth of the departmental offerings in developmental psychology are particularly encouraged to apply. Candidates will be expected to teach in their area of expertise as well as contribute to general courses such as Introduction to Psychology, Research Methods, Statistics, History and Systems.

From the sounds of this, I should be a pretty good fit…

  1. I have expertise in cognitive psychology.
  2. I’ve taught Intro, Research Methods, and History & Systems

The line about “breadth of the departmental offerings in developmental psychology” was a bit ambiguous. Knowing the department, we’ve got developmental covered – so I assume this line was meant to say “adding something more than developmental”, although it could be interpreted as “adding something to developmental – different from what we have”.

Anyway, Amy told me that all my application materials from the Fall search would be forwarded to the spring search. I felt hopeful as we moved into March that I might be able to get the tenure track position, since I was already doing the job, had had no complaints, and was very happy with my students and my work. My students also seemed to be responsive to my teaching style, and were enjoying my (fairly hard) classes. I also felt that, since the college was going through a time of transition, something stable might be desirable to both faculty and students. After all, we already had one of 3 psych professors leaving!

Things started to proverbially “go south” on a Friday night in March when Amy emailed me the following. I generally don’t share private correspondence, but I don’t want to paraphrase here at all:

We were really fortunate to have a candidate pool that was both larger and stronger than we’d anticipated–particularly with respect to some of the issues we’re especially concerned with: diversity and ability to teach across multiple areas.

We have not put you in our first pass of phone interview candidates, but with your permission, would like to keep you in the pool for consideration.

I was pretty crushed after receiving this email (Which I, ironically, received right after a small party of junior faculty!). What this essentially meant was that I was a last-ditch option. They were planning on phone interviewing and on site interviewing candidates (and likely making offers) before ever returning to me. The issues they cite, diversity and course coverage, are (in my mind) partially valid, but with the caveats below:

  • I could have covered certain courses that I haven’t had the opportunity to at Centenary (like Research Methods and Stats, which neither faculty member who taught wanted to give up, leaving me with less possible courses to cover).
  • I had expressed interest in widening my teaching expertise by taking on additional study on my own (i.e. the work needed to be comfortable teaching a course in an area outside my own) or developing new courses. Neither of which was met with a positive response.
  • There isn’t much I can do about diversity – I’m a white male – admittedly I check no diversity boxes.

While her rationale certainly seems valid, and one can’t completely fault Amy for wanting to remake the department in her ideal image, I would argue that this is a really bizarre time in Centenary’s history to prioritize “new” over “stable”.

  • We lost 10 tenure-track / tenured faculty this year (Out of 55 or so full time faculty).
  • Nearly every junior faculty (and some senior) are on the job market because they are dissatisfied with the College’s administration (and have been told by senior faculty to look elsewhere).
  • The last 6 years have been a period of tremendous change for the institution, and the students I’ve talked with simply want something they can count on – whether that be a program they are in, or a professor they’ve bonded with. I believe that Switching horses midstream (as Abraham Lincoln noted) is not the best course of action for Centenary’s students. I’m admittedly biased in this belief, but I don’t believe my bias extends beyond logic.

On a side note, the reaction of the faculty to the news that I wasn’t considered for the tenure-track position was interesting. Many reached out and told me they couldn’t understand why I wasn’t considered. Many added that they felt that I was ‘dodging a bullet’ by being left out.

As the Spring semester drew on, I found myself interviewing at other locations, and watching interviews unfold at Centenary. I did not go to the job talks of the other candidates (as I joked, they’d probably have been distracted had they seen someone in the back of the room with steam coming out of their ears). I’ve also been kept on the outside of whatever the committee is doing. I do know that not many applied for the visiting (non-tenure track) position, and I suspect that those who have been offered it were given the exact same thing that I had experienced in April 2012 – they came in believing they were in the running for the tenure-track position and may have been offered the visiting as a ‘consolation’ prize.

Students in psychology will have two new professors (a visiting professor with a social psych background, and a tenure-track assistant professor with a background in linguistics) to become used to the style of. Both of which I found out about via the official websites (So I’m just as out of the loop as anyone else regarding how well they will do – although I am sure they’re quite capable). They still haven’t found a clinical / counseling person, however the criteria they’ve set is extremely hard to find (Namely someone young, who wants to devote their career toward teaching in psychology and not practice. Hard to convince someone who just spent years of grad school, internship, residencies, and more practicing to give that up to solely teach!)

So What About You?

For those of you who haven’t read any announcement on social media, or haven’t talked to me in person, here’s how my situation resolved.

To recap, I’ve technically been applying for tenure-track positions since Fall 2008, my last year of graduate school. I started putting out applications for an August 2014 position in August 2013, and had some success getting attention on the market in the spring. By my count, I applied to ~25 positions this year – all were what I’d call “perfect” fits. In the psychology world it’s pretty hard to get an interview unless you’re nearly exactly what an ad is looking for (They’re just too many people on the market – it’s a buyers market). 25 positions applied, and I was given 8 phone interviews. Out of the 8 phone interviews, 7 locations invited me out to interview. I interviewed at 6 (#7 had their faculty search cancelled between the time I was invited for an onsite interview and the interview itself), 1 in February, 1 in March, 1 in April, 2 in May, and 1 in June.

Finally, after coming in at #2 at a few of the interviews (heartbreaking!) I am happy to announce that I have been offered, and accepted, a tenure-track position as an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Delta State University! I shall be teaching again in Fall 2014 – alleviating tons of worry and anxiety I’ve felt over the past 8 months and, more generally, the past 5 years. Specifically this Fall I’ll be teaching General Psychology, Research Methods I, and Statistics! The department seems like a really great place to work, and I’m super excited to start teaching in 2 weeks!

Reflections

Now that my Centenary story is done, I have a few reflections on it that I want to share.

  • Centenary is home to some of the most passionate students and faculty that I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my career thus far. While there are a few students who are looking to take the easy road, and a few faculty who chronically underestimate students (or feel the need to grandstand over students), the vast majority of students, faculty, and staff are awesome people.
  • Their is a true intimate feeling of a small liberal-arts community. Many places advertise such a thing, few actually can pull it off.
  • Despite the positives, the college is in an extremely trying time in its history. The faculty view the administration with contempt, the administration views the faculty with frustration, and the board tends to take the administration’s word over the faculty’s (I’m not going to take a position on which side is “right”, In my opinion both sides have valid arguments but have resorted to a cynical view of each other. To the bulk of faculty, no matter what administration says, they’re lying. To the administration, no matter what faculty promise to try to do, they won’t actually do it or affect change in any meaningful way. A nasty situation that would do well to go through some sort of arbitration to get back on task.
  • I’ll always be grateful to my students for the support they gave me directly (i.e. asking how I’m doing, how my job search is going) and indirectly (i.e. trying their hardest in my classes). I also appreciate the fact that the college went out of its way to make me feel like a tenure-track member of the faculty, and not some temporary appointee. It’s rare to find a place that treats visiting members closer to tenure-track status than closer to adjunct status.

So there you have it – my Centenary story. I went from some extreme high’s to extreme lows, and lived a life of uncertainty for 2 years. But it was a good 2 years, and I wish the best for Centenary College of Louisiana as it moves forward. I’ve made a ton of friends that I hope to keep in touch with, and will be checking in on the college from afar. And my former students are always invited to keep in touch with me through my blog or social media!

Forward, Forward, Centenary!

#41 A Letter To The Eager Train Lady

Dear Lady,

I try to see the good in every one, giving the benefit of the doubt. But you defy my logic skills – I simply can’t figure you out! You push your way into the spot, closest to the door, as if the extra inches you gain, increase your experience score. I sometimes find myself tempted, on days you seem most high strung, to place myself between you and the door, proverbially sticking out my tongue.

But maybe you have your reasons, I can’t say I’ve ever inquired. You might have been left behind as a child, abandoned and forgotten, a lifelong compulsion thus inspired. Or maybe you think the doors will close quickly, as they are sometimes apt to do, and the usual conductor will judge you sickly, and to the next station carry you.

Finally, you might just be rude.

But then again, I try to see the good in everyone.

Sincerely,

The big guy in the black coat.

Vaja’s ivolution Case Snuggles Samsung Omnia

http://www.vajacases.com/home/home_…i&c=7&it=10&s=1

A few weeks ago, I posted news that Vaja cases, the South American based company known for their rather elegant cases, had released an ivolution case for the Samsung Omnia. Shortly after posting the news, Vaja was kind enough to offer to send me the ivolution case so I could take a look at it myself and decide how it well it accompanied the Omnia. I’ve never owned a Vaja case before, so with the case came much anticipation about the quality and design, and today I’m pleased to share my experiences using the case!

The first thing you surely notice about a Vaja case is the packaging. The packaging that the case came with was nicer than some of the boxes my Pocket PCs have come in (looking straight at you AT&T…). The small box slides open letting you easily take the case out, and keep the box for future use. A small thing, but I’m always grateful when i don’t have to destroy packaging just to get something out.

I would have taken more photos of the case I received, however in this case I’ll point you to Vaja’s site as the case I have is literally the exact same case used for the PR shots (The color is spot on to the shots, no strange lighting distorting the true teal seen above). Getting my Omnia into the case was a real snap – I simply placed it into the back at an angle, and shifted it up until the two grips held it firmly in. The gripping pieces are nicely finished and don’t damage the device with even the smallest marking or scratching. The case then folds up and the grip seen in the lower right of the picture above secures it shut.

The case adds very little bulk to the device, always something nice. It can’t be attached to any sort of clip for a belt (that was SO 2003…), and without any sort of nub it looks plain and elegant. The biggest reason I have never been a ‘case’ guy is simply because I can’t stand a bulky case on the device when the device spends the majority of the time in my pants pocket. This case doesn’t bulk up, and still allows the device to slide in and out of my pocket without trouble.

Visually the case is very nice, however functionally I do have two small issues. First, the grip that holds the front of the case to the phone can be a bit hard to open once it’s been shut up. It takes a bit more force than I’d like (at times making me worry about opening it and having the phone pop out), however I suppose that’s needed to keep the phone secure. The second issue is using the case while charging. The charging port is not covered by the case, however to open the port cover, one must use their fingernail to slide along the bottom of the cover and pop it open. When the case is on the phone, my finger is simply too large to get in there and have enough leverage to pop the cover open. The result is that I must remove the device from the case to open the charging port cover, then can place the device back in, plug in the charging cable, and be done. In the morning I can easily close the port cover without removing the device. Takes but a minute to pull it out to open that port, yet it is still somewhat distracting.

Like all Vaja cases, the ivolution comes in a variety of colors and designs. The starting price, before customization is around $75, however if you’re looking for a nice sleek case that appears durable and elegant all at the same time, the price may be worth it. After all, the device you’re housing wasn’t exactly cheap! Speaking of that device, someone should really write up a whole review on it… perhaps having it up on the web by the end of the week… !

Jon Westfall is a contributing editor for Pocket PC Thoughts, as well as a Microsoft MVP for Windows Mobile. Currently he is finishing his doctorate in cognitive psychology, and experiencing the usual holiday stresses! Find out more about him, his life, his cat, his meaningless thoughts, at JonWestfall.Com

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Scott Jordan Signature System: How Geek Can Meet Chic

http://scottevest.com/v3_store/Q5_Systems.shtml

Product Category: Clothing
Manufacturer: SCOTTEVEST
Where to Buy: SeV Store
Price: $340 USD ($250 for Quantum Jacket; $140 for Fleece 5.0)
System Requirements: Body ranging from XS to XXXL Sizes
Specifications: 52 pockets, cable management through channels / pocket passthroughs, removable hood (Quantum Jacket), removable sleeves (Fleece 5.0), various specially designed features such as key holders, bottle holders, and pockets accessible from the interior or exterior.

Pros:

  • Be an unabashed geek without having to look like a nerd;
  • Attention to detail and usability;
  • Eliminates the need for a separate bag (some days).

Cons:

  • Price (for some), Sizes (for others);
  • Does not connect (as in previous SCOTTEVEST systems);
  • Lack of color options.

Summary:
The first SCOTTEVEST product I ever purchased was the 4.0 Tactical system, the closest thing to a predecessor to the Scott Jordan Signature Series. I was blown away and since then have reviewed many other SeV products. The direction foreshadowed by last year’s “Evolution” jacket has now come to pass with the release of the Fleece 5.0 and Quantum Jackets (together they make up the series). But with any new thing, old favorite features can be lost or changed – and new features added can somewhat make you forget about the old. How does this system stack up to its past, and pave the way to the future? Read on!

What’s New
The Signature Series has many new features as well as SCOTTEVEST classic options. The most apparent new feature is the change in fabrics in the jacket. The Tactical 4.0 jacket was, well, tactical – it felt like something I’d wear if I was a secret service agent or SWAT officer. The material was a bit coarse, with a nylon base.


Figure 1: SCOTTEVEST branding in the velcro section used to tighten the sleeves around the wrist. Notice the material has a grain, yet feels smooth.

The new material used in the Quantum jacket is very similar to shell of the Evolution jacket. While the material has a grain to it, it feels very soft to the touch, likely due to the Teflon fabric protector used. In the rain, the jacket does not soak up water but rather promotes beading and flowing of the water off – keeping the occupant drier than the alternative.

The Fleece 5.0 also gets a subtle change in fabric. On the inside the fabric mesh is more accented, allowing you to easily see where pockets lie and where your gear is going. On the outside, the material feels a bit more plush and soft compared to the 4.0 fleece. At least it did to me, my wife insists that it’s closer to the 4.0. In any event, we both agree it’s nice and cozy.


Figure 2: Exterior of the 5.0 fleece.

Another new feature to the 5.0 fleece and Quantum jacket is the introduction of Clear Touch fabric. Clear Touch is designed to replace those awful hard clear pieces that clothing manufacturers sometimes place on their products to let you “see” what’s inside a pocket. The plastic is always rigid, and feels like, well, hard plastic! Clear Touch pockets on both the Quantum and Fleece are clear, but feel like fabric. Or at least best approximation of fabric that plastic can get to.


Figure 3: A Clear Touch pocket in the Fleece 5.0. Both jackets feature two Clear Touch pockets. Notice the red piping also present on the interior.

Clear Touch is a winner when it comes to controlling a touch sensitive device while it is safely stowed. Lastly, a very pronounced difference in both jackets is the red piping around the interior pockets, similar to what was done on the Evolution jacket. It sounds really strange, but I was always able to ‘lose’ pockets in my Tactical jacket. Trying to remember where they opened or where they hung so I could see if I had something in them. With the red piping, it’s easier to find the pockets, and the overall pocket design has been streamlined substantially.

What’s Gone
SCOTTEVEST has been careful not to call this the direct update to the 4.0 line because some of the 4.0 series nuances are missing in the 5.0 Signature series. For example, on the jacket, a front right breast pocket with ID card window has been removed. The new version in the 5.0 line is a internal lower-left pouch specifically to hold your ID and provide quick access. Yet you can’t be wearing your ID here and have others see it, a potential problem for those of us who must wear visible ID.

Here are some other quick differences I’ve observed:

  • The hood on the jacket, while still removable, does not roll up and tuck away like previous versions.
  • The sleeves on the jacket are not removable. Scott Jordan told me this in a phone call earlier this year when I told him about the zippers breaking on my Tactical 4.0. Apparently this was a feature only of use to a few, and since it had issues, it was removed.
  • The jacket used to have two small pockets below the right and left “hand” pockets that weren’t very deep and sometimes hard to open. I used to keep my gloves in those pockets but alas they are now gone. They do allow the other pockets that you normally throw your hands into to be deeper.
  • There is only one key-chain holder on the jacket, in the front right pocket (unlike the tactical 4.0 that had a key chain holder in both the front right and front left – two different styles). This holder is the better of the two styles, with a retractable rubber chain.
  • At least one of the deep pockets on the jacket has been removed (on my Tactical I have a deep pocket on the inside of both sides, the pocket on the right side has been removed on the Quantum). Given the fact that I once used both deep pockets to carry (on one side) a large bag of potato chips, package of cookies, and on the other side two 2 liters of soda, I guess I’ll have to cut back during grocery trips!
  • The fleece shows only minor changes over the 4.0 version, such as the red piping and clearview pockets.

Overall while things have changed, the core features remain the same. I’m not sure which jacket I’ll end up using this winter more – the 5.0 or the 4.0 – so check in with me in the spring to see if the above changes proved to be dealbreakers.

Finally a note about sizing. Anyone who has met me in person knows I’m on the large side (some would even say Scary Large). The 4.0 series XXXLT fit me just fine, however with the removal of the tall sizes in the 5.0 line, the XXXL jacket is a bit snug (like the Evolution jacket that I reviewed last October). The 5.0 fleece fits just like the 4.0 did. While I could wear the 4.0 Fleece and Tactical Jacket at the same time, I doubt I’d be able to do that with the 5.0 series. Then again they were not meant to go together like their predecessor, so I doubt many will try to do this (e.g. the 5.0 fleece does not zip into the 5.0 jacket). If you’re a “big” man wondering how you may compare to me and if the XXXL will be big enough, feel free to drop me an e-mail with any questions if you’d like to be discrete and not post them here.

What’s Missing
Scott and his team have done a wonderful job with the Signature series, something I know Scott takes great pride in. I do have a few suggestions though, some easier to implement than others:

  • A padded compartment (possibly removable) for a sub-notebook or netbook. I travel with a 14 inch Lenovo Tablet (the x60s), and it fits nicely into both the deep pockets on the 4.0 and the 5.0. However a bit more protection would be nice.
  • Similar to the above suggestion, a removable accessory pouch that would connect up within the jacket. This way I can keep my AC adapter, mouse, and other computer accessories with the computer and completly get rid of the bag.
  • Pre-wired “Options”. While wiring up a SCOTTEVEST isn’t terribly difficult to do, it may interest some to have pre-wired options available straight from the factory. iPod owners could order the “iPod version” which would come wired with headphones, and an iPod charger connected to an external battery safely stowed (such as a Proporta or Pocket PC Techs extended battery). GPS enthusiasts could order a “GPS version”, etc… Of course these would cost extra, but may appeal to some who would love something tailored to their needs.
  • SCOTTEVEST is able to embroider logos onto corporate orders, but why not offer custom embroidery to individuals? I’d be very tempted to embroider my name discretely on my SeV fleece, if for no other reason than to wear it to parties where everyone’s already forgetting each other’s names!
  • I’m a lover of basic black (I own many, many black shirts, much to my wife’s dismay). However when it comes to jackets and fleeces, colors can be very nice – and the Signature series has only black as of this writing. Perhaps one or two other colors might be a nice addition.

Some of you may be wondering if the first two bullets above would really be prudent to implement. Surely you can’t carry all your gear (including a laptop) in a SCOTTEVEST, can you? Well let me share a story:

Last April I was in a hotel room in Seattle the first night of the MVP Summit when my roommate asked me a question. He’d seen my SCOTTEVEST in the closet and asked “Is that one of those technology vests?”. Being from Australia, he was aware of SCOTTEVEST but hadn’t seen one in person. I told him it was and gave him a brief tour of its pockets. In the process I realized that it was pointless for me to take my messenger bag with me to the Microsoft campus the next two days when I had a SCOTTEVEST with me. I quickly took stock of what I had to transport (Lenovo laptop, adapter, a few cords, a small camera, 2 or 3 Windows Mobile devices, proporta battery, and a few other things) and realized that I could put them all in the vest. I loaded up and over the next two days fellow MVPs were amazed as I walked into a conference room and within 2 minutes had “unloaded” my mobile workstation for the day! So yes, you can in some cases ditch a computer bag for a SCOTTEVEST.

Conclusion
As I write this, I sit in my office (a converted attached garage) wearing my 5.0 fleece. It’s keeping me nicely warm as I wait for a FedEx truck to bring me a few gadgets for my latest geek project. Tomorrow I’ll probably wear it as I walk to my office in Toledo – switching proverbial hats as I go from Geek to Doctoral Candidate in Psychology. While my work today is tinkering with VoIP codecs and tomorrow will be proofreading decision making problems, my SCOTTEVEST keeps me warm, connected, and fairly stylish. No matter how geeky you are, part or full time, you don’t have to look like Goofy with bulging pockets and bulky bags. After all, no self respecting geek could ever stand being called a Nerd!

Jon Westfall is a Microsoft MVP for Windows Mobile devices, contributor to the Thoughts Media network of sites, and full time academic, currently finishing is PhD in Experimental Psychology. He studies decision making and interhemispheric interaction while teaching undergraduates a variety of things they didn’t know! Want to know more about him? Visit JonWestfall.Com


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Building Software Based Experiments: Techniques, Tools, and Tips

Welcome to Jon Westfall’s Software Based Experiment Resource site. This site will begin it’s life to serve as a supplement to my contribution to the SJDM Computing Symposium, and continue on as a resource to other social scientists that seek simple solutions to building software. (Whoa, Holy Alliteration Batman!) If you have any questions, feel free to contact me for more information.

SK3 : An example of using Microsoft Visual Studio, Microsoft Internet Information Server, and Microsoft Frontpage extensions to build rich web-delivered data collection software. SK3 is a multi-stage escalation of commiment / Sunk Cost problem that presents the user various pieces of information and tracks what they look at, how long they look, and in what order they look before making a decision to continue to the next part or terminate the project. The problem used in SK3 is adapted from Schmidt & Calantone, “Escalation of commitment during new product development”, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 30(2), 103-118

The source code provided here is licensed under the GPL. You are free to modify the work, however I do ask that you let me know of any modifications or revisions

SK3 is written in VB.NET, Visual Studio 2005

Pebl: The Psychology Experiment Based Language

LimeSurvey


Microsoft Dreamspark Program (Provides free versions of Microsoft development tools to undergraduate and graduate students at colleges or universities around the world)

Getting Into A Psychology Graduate Program

I wrote the following How-To in order to help my fellow undergraduates understand the process of applying to Graduate School (specifically in psychology).  It’s good information to have, considering that a concise (under 40 pages) How-To doesn’t really exist (as far as I could find).  Hopefully this can help you or someone you know.  And if you don’t plan on going to graduate school, now you can know a bit more about the process.  For some detailed ranting of mine on it, you can read that entry in the “My Stories” section later in the book.

Getting into a graduate program in psychology is a time-intensive task.  Most of my friends were unaware of when they should be doing things, when to expect to hear from organizations, and when to begin to panic (err… I mean think seriously about working a bit faster on the application process).  Because of this, I’ve put together this section to allow you some piece of mind (or to prevent your mind from falling to pieces).

Your Last Summer as An Undergraduate

During your last summer as an undergraduate, you want to begin rolling around the idea of graduate school.  Sure, you just finished your junior year (or 4th year… or 5th year…) but you can’t begin to start thinking about graduate school early enough.  Here are some good time frames:
•    May: Take a look at your previous grades in psych courses and decide what you’ve done well in.  If you’re deciding on what area of psych you want to pursue graduate study in, this will help you narrow the field down to what you’re good in.
•    June: Start preparing for the dreaded GRE.  The GRE is, in my opinion, one long excruciating trick question.  A trick question that many graduate schools place HUGE amounts of emphasis on.  Buying books or taking a GRE prep class is a great idea.  Studying with friends (When done properly and without giggling over the word bacchanalia  can also be extremely helpful.
•    July: Plan on taking the GRE for the first time in late July or early August.  Visit www.gre.org or call 1-800-GRE-CALL (DO NOT CALL 1-800-CALL-GRE…).  You may schedule at any test center for pretty much any time of the day you’d like. I recommend calling at least 3 weeks in advance.  The cost for the General test is $130, and the subject test (which you’ll take later) is around $115.
•    August: Plan to fall flat for a week or so after you first take the GRE (If you’re one of the lucky ones who only take it once and gets a great score, congratulations!).  Then get back on your feet and schedule your second attempt for mid-September.  You want to be done with this GRE crap by September 30 at the latest.

Fall of your Senior Year

gradschoolarticle-1Fall of your senior year will be your busiest time as far as the application process goes.  It can be VERY intimidating and stressful.  Planning early is the KEY to success!
September: Finish up all the GRE junk this month and make sure you register early for the Psychology Subject test. If you would want to take GRE again, schedule it for Mid October or Mid November.  Remember – you’ll have a psych GRE to take as well, and you don’t want to neglect your classes this semester with GRE studying.  Some graduate programs do not require the subject test, but most do.  To be on the safe side, plan on taking in November, so that you’ll have your results by mid-December.  In September, you should be looking at schools and deciding which ones you want to apply to.  Most students apply to 6 – 10 schools.  I played it conservative and only applied to 5.  It kept me sweating throughout the spring as I only had 5 rolls of the roulette wheel of life!

Also, remember to be diligent about due dates for applications.  Most are Jan. 1, some are Dec 1 however!

October: Download or acquire all the admissions materials you’ll need for your schools.  I suggest getting a file folder for each school to keep everything organized.

o    Make a list of each school and what applications materials they want.

o    Prepare and distribute packets of materials to your recommendation letter writers.

o    Acquire envelopes / postage for your applications.
o    Tailor personal statements to the individual program.  DO NOT use a blanket personal statement.  Keeping the same statement and changing it is fine, just not sending the exact same thing.
o    Study for that Psychology GRE in November!

November: Take the Psych GRE and then take a sigh of relief.  If you needed to take the GRE another time, this is also the month to do it.  Then buckle down and study for your classes this fall semester (remember those?).  Finish the semester with a good set of grades and proceed to December.

December: Put your final touches on your applications and mail them out.  If you haven’t requested score reports from ETS (your GRE scores) then do that early in the month. Shoot to have everything out by Dec. 10 as most programs have a Jan. 1 deadline.

The spring of your Senior Year
gradschoolarticle-2Ah, the last semester of your undergraduate life (hopefully).  Here are some date ranges to look forward to:
•    Jan 20 – Feb 10: Most schools that like to get programs started early will be contacting you for interviews or (  ) sending out rejection letters
•    Feb 20: Later schools usually get in the game around now.
•    March: Look to hear from those early schools around mid-month.  It’s a funny thing.  For early February, you don’t want to hear anything because it’s mostly rejections as first-round elimination.  Then you want to hear things, and then as you approach the end of March, second-round elimination occurs and you again are reluctant to open your mailbox.
•    April 15: This seems to be a magic number for graduate programs.  This is usually the deadline that they’ll want a response back from you so they can offer to their second choice candidates.  This means they’ll have to get you some word by mid to late march.

May of your Senior Year
So you have your B.A. in hand and should know what your future holds.  Kick back and relax.  Throw a party for yourself.  If you didn’t get into graduate school this year, start planning again and know that with the practice you had last year, you’ll surly get in this time! (Still throw yourself a party)

The Inside Story: GRE
Don’t get me started on the GRE.  I hate it.  I loath it.  I find ABOMINATE it.  To put it succinctly… it’s annoying.

The GRE, or Graduate Record Exam, is administered through Prometric test centers around the country.  Developed and maintained by ETS (Educational Testing Service), it is supposed to be a good indicator of how a person will do in graduate study by measuring their verbal, analytic, and quantitative skills.  In my opinion, for what it’s worth, it doesn’t.

The Test
gradschoolarticle-3The GRE is made up of 3 parts: an analytic writing portion, a verbal portion, and a quantitative portion.  In practice, you’ll also find your test to have one additional section of verbal or quantitative.  This additional section is where ETS uses you as a guinea pig, testing out new questions and seeing how you do.  The kicker? You don’t usually know what section is the test section, and which are the real deals.  Some books teach you how to supposedly find the test section, but you don’t want to take a chance and blow it do you?  The first time I took the test, it didn’t tell me which section was the experimental test section, the second time it did.  What did I do the second time on the experimental section? Blew it off! Who wants to give ETS more of their time when there is a test score anxiously waiting to be seen?  Speaking of which…

Scoring
What’s a “good” score on the GRE?  This is probably the question that most eluded me when I was studying for it.  In this world, no one wants to commit to exact figures, but I’ll try to give you a good estimate.

Each portion of the test is rated on a scale of 200 – 900, just like the SAT, with the exception of the analytic writing.  Writing is scored in half-steps from 1 to 6 (i.e. 4.5, 5, 5.5, 6).

So what’s good? 550 is usually the agreed MINIMAL score on the verbal and quant.  You want scores above 600.  Schools take the best scores normally out of all the times you take the exam. So if you take it twice and score higher on verbal the second time but lower on quant, they’ll take your highest verbal and highest quant.

So Jon – what was your scores?  I will admit my scores for the sake of your continued knowledge.  The first time I took the GRE, I scored 550 on quant, 570 on verbal, and 4.5 on analytical writing.  The second time I took it, I scored 550 on verbal, 610 on quant, and 5.0 on analytical writing.  The latter scores just got me by, and I really should have taken it again.  Consider my last scores your bare minimum.

That being said, I have friends who scored lower and have been interviewed.  It all depends on the program you’re applying to and how much weight they put on the GRE.  There are graduate program directories out there (see your local book store) that give each program’s ranking of qualifications.  Ones that place GRE scores below letters of recommendation and GPA generally are more accepting of lower scores.

One caveat to bring to your attention: Schools know which other programs you’ve applied to by looking at where your GRE scores were sent to (They get this information when they get your scores).  If you are applying to different kinds of programs, especially ones at different ends of the spectrum in psych (i.e. experimental and clinical) they may have some questions to ask or be very critical of your application as they may view you as undecided.  I don’t know if requesting score reports individually for each school (instead of using the 4 blanks on the GRE score request form) would avoid this problem or not.

The Subject Test
The Psychology subject test is given in a paper and pencil format, not like the computer based general test.  While this may be easier on some, it means it’s only offered 3 – 4 times a year.  If you register too late, you don’t get a seat.  See my timeline for more advice on this.

The caveat on the subject test that they hesitate to tell you is how it’s scored.  It is still on the 200 – 900 score range, but skipped questions hurt you less than wrong questions.  Here is how they compute your score:

Number of Questions you got Right – ¼ of the questions you got wrong.  Notice that skipped questions don’t get in the raw score equation at all.  This means if you can’t eliminate any choices from the 5 given, skip it – it’s not worth the wrong question.  However, if you can eliminate 1 or more, try to get it right!  If you’re confused on this, ask the proctor to talk about it before she gives out the exam.

You can find more about the subject test at http://ftp.ets.org/pub/gre/Psychology.pdf

Letters of Recommendation
gradschoolarticle-4_183x240When I took Professional & Career Issues in Psychology, Dr. Subich mentioned that we’d be wise to get to know faculty because during the application process for grad school, we’d need three letter-writers to recommend us.  I was sure glad I heeded her advice in the next two years, forming friendships with a few professors that were more than happy to write me a letter.  If you haven’t done this, it’s not too late, but it certainly does help.

There are three basic steps to getting a professor to write you a letter of recommendation:

1.    Selection and Request
While it may be tempting to ask your boss or friendly co-worker to write you a letter, most programs want letters from people in the field, namely psychology professors or practicing psychologists.  Selecting good letter-writers is important.  You want to find people that know you well enough to write a well-informed and thoughtful letter.  A letter that states “Bob was a great student, always did well on tests, and didn’t smell bad” may be complimentary, but it doesn’t give the admissions committee much to go on.  Once you’ve found the three people you’d like to vouch for you, be tactful in how you approach.  Drop by their office or set up an appointment. Tell them that you really appreciate all they’ve done for you in the past, and that you’d be honored if they would write you a letter.  Most professors, assuming they feel they know you well enough, will oblige you.
2.    The Materials
The Most important step is the materials you need to get to your letter writers.  It is considered good form to get those materials to them by early October so they have ample time to write.  Here is what should be inside your packet of materials:

o   Envelopes, stamped and addressed, to each program you are applying to.
o    Any forms that schools may require are sent with letters of recommendation.  Each school usually has its own form, or doesn’t require one.  Unfortunately, there is no blanket form.
o    Your personal statement, to give your letter writers something to write about.  Of course our professors never forget who we are or all the deep dark secrets we’ve confided in them… they just need a bit of a reminder to jog their memory.
o    Your GPA and GRE scores (if available) are also of great help.  If you’re working on research, it’s not a bad idea to put your advisor’s name and email in the packet so each letter writer can contact them if they’d like.

3.    The Follow-up
Now most of my letter-writers are saintly people who took the time to put a lot of effort into their letters, I’m sure.  However, they are just people, and we’re on a deadline here!  Around early December, check in with your letter writers and mention to them that you’re sending in your application.  They’ll get the hint to make sure there’s has gotten in too.  Many professors get bogged down with letter requests near the end of the semester and rush through them.  Make sure they have already had time to work on yours well in advance.
{mospagebreak title=Your Personal Statement & The Importance of Research & Senior Honors Projects}
Many programs require the applicant to submit a personal statement of some sort.  This statement can be very important to the overall impression you send to schools.  Here are some general tips:
•    Tailor each personal statement to the individual institution you are applying to.  Trying to use a blanket statement can cause problems you’d never expect.

o    Example: When I applied to The University of Toledo, a behavioral sciences / cognitive program, my personal statement had 1 line in it that read:
“In addition to research in cognitive processing, I also have an interest in workplace productivity and organizational structures.”
This line proved to be problematic.  Preceding this line was a lot of Cognitive information ; however Toledo’s admissions committee called me to ask if I specifically had my heart set on I/O psych.  I assured them that I did not, however when later looking back on it, I’m really glad that I didn’t miss that call!  They may have just as easily assumed I was only interested in I/O and dropped me like a rock.

•    Be mindful of space limits each school imposes on the statements.  Some schools want 2 pages, some want a half a page.  Create one ‘base’ personal statement that you’ll customize and look for things you could cut out if you needed to save space.
•    Have your personal statement read over by a faculty member.  My faculty member was quite fond of using a red pen to bring to light any possible problem he saw.  This was a bit discouraging to see, but in the end, a great asset.  This further underscores the importance of making connections with faculty.
•    Read other’s personal statements to get ideas, search online for tips, and above all, present yourself professionally.  In many ways, this is where a perspective school will get their fuel for interview questions.

The Importance of Research & Senior Honors Projects

gradschoolarticle-5_320x240When I was accepted to UA as an undergraduate, I immediately applied to the honors program.  This program allowed me many benefits (priority registration, a faculty mentor) and required (comparatively) very little commitment from me to remain in it.  I needed to keep above a 3.4 GPA and take 3 colloquium classes over 4 years.  The big requirement was a senior honors project.  This project, while deceptively appearing to be just another requirement, has actually been one of the best experiences I’ve had at UA.  It’s also allowed me a great way to get my ‘foot in the door’ with graduate programs.

Throughout my undergrad years, I participated and assisted in research with graduate students.  This gave me some good real-world research experience; however it did not give me much to talk about during an interview for graduate school.  My senior honors project, however, did.  Because I had to research for the project, write proposals and collect data, I knew a lot about the subject of the project.  In every interview I was in, the question always came up: “So tell me about your research interests”.  There was no better way to show that I had actual research interests than to talk about my senior honors project.  My interviewers enjoyed hearing about it and asking questions.  For the programs I was applying to, this real-world research was a big key to getting in.
Appendix A
Jon Westfall’s Personal Statement

Personal Statement of Goals and Purpose

During an early week in September, I sat in a vacant classroom and waited for class to begin.  Because I’m chronically early, I was there about 30 minutes before class and was in search of something to pass the time.  On a desk next to mine, I saw a bulletin from the Continuing Education department, listing the current offering of classes.  As I browsed through the bulletin, I noticed the wide variety of computer classes.  Suddenly, I had an idea – it was bold, and a bit intimidating for an 18 year old, but it just might work.
In the previous summer, I had spent time fulfilling a personal goal.  Having completed high school, I set my mind to the goal of completing the requirements to become a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE).  After completing the seven computer-based tests that I needed, I achieved my goal just under 2 months after I started – a feat normally accomplished in 6 – 8 months.  Fresh from this accomplishment, I noticed quite a few computer courses in the bulletin that focused on the material I had just finished.  The university had been subcontracting the courses’ instruction out to a company, and I knew that if the program was offered in-house, it would provide a lower total cost of ownership.  With that in mind, I emailed the director of Continuing Education and pitched my idea to him: Let me bring the courses in house, as the instructor, and lower the total cost.  A month later, I found myself a part-time faculty member at The University of Akron, and at age 18, I was instructing people up to three times my own age – all because of a bold idea that most people would have thought ludicrous.
In many ways, the story above is an example of my life.  In the past 20 years, I have set many goals that others would have thought inaccessible for someone my age.  As I seek admission into graduate study in psychology, I am ready to pursue new goals.
Principally, my goal in graduate study is to further my knowledge and ability to contribute to the field of psychology, and ultimately the quality of life for all people.  I recognize I must do this by earning the respect of my peers by striving for excellence in my studies and research.  I am currently conducting University Honors Program thesis research on training content variability and the effectiveness of skill learning, a research interest that may well extend into my graduate school years and beyond.  This area is of interest to me because it is at the intersection of basic (i.e., the functional distinction between implicit and explicit learning/memory systems) and applied research (i.e., how to design training environments that best promote effective learning in the workplace). Because my interests include learning and memory, I hope to develop research that studies systems of memory and seeks out ways to increase memory accuracy and retrieval time.  In addition to research in cognitive processing, I also have an interest in workplace productivity and organizational structures. Because of research I am currently completing, on memory and content-variability, I hope to enter graduate study with some research interests established, and to pursue those interests in my years at the graduate level.
I believe that my work in graduate school will meet my goals, and I would be honored to have the chance to do so at your institution.
Appendix B: Graduate School Application Checklist

Instructions: For each school, fill out the following form.  Mark an X in the “Required” field if that program requires that item (i.e. not all programs require psych GRE scores, etc..).  Then fill in any details specific to that program.  The date that portion is due, and finally once you’ve sent it in, check the “completed” box.

gettinggrad1

Welcome to The New Blog

Well, LiveJournal is seemingly on it’s way to becomming a MySpace-esque youth hangout, and I feel less and less like Youth all the time. So with my third year of blogging underway, I’m switching things up a bit and going to WordPress hosted off of JonWestfall.Com (Right now, as I type this, it’s off of “new.jonwestfall.com” – but that will chage soon.

The Old LiveJournal stuff is still available for perusing (I have no intention of closing down my LJ account, I just don’t plan on updating it), and the archives of it are available here as one really-long html file. I have the backups in XML format, so I may one day reformat them to look a bit nicer than that giant HTML file suggests. Just not today!

So back to the new Blog – Confessions of A high Self Monitor. Self-monitoring is a concept from the area of Social Psychology. I’ll probably expand on what it means in the future, but suffice it to say, I feel the title fits me well. Whenever I take a Self Monitoring scale, I tend to score as extremely high. This ability is something I feel is a strength, not weakness, although some may disagree. In the coming weeks, months, years, I’m sure some of the posts here will echo some real-life confessions of a self-monitor, and some will not. Deal with it, it’s my blog! I’ll also be porting over some resources to jonwestfall.com in the coming months, as well as maintaining them at jonwestfall.org (my more traditional site).

Happy Reading!

Week-End Update

Howdy JW.Com Readers! Well, I’m writing this weekend update to let ya’ll know what’s been going on this week.
The week started good except for my lunch monday at Cyberfresh Cafe in the Student Union at UT. I got the world’s Worst ceasar salad (I believe they hold the record). Not only did it taste funky, AND have a piece of plastic with jaggedy edges on it that could have sliced my tounge in two so I resembeled a snake (Snakes In A Grad Office?), but this salad also gave me some virus that made my stomach & digestive system MUTINY. Tuesday I felt fine in the morning, but on the way home I had this heavy feeling in my stomach. We had dinner at the Chinese place (Which I doubt I can go back to now, as conditioned taste aversion has probably sunk in) and all night I had the fear I was about to expel my demonic possession orally onto comforter, bed, & cat. Wednesday morning I felt pretty bad, got to UT, told Dr. Jasper that I wouldn’t be able to be in Research Methods (Due to the fact I felt I may explode) and lingered around my office until I got the OK from my prof. for that night’s clas
s that I could get an excused. Left, headed home and found that now the demons were no longer looking to leave orally – they wanted out the other end. They didn’t seem to stop to solidify either (Damn bastards) so that meant many many many many many trips to the seat of demonic expulsion during the night (I had also had trips on Wednesday during the day, but not with the same verocity). Thursday I started to feel better, but still was a bit groggy in the evening. Yesterday I was back to Normal Jon status. Sometime during the week I also did a bit of work, amazingly.
Friday I drove out to BG to help my friend Maria with computer issues. We talked for a long time about life (We graduated together from UA and she went off to uber-applied psych (School Psychology) and I went off to uber-basic psych (Research) so we discussed the differences and similarities in our respective programs. Ate dinner and then headed back to Marblehead where I FINALLY got a good nights sleep (Although Thursdays wasn’t that bad either, but the perfect nights sleep has no alarm clock attached to it).
So anyone whose body did not rebel this week should thank their diety of choice that they weren’t me this week. Karey got a slight cold toward the end of the week (That sounds like its starting to clear up – just a head cold) and she agrees that she’d rather have that than have what I had!
How was everyone else’s week? Since it was a haze to me, maybe others can point out if anything interesting happened in the world or to them.