Getting to know your host lab
I've been incredibly fortunate in that I know most of the people in Teresa's lab since this is my second visit, but it hasn't always been that way...
The very first time that I came to Granada I was nervous about meeting a new group of people in a completely different setting. I'm sure that this anxiety was in part due to not knowing where the School of Psychology was, questioning whether I would be eating on my own or with others, an uneasiness about whether I would be able to make it home successfully, etc. Looking back I can laugh with ease over those anxious feelings, but I can sympathize with that new PIRE student shock that many of us may experience in those first initial weeks.
Get to know the students. Perhaps that sounds silly, but I think it makes all of the difference. Although, we are often under the auspices of a professor or researcher, chances are the interactions that happen day-to-day will primarily be with other students. They will most likely be the ones to help us set up our e-mail accounts, help us understand protocol for conducting experiments with human participants, and show us the ropes for getting around the labs.
I've particularly enjoyed lunch with the other students (and not just because of the food). This is a great time to hear and share experiences. It's quite fulfilling to learn about the different kinds of research going on even when they are not directly related to your field. For example, many of us are probably somewhat familiar with the bilingual advantage in executive function thanks to the work of Bialystok and colleagues (e.g. Bialystok, Craik, Klein, & Viswanathan, 2004). A brief layman's summary: research suggests that bilinguals may be better able to ignore irrelevant information than monolinguals possibly because of a lifetime of monitoring and functioning between two languages.
Despite hearing about these bilingual advantages, I haven't really had the opportunity to speak with anyone who actually conducts this kind of research. Enter, Julia Morales, a grad student with Teresa Bajo, who has gone and worked with Ellen Bialystok not once but twice! Julia has easily become one of my closest companions here in Granada. I've really enjoyed hearing about her experiences as a grad student in Granada, her successes and failures as a researcher, and how she maneuvered around Toronto, all with a genuinely big smile. She's even feigned interest in my own research. Not only have we bonded about research experiences, but she has dutifully indulged me in my desire to try the best tapas in town.
Luckily, I'll get to hear a lot more about her most recent trip to Toronto at our lab meeting next week. She'll be presenting on her most recent set of experiments, and I've already got some prep reading to do.
Let me know in the comments if there are any bilingualism results or sets of experiments that intrigue you but remain rather abstract--perhaps because you aren't familiar with researchers who directly work on those experiments.
--Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., Klein, R., & Viswanathan, M. (2004). Bilingualism, aging, and cognitive control: Evidence from the Simon task. Psychology & Aging, 19, 290-303.
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