Year in Review: Public Opinion, Teaching, Mentorship, & ResearchCat

Spring semester is almost over, guys! As the crazy busy schedules are winding down (a bit), it’s time to reflect.

It’s been a pretty busy year here at the Center – among other things, we held our annual ForecastLA conference (this year it was in Downtown LA!), mentored our 15 students to present at LMU’s annual Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS), AND I was extra excited to have 3 of our students present their posters at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) this April. I also led a couple of large research projects (2018 LA Votes & the 2019 Downtown LA study) which added up to about 150 students getting some valuable fieldwork experience (woah).

Logistics rant. Speaking of ForecastLA.. this is the 2nd year I’m organizing registration and here are my two key points after being involved in event management: (1) be ready to figure out stuff on your own and (2) take notes!! This year, I had a simple goal: while most people register ahead of time online, some might show up without doing so and will need an on-site badge. Last year, we simply wrote them out with a marker (on a pre-printed correctly designed blank name badge, naturally). This year, we wanted to upgrade and print the new badges right on the spot!

Me & my little DYMO printer

I ended up ordering a little portable label maker (DYMO brand) because it was highly rated on Amazon and well-priced. I just needed to figure out how to create a label that would look the same as the pre-printed name tags from Eventbrite (we used to create our design) and could be quickly printed on the spot. I contacted Eventbrite… &…& Dymo. After all the online chatting, they all told me there was no way to do what I wanted. Fast-forward past multiple hours I spent on Googling this over a weekend and I found a way:

  • Create our event (in addition to Eventbrite). It’s free.
  • EventNut happens to support DYMO printers AND it allows you to register attendees to quickly click their badge.
  • EventBrite will also produce a nice list of attendees who registered on-site.
  • I can combine that with the list from Eventbrite (where I can see who checked in out of all the people who registered) to know who exactly was at the conference (P.S. later, I can triangulate those data with the pile of returned badges to really-really-really know who showed up 🙂

I realize this doesn’t sound all that mind-blowing, but finding a way to do exactly what I needed – using a simple & quick on-site registration system that could print the person’s name badge with a click of a button and not pay any special event websites to do so – was a small yet satisfying victory. P.S. Now imagine your PC crashes days before the conference and half of your time is spent reinstalling all the programs and printer setup after IT has to fix it. It’s like an episode of Survivor!

Our research team & students at our 2019 ForecastLA conference!

Teaching & Mentoring. One of the greatest parts of the year has been teaching! I was lucky to have a chance to lecture this Spring in addition to my full-time researcher position. It’s a Political Internship course at LMU that I co-teach with our Center’s Associate Director, but the students are from a variety of fields (including psychology, sociology, etc.)

Literal “elevator pitch” exercise!

Much of the class content – aside from students having an actual internship – focuses on a variety of “adulting” skills: work ethic, how to dress, phone and email etiquette, importance of informational interviews, branding oneself – in life and on social media, knowing how to pitch oneself (literally in an elevator, aka elevator pitch!), and of course tips for resume and cover letter writing. To be honest, I refreshed my own knowledge on a lot of these topics (they were flashbacks from my BS in Business Management days.. I feel like grad school does not build these skills as much as it could/should).

My 2019 Spring student mentees!

Another highlight – and always my most favorite part of the job 🙂 – is getting to mentor students in all the research things. While our Spring semester is extra busy with the ForecastLA conference and URS, Fall usually gives a chance to manage some specific skill building. My goal in early Fall was to capture these various little tasks my students were doing throughout the year and later feature key ones on their resume/LinkedIn. So how do you keep track in a super-fast-paced environment? Weeell, I experimented with different apps on Slack (we primarily use Slack to communicate at the Center). I ended up liking “Teamline” – a free app where, instead of just slacking someone to do something, I could “assign” the task and have them check “complete” when it was done. Among other benefits, Teamline saves all completed tasks and who they were assigned to. So at the end of this semester I could refresh my memory on what we did, compile a list of these activities, and reflect on them with the students. I definitely forgot how much we managed to do (qualitative coding, Qualtrics and STATA mini-trainings, etc.), so I’m glad I figured out a tracking system early on! Will use next semester too + recommend to other team leaders at the Center.

Keeping up with the hobbies. Lastly, despite all the busyness, I’m proud of not losing sight of other interests & hobbies, such as my involvement in science communication & my aerial fitness. While things get hectic and it feels like there’s no time for anything at all, you have to try to stick to what’s important in your life! For your mind, soul, and (even) physical health. For instance, I got to do a real aerial gig – in Hollywood out of all places! It was undoubtedly one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had.Another cool thing is that this year at SciCommJC we had another State Your Mission challenge, but this time around winners received prizes from our team. I’m actually virtually meeting with the winners myself later this month with my own “Make your Research Sharable” gift guide. Hopefully summer will give me a chance to focus a little bit more on scicomming (keep in mind there’s no summer break! our Center works year-round).


Last but not least… remember #ResearchCat? Not only did I write a legitimate article on the topic of cats and how their owners feel on a variety of issues (see here on page 23 of the book), but he also got his 15 seconds of fame in front of 300+ LA civic leaders during our ForecastLA conference 🙂 (I naturally drew him taking a StudyLA survey).

Happy summer-ing, academic world! Here’s to some de-stressing, soaking up the sun, and achieving well-paced productivity!

Introducing: #ResearchMonday Instagram series

Happy October!

So, in my ongoing science communication efforts, I have been experimenting with visual formats for summarizing research/complex scientific concepts in simple-to-understand and fun ways.

Thus, my #ResearchMonday series on Instagram (which, of course, features #ResearchCat). It was during the last live Twitter Chat with our Science Communication Journal Club that I realized something: participants were sharing amazing sources and articles on the topic, but I absolutely knew I was not going to read them in the nearest future considering other priorities. That’s when I wished there could be some simple memes or visual summaries of key points i’d find useful (and that would truly encourage me to read the rest of the paper).

I very much like Instagram’s swiping posts, since it’s fantastic for self-paced story telling. Thus, this is where I’ve been playing with simple overviews of research articles. Click on each to go to see them:

Note: If new to Instagram, hover over the image & note the small arrow buttons on its sides (<)  and  (>). Click these to swipe through the post!

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Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 10.17.06 AM  Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 10.16.56 AM

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So far, I’ve been choosing papers I have most expertise in- health and nutrition. However, as you can see I’ve attempted to cover some very different topics as well (conscious AI!) The format is most definitely NOT set in stone, and I’d love any feedback on improvements.


Last week at the Culture Change & Behavior lab

Last week our lab held the last meeting for the semester. And to celebrate a great productive year we had… chocolate-covered insects. It’s a bizarre tradition carried over from ~1 ago when the lab studied disgust towards eating different animals 🙂

I will miss working with our fantastic undergraduate apprentices! This semester we focused on 2 projects: 1)using process tracing software to examine how much different types of information matter for making food healthiness judgments, and 2) measuring household wealth (& how it affects health) across the world.

The first project was my “baby”: after mostly survey and interview work over the past several semesters, I really wanted to try learning a new method. I both hated and loved it: the learning curve can be brutal, but once we got some preliminary results things felt worth it!
We used a process tracing software that allows you to analyze the decision making process of participants. We used this program to have people rate different foods on healthiness after checking some information about them. We gave them two types of information- positive (e.g. presence of vitamins) and negative (e.g. presence of artificial ingredients). Our pilot confirmed the hypothesis that people do in fact spend more time checking out negative information! (See chart: time/Y axis is in milliseconds)
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For the other project I spent the last 7 MONTHS harmonizing and cataloguing the many assets and services used to assess household wealth in low-income countries. The main question for this project is to examine how economic inequalities shape global health outcomes (e.g. obesity in adults and child growth) and to test whether different pathways to wealth might shape these things differently. I’m happy to announce that we in fact DID finish all the data harmonization and merging (it was no spring picnic) and the lab will now begin analyzing the data and examining different dimensions of wealth.

Uhh I will miss this amazing team for sure.. but hey- in about a week I graduate! What a strange feeling it is!