The First Year is Wrapped Up

TL;DR: I recap the first year of my personal experiences on the Leiden IBP programme. I am going to share you guys my two career paths I could see myself in the future. Nothing is set in stone though.

I feel terrible for not updating my blog. There are number of reasons, but contrary to other's beliefs, I have not quit! I am getting back on my feet to begin writing again. Not only has writing helped me in research papers, get my thoughts in order by verbalizing, and most importantly train that creative brain muscle! For me blogging is a cool way to leave my permanent digital footprint out there in the interwebz.

The first year flew by so fast it feels surreal. The study stress is paused for now, and while I can already perceive the changes in the routine, however, I won't be enjoying the beach sun for long. I will be working in construction most of the summer. No rest for the wicked.

University

The IBP programme is a three-year long quest. The first year's two semesters were divided into four blocks. Each block had three courses in it. The courses consisted primarily of psychology, but also some mandatory advanced statistics formulas were required to know. I also studied a few wise words from dead philosophers.

Every course had mandatory workgroup and optional lectures that one could join. Workgroups were held once every week or every other week. Oftentimes we discussed the course material, and regular quizzes were held during the first sessions. Sometimes the only thing we did was give presentations and feedback, which was great. Though in some courses we didn't do anything beneficial at all! Just listened to the teacher and did some extremely dull homework. That really sucked, and it reflected on my overall course grade too. Exam is 70% of total the grade and workgroup assignments amounts to 30%.

Courses

The two semesters have displayed myriad of courses teaching the essentials in psychology and basic research practices. My favorite courses were definitely social psychology with its many interesting new developments, and cognitive psychology where emphasis is on the computational aspect of human behavior. The myth is that we use only a fraction of brain power. This is far from truth. You see, our minds have an ace up in its sleeve: we can we make decisions both 'deliberately, slowly and consciously' and 'automatically, fast and unconsciously'. So there is definitely more than meets the eye. Case in point, these computations are analogous to gravitation; you can't observe it directly, but you can see the consequences of it!

More of my favorites include psychology and science. Thanks to this course, it Hetkiwidened my horizons on the current position of psychology amid all other branches of science. The allocated funding in psychological research compared to other sciences makes it a definite minority. I guess psychology is yet to claim its rank among the “hard” sciences. I was taught how the system works: researchers are under constant pressure to keep up publishing research papers or else they won't survive in the academic world. “Publish or perish” is what they say. The process of conducting research from the idea stage to the published paper is a long and complex procedure, and many mistakes are bound to happen along the way too.

Strangely, Mathematics—or more precisely—statistics, is one of my favorite subjects these days. The fact is it wasn't before like that. I used to “hate” it, but now on the contrary! I find it soothing the way it balances the occasional ambiguity of some psychological theories. Math is math. Moreover, all of my teachers were top-notch!

Too bad the courses did not teach us how to lie with statistics, since this is quite common too. For instance, every time you spot the word 'average' it could mean Mode, Median or Mean, all of which are averages, though resulting in very different overall picture.

In general, I believe I have grasped the basic understanding things, and built a sturdy foundation that I can further build upon in the next year's specialization courses and electives.

Exams

I am happy with my grades and that is all that matters. In my experience, grades are not worth the tears. Academic success quantified as one's course grades do not reflect the true nature of one's true skills.

In the contemporary world, more and more people are becoming specialists in their respective fields, and thus knowledge in, say, cognitive psychology has little to do with bio- & neuropsychology to become a neuropsychologist. Or, say you are extremely interested only in the history of psychology, then statistics would be zero to no use for you. Then you could say that it the grade is irrelevant. But this mindset is useful only if you have a clear goal in mind from the start.

Because surely the human behavior is best explained by both in the biological and computational level, and in the historical context. I think studying different levels of analysis of human mind and behavior helps a researcher see things from various angles. In my experience, even if the field is out of one's primary interests or purposes, that knowledge helps in creative problem-solving.

All the exams were formatted as multiple-choice questionnaires (MCQ), which were all about remembering specific facts and it assessed more memory skills than actual reasoning skills (or so I thought). Whilst writing this I realized that reasoning and comprehension skills were probably evaluated with workgroup performance. Though I opine that some workgroups haven't really accomplished too well at that. Be that as it may, MCQs may be the only format how universities are able to assess the knowledge of thousands of students. We are too many and there is a budget to adhere to.

Then, I realized maybe it could be that to remember these rather peculiar facts, I'd have to first understand the whole material. Thus, following a clear understanding I would be able to attach these many scattered facts onto the conceived, cohesive core to recognize them most efficiently.

For example, say I study how neurons work. The book explains the neuronal functions (the core material), with many examples of famous patients and common experiments and results (specific, peculiar facts). The exams assume that I know and understand the material, and therefore majority of the questions concentrate on the peripheral details.

In addition, MCQs measure our knowledge by assessing our recognition skills over recalling skills. To recall, you need to retrieve from scratch the correct information through the associations you have built, and without any external cues. To use recognition, the cues are already present in the choices, and all you need to do is remember which one of them is the most familiar and well-connected to the core.

In a sense, the larger the web of cues, the better chances I have to excel. So, my sequitur is that MCQs tests not only my memorization skills directly, but also my understanding of the core knowledge indirectly!

There is also the fun fact that exams are required to be not too easy and not too hard, so that it creates a nice even normal distribution of grades. This is why the exam is oftentimes littered with easy questions with free points, and sometimes really niche questions like “Which neurotransmitter is Tyrosine precursor to?“—Really?

The courses were all passed. In the end, the grade reflects the time I have invested in the course, hence a representation of my goals.

Workgroups

I have written and researched on many topics; The Billion Dollar Bias – The Sunk Cost Bias and Unipolar Depression with CBT and rTMS as part of the basic academic skills course, Tribalism in Cryptocurrencies, a two-person group endeavor that was part of the social psychology course, and lastly, The Impact of Acoustic Similarity Effect and Word-Length Effect on Memory Span as part of the cognitive psychology course that was based on a real cognitive test that we conducted within the workgroup! There has been few group presentations as well and they were a lot of fun. People praised my presenting skills, which I was really appreciative of.

During the year, working with my workgroup was rewarding and fun. Sadly, on the second year, I will have a new workgroup. This means names to remember, Facebook friend requests to accept (or decline), and awkward handshakes to make. /s

Lectures

I didn't spend too much time in the university however. Workgroups were all mandatory, but lectures were optional. I didn't attend lectures since cycling took me an hour in the first semester, and half an hour following semester. The recorded online lectures seemed like a better fit, and thus this habit stuck in me even after moving closer to the university in the second semester.

It was just so darn handy to put the recorded lecture in 1.5x speed, pause and rewind whenever I wanted. This saved me quite a lot of time. The only downside of this is that lectures are the actual window of opportunity to make friends. Oftentimes people didn't think I was studying psychology because they hadn't seen me in the university. I rarely spent time there apart from compulsory workgroups. Honestly, I didn't get to make any good friends that I could spend time outside of university settings. My introverted nature wasn't doing any favors to me either.

The Second Year

Next year will be more streamlined towards my own interests with myriad of specialization and elective courses to pick from. I have narrowed my options to two choices. I am keen on technology, and design, but also in psychology; User Experience Research or Human-Computer Interaction Research as a career path is something I envision myself doing in the future. I really love the idea of creating products, whether physical or digital, that are have human needs in mind.

One good example is doors. Every bloody door in the world should be redesigned. Simple, if there is no handle: you push. If there there is a handle: you pull. That simple!

The second option is to become a sports psychologist, and later specialize to become a psychotherapist. This encapsulates my interest in helping people, but also working in a sports environment motivating and finding solutions to people's mental obstacles. Maybe mentoring and training professional athletes in the future, why not?

Exciting times!