The First Two Years of my PhD

Inspired by Rachit Nigam's post concerning his first two years of his PhD program in computer science at Cornell, I thought I'd post my own short summary of my time at the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Like Rachit, I will start out with a list of successes and failures. They are in approximately chronological order.

Failures

Successes

to be continued...

Fall 2018

Spring 2019

Fall 2019

Perhaps the biggest highlight of Fall 2019 was teaching my first college class at the age of 23. It felt weird to teach students who were potentially only ~ 18 months younger than me, but this feeling quickly went away. Overall, I really enjoyed teaching EDP 304, "Strategic Learning for the 21st Century", despite the fact that the "21st Century" designation really hasn't aged well (we're 20 years in -- isn't all learning for the 21st century at this point?). My course reviews were good, but this experience also solidified my feelings that I will not enter teaching as my primary occupation. I could see this feeling changing if I were able to teach a more advanced class or at least a syllabus of my own design.

In Fall 2019, I continued projects concerning the interleaving and testing effects. I also started a new project concerning the motivational consequences of task difficulty. I am still analyzing most of this data, but the interleaving research looks the most promising. The task difficulty idea was a good start, but considering it's a very experimental area of research it is not particularly surprising that the design needed a couple substantial tweaks in order to better test my hypotheses. I also wrote my NSF GRFP application during the Fall. Although I had written a draft early on in the semester, two weeks before the deadline I showed it to my friend and GRFP-awardee, Raphael, and he gave me some superb advice on how to significantly improve the application. I took this advice, but it did require me to begrudgingly overhaul all five pags of single-spaced application materials. Ultimately, I am proud of the application I put together.

With regards to my coursework, I took a very interesting assortment of clases: Research Methods in Psychology and Education; Correlation and Regression; and Science and Metaphysics. The first two courses, both in the Educational Psychology department, gave me a much enhanced understanding of research design and regression analysis, respectively. Although I had a good lay understanding of linear regression before my coursework, this class gave me a much better understanding of the nuances of commonly used statistical tools.

Science and Metaphysics was a unique course for me because it was housed in the Philosophy department and definitely not tailored towards philosophical novices. I was the only person in this 10-student seminar that was not pursuing a PhD in philosophy, and I felt it. This is not to say that it was a bad experience. In fact, it was great. I got to read about DAGs and also the philosophical views of causation. Admittedly, I ended up taking this course P/F, but I had enjoyed the exposure to a totally different discipline and entirely new mode of argumentation/evidence.

Spring 2020



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