We’ve all been there. You join a new research team and all of a sudden you’re confronted with new people, new hardware and sensors, new stimulus sets, novel study designs and research protocols – and yet in some scarily (but excitingly) close distance you will conquer novel data processing pathways and analysis procedures.

Ready? Buckle up and enjoy the ride, because here we go!

1. Who’s who, and who’s doing what?

OK, you might have chosen the lab in the first place because the principal investigator’s (PI’s) research has been fascinating you right from the start of your academic career. However, there’s much more to it: Senior lab members such as research associates or postdocs and other PhD students at the lab might conduct their own studies that are only loosely connected to the primary scientific focus of the research team. While the PI might be into gaze patterns associated with purchase decisions in general, other senior lab members perhaps deal with mobile eye tracking and EEG-correlates of object recognition in virtual shopping environments. You certainly do well sitting in and asking questions during lab meetings, chalk talks and internal progress reports in order to stay up to date with the lab’s current and future research topics.

2. “Slow you are – train you must!” (aka find yourself a Yoda)

Get started right away and help your fellow colleagues – you will learn a lot. Like, a LOT! There’s no better way to get the knacks of setting up an eye tracker, a GSR device or an EEG headset than by assisting the pros at the lab. Pull up your sleeves and get your hands dirty! You actually advance your skills a lot from just setting up or even cleaning and maintaining devices and sensors under the keen eyes of the experts – as they aim for unprecedented data quality uncontaminated by any artifacts they will push you to do the best you can to tweak the sensors and fine-tune the device arrangement in order to get the best viewing angles, the best prepped and cleaned sensor sites, the most relaxed and responsive participants. Your data is always as good as your most careful preparation, and the earlier you make this core insight your mantra, the faster you will be able to internalize it. The more colleagues you have by your side to teach you, the merrier. There is nothing more rewarding during your own data collection than the acknowledging nod of a senior lab member watching clean raw data streaming in. “A researcher, now you are.”  

3. With great power comes great responsibility.

As you advance in your lab career you will expand your skill set from purely technical aspects of data collection to other areas, for example study setup, experimental programming and data analysis. Already in the beginning, being able to tell Type I from Type II errors, or significance from test power helps a lot, and if you are getting familiar with t-tests and ANOVAs you’re indeed not very far away from permutation-based nonparametric test procedures (wohoo!). But of course that’s just theoretical statistics. Designing experiments, selecting relevant sensors, phrasing appropriate survey questions and going for the right analysis are all non-trivial tasks, and there’s a lot that can go awry. It’s your decisions that drive the outcome of the whole endeavor, and it cannot be stated often enough that your decisions should always be informed ones. In case you you don’t know whether the experimental software should generate an event marker for the onset of the video stimulus of interest to your analyses, consult your PI or senior lab members and then decide how to proceed based on all information available. If you’re not sure in which sequence to apply post-processing to the EEG or facial expression data, check existing papers or ask your fellow colleagues. Avoid spontaneous decisions and instead decide responsibly. Remember you will have to defend your outcomes at the next lab meeting or conference, at your oral Master or PhD exam or in a peer-reviewed journal.

Earlier than you can foresee, you will be one of the senior lab members (“where did all the others go?”), and sooner or later you will be confronted with a new cohort of newbies who just joined the lab. At times it might be tough for them to bear your radical eye for optimal study setup, data collection and analysis, but let’s be honest – You’re probably the best that could happen to them!

Contact our experts at iMotions if you would like to learn more about the hacks of lab routines that will make you an old hat in no time.