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Practicing on the lab

Last Friday I lead the lab group meeting for the first time since I started. I've seen other PhD students do it, and lab group members often 'use' the lab group as a testing ground for ideas and presentations, or if they have something they want to talk through. I am in the process of trying to write the questionnaire to use as my main data-gathering tool, the tool that will hopefully provide me with the vast majority of my data, so I'm a little anxious about it. Perfect for lab group feedback!

I thought pretty carefully about the structure I wanted to use. It would have been quite easy to present the games, the theory I'm looking at, and then asked them to look at the survey and lead into a discussion. I didn't do that because I felt knowing what I was looking for would affect the way they read the questionnaire. Instead I presented a little bit on three games I'm going to be looking at, then I asked them to read the questions. When the discussion around that got to the point where I felt answering the questions needed it, I went back to my slides and introduced more specifically the differences in the games (and introduced the fourth - a variant on the online game we're writing), and how I expect those differences to influence the team cohesion amongst the players.

Picking the point to go back to the theory was a little tricky, but I think it was worth doing it that way. I got some very useful feedback, some around the use of specific words, but also about thinking about who will be potentially filling out the survey. It may be that a reasonably high percentage may not have English as a first language, so some of the subtleties of the statements I've put together may be lost. That's a point that I (in my privileged English-speaking way) hadn't considered! There were a couple of contentious statements, but actually only the ones that I was already not particularly happy with, so that's not so bad. 

The other thing I've taken from the experience is that I'm reasonably confident of my background theory. I feel I can talk about it coherently, and pull the reading I've done into a shape that makes sense of what I'm looking for and at. While the lab group is a reasonably safe environment to practice in, the flip side of that is that these are my closest colleagues. If I look foolish in front of them, I still have to see them regularly for the next two years. Plenty of people have said it's actually the audience they get most nervous about - not just my lab group (who are all perfectly nice, polite, interesting and interested people) but close colleagues in general. So coming away feeling more confident was a definite plus. 

I actually feel like that was quite an important step. Now, back to that questionnaire!

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