The New Colleague

I’d like to welcome the newest member of the Department of Psychology, Dr Catherine Ortner!

Dr Ortner, who is currently at Thompson Rivers University, will be a Faculty Lecturer (in Arts), starting on July 1, 2013. She will be responsible for teaching courses in personality, abnormal psychology, and clinical psychology--courses which are very popular with many students. She gave a fantastic presentation when she was here for her interview earlier this year.

Although it may seem incongruent that the UofA is hiring someone new in a time of significant budgetary shortfalls, this position is actually not new. The previous Faculty Lecturer in this area, Dr Doug Wardell, retired in 2010. We’ve been looking for a full-time replacement ever since.

I’m looking forward to working with Dr Ortner, and I hope you enjoy her courses!

Why aren’t you studying?

Update 5/24/2013: Unfortunately, Dr Ortner has decided to pursue other options and won't be coming to the UofA. (Understandable, considering the uncertain budgetary future here in Alberta.) Best wishes to her in her future endeavours!

The Undergraduate Sociology Journal

JA, a former PSYCO 494: Human Factors and Ergonomics student of mine who is currently a graduate student in pediatrics, has a great opportunity to pass along:
I wanted to mention something interesting to you. I am not sure if you have heard of the new Sociology undergraduate journal at the U of A called invoke, but I submitted my psych 494 term paper and it actually got accepted for the first issue! This is the website if you want to check it out:

Generally, I believe this journal will accept papers from a variety of disciplines, but I thought it would be good to pass onto psych. undergraduate students that if they already have a good paper already written, they might as well submit! I was able to take the edits you provided me with, and in turn my paper did get accepted and published. Looks great on the CV. I am currently in grad school and I have included this publication on all scholarship applications - it's better than just having abstracts and presentations.
Thanks for passing that along!

Why aren't you studying?

Update 4/24/2013: Bad news from Evan Shillabeer, editor of Invoke:
While the journal has been a wonderful endeavour  we are currently placing it on a ‘hiatus.’ The reasoning is that in sociology, unlike in psychology, the undergraduate population is largely apathetic to research, and it seems sociology in general. Few students have interest in continuing in sociology (there are only 3 honours students), and more often than not, are using the degree as a transition to professional programs (i.e. law school). Over the last year, we have worked diligently to promote and inform sociology students about the journal, but when it came time to publish, we did not have any submission or peer reviewers! My editorial team and I were somewhat disillusioned by our hard work being thwarted by an ambivalent student body, and I made the decision to resign from my post, with the intention of burying the journal. However, I am now in the process of starting up an Undergraduate Sociology Association (a la UPA) to try and stir up some student engagement, before resurrecting the journal in a few years.

I love the idea of psychology students submitting to the journal and would be absolutely ecstatic if it could continue when the journal returns. It would also be really nice to see an undergraduate psychology journal start up; the interface used for these journals is surprisingly easy to use, and it would be a wonderful way to allow the department to show the high quality work that many of the undergraduate students in psychology produce.

The Narcolepsy

A student in PSYCO 104 this term (M.B.) wanted to share his experiences with narcolepsy. I've read about it, but have never met a student who has it. He was okay with me giving his name, but in the interests of ethics, I'm just using his initials. Here is his description in his own words (with minor editing for readability):

...when I had the [multiple sleep latency] test done, I went in and out of REM sleep 173 times in an 8 hour period. During the daytime portion of the test, where they had me take 5 scheduled 20 minute naps, between each of which I needed to stay awake for 2 hours, the average time it took me to fall asleep for each of the naps was 2.3 seconds, starting from when the attendant turned off the lights in the room.

My physician told me that on average, a narcoleptic will wake up in the morning after being in bed for 8-9 hours feeling as exhausted as a normal person would after being up for 36 hours straight.  Obviously, after almost three years since my diagnosis, I can no longer relate to what waking up "rested" feels like, but from what I remember that statement is the most accurate relation I used to make.

In terms of my daily routine, including medication, the general consensus is, for lack of a better word, to jack me up on stimulants in the daytime, and knock me out at night.

Every morning I take 30mg of methylphenidate (which is fast acting), along with 40mg of methylphenidate-SR (which is slow acting).  The methylphenidate takes effect within about 15 minutes, and around the time it wears off about an hour and a half later, the methylphenidate-SR takes effect, lasting for up to 4 hours.

At noon, I take an additional 10mg of methylphenidate (fast) and 20mg of methylphenidate-SR (slow) to get me through the afternoon. When I get home from school, or 4 o'clock comes around (whichever comes first), I usually feel overwhelmingly exhausted, at which time I take a nap daily which is usually 45 minutes in length. This nap allows me to make it through the evening without further medication.

My nighttime routine has fluctuated most, as I've previously tried two different types of medications which did not work for long, each with their own odd effects:

Initially, I was on Co-zopiclone, and during that period of about 6 months, it supressed my ability to dream completely, which was a welcome effect, seeing that I had gotten used to the hypnogocic hallucinations and sleep paralysis during which I dreamt of snakes in my bed or shadows coming at me with knives. Now however, I am taking Apo-trazodone, at a dosage of 200mg each night. Trazodone has helped reduce the frequency at which I wake up during the night, and helps me stay asleep longer. As expected though, when I wake up, I am quite drowsy and groggy.
Most days when untreated, I could not stay awake in the passenger seat of a car for further than a block, nor could I stay awake for more than 2 hours without napping even when I was occupied.  Even now on medication, there are times at which I cannot stay awake, and involuntarily fall asleep for brief periods.

I also experience cataplexy, although luckily not to the extent that many individuals do.  While I have had some episodes of collapse, my symptoms while untreated ranged from buckling at the knees and dropping whatever I'm holding (being the most severe), to loss of the control of my facial muscles when angry, happy, or laughing. To this day, mostly during the evenings but also when I am extremely fatigued, I will slightly slur my speech, close my eyes, and involuntarily flatten my tongue in my mouth, pressing it against my teeth.

I know that I have very likely given you more information than you can talk about in class, but I am completely comfortable with you using anything you see fit. I am not embarrassed to tell my story, and I consider it an opportunity to do anything that I can to help educate more people on the effects of Narcolepsy.
Thanks for sharing that information with us, MB. It puts into perspective what "being really tired" is, and how most of us have no real idea what it feels like.

Why aren't you studying?

The Secret Project

For over a year, I've been part of a "secret" project. (Although I've mentioned it a few times, no one has asked me about it. You, dear readers, have the utmost respect for secrets!)

This project, led by the Arts Resource Centre, was intended to address two issues. One was in-class engagement. What would the classroom experience be like if every student had a tablet computer? Not a smartphone, not a laptop, but a tablet. Like, say, an iPad. All students involved in this project (a couple of intro psychology classes, some economics, and political science) were going to be given free loaner iPads. There would be an option to buy out the lease at the end of term, meaning students would get to use an iPad for free for 4 months, with the option to buy it at a discount. (Did I mention that it would be free?)

I went to seminars put on by Apple, got a loaner iPad 2 (the day before the iPad 3 came out, argh!), and experimented with a lot of apps. Apple even offered us the use of some of their app development team in Cupertino.Cool! In a too-good-to-be-true way.

Unfortunately, the lease cost of the iPads kept going up and up until it was out of our price range. (Hey, someone has to pay for all those iPads!) At that point, the focus shifted to the much less-expensive ASUS-made Nexus 7 tablet. Our experimental team members designed the research side of things, to measure how using tablets would affect student learning and engagement. Those of us on the instructional team used our loaner iPads to work out how we would engage students in class with this technology. The team leader applied for research funding. Everything was clicking along fine--until it all went off the rails.

Two days before the devastating provincial budget was released, we were told that our application for funding had been denied. The little money we had wasn't going to be enough to supply multiple classes of students with tablet computers. The many hours we spent meeting, discussing, reading, and preparing for this project were all for naught. Although, there was still the other part of the project...

I shouldn't really talk too much about the other issue that this project was going to examine--after all, this is still an ongoing research project (even if it is radically scaled back). If I blab about it and reveal our hypotheses, it may affect the results. I think it's safe to reveal that we are interested in how you learn outside of the classroom. In fact, I've got a meeting today with a publisher's representative who is working with me on this project. And we're collecting baseline data in my intro psych class today. Beyond that, I'm afraid everything else is going to have to remain...a secret.

Why aren't you studying?

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