When Are You Done?

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A question you’d never ask

to a rising or setting sun;

Star, oh star, tell me-

When are you done?

Today, I woke up, took a deep breath, and was able to enjoy a sense of relief that has been a stranger to me for the last 28 days. Four weeks ago marked the beginning of my comprehensive exam, which is the point that has the power to transition you from a student to a candidate in the quest for a PhD. Embracing the reality that the power is ultimately within me, and not within the exam itself, has led me to take on this challenge as I take on everything else— with strength in my gut, and a smile on my face.

A major factor I had to consider in my decision to pursue such a degree online was sacrificing being surrounded by a community of fellow learners, all going through the same stressful crap, at the same stressful time. One of my favorite parts about the program that I selected is that it requires you to attend 3 on ground residencies, in varying cities, in order to interact with the faculty and your peers as you build your dissertation research plan.. or DRP for short. At these residencies, I was able to connect with fellow learners and form a bond outside of our digital discussion boards. The beauty of maintaining such connections is the ability to keep your community of fellow learners in your pocket, as you go back home and continue the journey of PhD-dum.

Another learner I have grown quite close to; a fellow lady boss who has embodied the spirit of “I can do anything I set my heart and mind to”, completed her comprehensive exam a quarter before mine began. Naturally, she was the first person I went to for advice. What she told me was quite simple… don’t procrastinate! Now, completing a degree online means you’ve got to dedicate your time wisely, however, I call myself “Last Minute Lauren,” and often find myself experiencing the phenomenon of— due today… do today!

This was not the case for comps, though. Instead, I found myself experiencing the feeling of— due in four weeks… freak out every day about it until it is done! But giving into the negative side of a stressful situation doesn’t get you very far. In fact, it blinds you from the very tools that you need to keep moving forward. So, once I was able to convince myself that “I’ve got this”, and truly believe it, I was able to start writing with a fierceness ready to take the scientific world by storm.

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So what exactly were my comps like?

A student can’t sit for comps until they have received a passing grade on their DRP, which has been developed throughout those 3 on ground residencies. The DRP is a detailed outline, rooted in psychological theory, advanced statistical methodology, and over 75+ scientific, peer reviewed articles that explains what exactly you plan on conducting a dissertation on.

When I say the word “dissertation”, people cringe. It’s a word that is associated with being long, difficult, boring, and most often related to Ross from Friends. But when I think about dissertation, I think about the love of a particular subject that it represents. If you’re willing to dedicate so much of your time and mental energy to learning so much about one thing, this must be what you were born to do.

On my very first day of grad school, my professor referred to us, those pursuing our Master’s in Psychology, as agents of social change. Everything I learned throughout this program, I learned through this lens, where I focused on how the tool of social media can be used in a positive way. On the first day of class at my online university, I was taughtthat a PhD is not something you get, but rather something that you become. It does not just mean being a learner to the highest degree, but instead, a creator of new knowledge. To me, my dissertation is the culmination of these two definitions, putting forth such effort and ideas into the world that are rooted in the promise of promoting positivity.

While there are hundreds of topics worthy of dissertation research, my particular interest falls within the category of Applied Psychology. Any time I tell someone I study psychology they say… “oh, so you’re analyzing me right now.” Psychology is so often associated with therapy that those outside of this psych world don’t know much about the other facets that exist. Put simply, there are two paths that you can take in studying psychology. If your goal is to become a therapist, your degree include clinical hours and supervised internships, training you to help others sort through their web of thoughts. Or, you can take the other path— a path that I never, ever ever ever thought that I would love as much as I do… the path of research.

As an undergrad, research classes were the most boring lectures I’ve ever had to endure. Statistics. Factors. Variables. Boring. Boring. Boring. The classes on the abnormal mind, on personality, on interactions, THOSE are the ones that really got me going. I learned and I learned and I learned some more, but when it came time to digest, that’s when I realized— hey, wait a second, none of these other classes would exist if it weren’t for research.

Researchers are the ones who dig deep, and ask the questions, based upon questions of theories that those before them have pondered. The next fork in the road comes when selecting what type of research you’d like to conduct. One road is numerical in nature, quantifying constructs into statistical puzzles. The other road, qualitative research, analyzes data in a descriptive way, painting a meaningful picture of a complex situation through methods such as interviews or case studies. I chose to trek along the numerical road of quantitative research, for math has always been a subject that my hyper-analytical mind has found soothing. In my comps, I wrote that “numbers are meaningless unless we can find the patters that lie beneath them”, and that’s something that a nerd like myself finds fascinating.

I always quote my favorite professor in defining science as a way to solve a problem. With the endless problems that exist in the world, science is pretty damn important. My dissertation will begin with the explanation of a problem. But, in science, you can’t just say that something is a problem… you’ve got to back it up. You back it up with the research that’s been created and peer reviewed by other researchers, that is based upon the research that someone else has researched. There a scientific world of interconnected truths that exists outside the realm of what we’re being fed by the media, but, I digress.

I have not digressed too far, though, because the problem that I am explaining in my dissertation is that of a distracted, digitally connected society. It has been said that because of the integration of digital technology into our everyday lives, we are becoming too distracted to consider our own thoughts. That is a terrifying reality. Living life in a thoughtless way makes us so easily controllable, but is something that I think can be remedied if we all choose to practice a little something called mindfulness. Being mindful is a concept that’s based upon Eastern thought, and represents the act of being present. If we are mindful, and choose to use digital technology in a mindful way, we are regaining our power over our own minds.

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A dissertation must not be confused with a plan of action to save the world. Such a mindset in tackling such a lengthy endeavor will drive you crazy. While science is a way to solve a problem, the world is not black and white. Each study that is conducted are the building blocks used that when considered together, become a force towards positive change.

So, I’ll ask again, what exactly were my comps like?

I received 3 separate questions, requiring a response of up to 17 pages per question, with 20+ research articles referenced within each response. Each question will be graded by 3 separate professors, double blind, meaning they don’t know who submitted it, and I won’t know who graded it.

Question 1 asked me to explain the theory my study is based upon, and why this theory is best suited for my topic, by also explaining other theories that I won’t be using. Classic learning… examining what you DO know, by comparing it to what you DON’T know! My study is rooted in Carl Jung’s theory of personality. This is the theory where that four letter typology comes from— like, for example, I’m an ENFJ— meaning I prefer extraversion to introversion, intuition to sensing, feeling to thinking, and judging to perceiving. Without going into 17 more pages of detail, spark notes version is here to explain that I’m interesting in knowing if these aspects of personality are associated with how mindful an individual is.

Question 2 asks about the current literature in the field. The board that approves or denies the right to research (which is my next step in this journey.. *gulp*), will throw your study out so fast if it’s been done before. A study can only have scientific merit if it explains why and how it is filling a gap that exists within the particular field of interest. Such a gap keeps widening within the world of social media psychology, because media itself is changing daily. What I’m doing, that other researchers have not done before, is considering the relationship between one’s personality type and mindfulness, along with how integrated social media use has become within their life.

Finally, Question 3 was where I explained my research methods, starting with my reasoning behind choosing quantitative research over qualitative, in a more words than just, “Math is cool. 😎” Each concept I explain, from personality, to mindfulness, to social media use integration has to be defined through valid and reliable assessments that exist. Then, once I get all of this data, what am I going to do with it?! I’m going to statistically analyze the hell out of it, that’s what I’m gonna do.

What comes next?

In one week, I’ll find out if I pass my comps, or have to make any revisions before resubmitting. Then, I get assigned to a mentor, and have to explain my study to the big, bad, Institutional Review Board, that can make me or break me. After jumping through that hoop, the dissertation games begin! I will write more, and more, and more about the theory and literature my study is based upon. Until finally, it comes time to actually collect the data. After reaching my magic number of about 100 participants, I’ll crunch the numbers and see what statistics has to say about the relationship between personality, social media use integration, and mindfulness. Yada yada yada.. there’s my dissertation!

But when are you done?

Short answer, never. While graduation commences after the dissertation is complete, you are never really done with your PhD. Again, this degree is not something you get, it’s something you become. I am slowly but surely realizing what people mean when they talk about their life’s work. The topic of social media use integration was quantified by researchers that I have been fan girling over since 2012. As a PhD you keep building upon the knowledge that you create, expanding this web of information to inspire others in your field to run with it, adding their own twists and perspectives.

I can say, with a smile on my face that the knowledge I am seeking to create is in fact my life’s work. Because here I am, on my first day that I don’t have to be writing about my dissertation topic… writing about my dissertation topic.

So when you see the rising sun,

And say; oh star, when are you done?

It will simply continue rising;

Her duties only just begun.

Rising. Setting. That consistent sun.

Oh star. Oh star. But when are you done?

Life and learning are but a process;

And such a journey is quite fun.

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Hot Mess Express

Some people say that social media has made us all narcissists. Others argue that we’ve been narcissists all along, and social media is just a mere tool that we use to flaunt our narcissism. In either argument, the point has been made that there is a link between social media and superficiality.

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Social media makes us want to highlight the best parts of ourselves. Why would we want to share our flaws and imperfections with the world? We post the photos that we look nice in, and the moments of our day that we are proud of. We’ll post our most delicious meals, because no one really wants to see the meal that you burned because you left it in the oven too long.

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But, it is those meals that we’ve destroyed that make us human. It is the pimples that we cover with snapchat filters that give us something in common. No one is perfect. Everyone has flaws.

This morning, a friend of mine (& fellow blogger) tagged me in a post with the tag #gloriousmess, where she talked about the parts of herself that she has embraced as her glorious mess-ness. This is related to a global campaign of individuals sharing their flaws, promoting self love for every aspect of who they are. Campaigns like this one force us out of our comfort zone, bringing us face to face with the aspects of who we are that we would rather brush under the rug than scream from the rooftop.

With that being said, here are mine…

My mind is always filled with a million thoughts. I’ll talk so fast that I’ll stumble on my words, because my brain is moving a mile a minute… and that’s without coffee. I’ve got an overabundance of energy, and while that may sound wonderful, it can also cause me to come crashing down. I consciously have to manage where I exert my energy, which usually causes me to feel like I’m letting some aspect of my life falter. I am a Type-A perfectionist who is her own biggest critic. I can be wound so tight that I wear my shoulders up to my earlobes, and have to take zzzquil to get out of my head and off into dreamland (non-habit forming… yeah right). My addictive personality begs to differ.

Mindfulness and awareness are my tools in embracing what makes me a glorious mess. It’s one thing to acknowledge our flaws, but we must take one step further in becoming the best version of ourselves. For me, something that has helped me immensely has been practicing yoga once a week. It allows me to set aside time for myself to give my brain a break from the consistent flow of thoughts swimming though it. It’s teaching me new tools to carry around throughout the week to help clean up my messy mind… starting with the simple reminder to just breathe.

What makes you a glorious mess? Dig deep into your soul until you have reached a point of uncomfortable. Take those parts of yourself that you have tucked under your bed, and display them on your shelf. Embrace who you are— every damn aspect of you.

Chronicles of a Catfish: You Got Got!

Up until Nev and Max hit the MTV scene, a catfish was simply a creature of the sea. Today, a catfish is a creature of the web, who creates a deceptive online “sock puppet” identity. The underlying reasons behind cat fishing may vary, but regardless of the scenario, the red flags remain the same.

Yesterday, between my day of working in the field of social media, and studying the world of social media psychology at the doctoral level, I was baited by a catfish. It’s amusing, and a bit insulting to think that I would appear foolish enough to get got by such an obvious facade— but hey, kudos for trying. With a bit of awareness, analysis, and basic knowledge of social media patterns, it is actually quite easy to not only spot a catfish, but to reveal their true identity…

Reverse Google Image Search

If you’re curious if someone’s selfie is in fact of them self, then turn to the ol’ google reverse image search. To check the accurateness of this tool, first, I uploaded a photo of myself.

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Since that photo has been associated with my blog Out There Social, Google was able to pull the term socialite from a face recognition (creepy, huh?). But know what’s even creepier… when a random stranger’s identity has been used for not one. Not two. But a multitude of online accounts! tumblr_inline_oo4c4viVx41qze00y_1280-1.jpg

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Lesson learned: If you haven’t googled your face yet, have a go at it. You never know who is hiding behind your selfie.

Overeagerness

This catfish could have simply slid under the radar if it weren’t for being such an overeager beaver. Now, it’s not uncommon for a new follower to scroll through and like a magnitude of photos. However, when hours pass between the initial add and the liking binge, a red flag is raised.

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Easy killa, I know my photos are great and all, but something’s up.

Dig a Little Deeper

It almost seems silly to call this “digging a little deeper”, because with basic knowledge of social media, this next step is quite obvious. When was the account created? Oh, the first photo was posted 3 days ago… that’s totally not suspicious. Please note my sarcasm. 80 likes on your first photo posted, with no hashtags? Do they come from accounts with names like ~^ مبآرك الـ فطيم ^~ ? Seems legit. How many followers does the account have? 310.. in 3 days? More power to ya! As someone who is no stranger to the “fake follower” game, they’re quite easy to spot. Are they beneficial fillers to create an influential social media page? In moderation and with reason, sure. But an unbalanced ratio (general rule of thumb, any more than 5% is too much) you’re fake af.

It goes down in the DM

This goes hand in hand with overeagerness. Not all catfishes are created equal. Some anonymous accounts are created with their purposes right out in the open.

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A big reason that catfishes invent themselves is as way to get nude photos. I guess these fish have never heard of pornhub? In any event, the thrill of getting photos from someone you know under an anonymous facade, whether it is an alternative identity or a “send pics for shoutouts” type page, may be their motivating factor. And the thing that keeps them going, is that people actually get baited.. hook, line & sinker.

Will the real (insert catfish here), please stand up?

Now, you may be wondering if there’s a way to catch your catfish before they catch you. Sure, with the help of Max, Nev, and MTV it’s been done over and over again. However, Instagram has developed some handy new algorithms that allow you to be your own detective, with little to no effort. Did you know, that when scrolling though the list of people an Instagram account follows, the ones that are connected to you by some degree are the ones that appear first? Then! Instagram also installed this handy feature that when you click on an account that you’re not following, it says “followed by ___”, naming your friends that follow that person. You know, I’m still pretty upset with Instagram for getting rid of their maps, but they sure have given us some safeguards to protect ourselves against the sneaky catfish of the world.

The most important practice behind scientific theory: patterns. When the same name keeps popping up over and over and over again… it’s safe to say you’ve found your culprit. Science, bitch.

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A note to my catfish

Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me. I’m not sure what the reason is behind this new identity of yours, but if it makes you happy, then rock on dude. Just know, I’m not one to get got. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I’ll write a blog about it.

I’m Not Done Yet. From Finstas to Finding Yourself

 

“Protopia is a state of becoming, rather than a destination.” – Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable. 

As I flip through my copy of “The Inevitable”, my mind wanders to the corners of its own protopia. Kevin Kelly describes it as a state that is better today than yesterday, although it may just be by a little bit. A Protopia is the realistic future we should be striving towards. It’s the unavoidable tomorrow that will arrive come sunrise…

As a working member of this technological society, I know first hand that we are morphing. We’re growing, expanding, and changing, every. damn. day.

You may be reading this and thinking, “duh.” We’re not static beings, but instead are multi-faceted humans with the capability to learn and morph with our environment… This is universally understood. However, how often do you stop and think about how our technological presence plays a part in all of this?

Maybe you’re one of those naysayers who believes that social media is the devil. Maybe you’re a child of the 00′s, who doesn’t know life without an online identity. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, we can all agree on one thing: the internet isn’t going anywhere. So, let’s come together & brainstorm ways to use these intertwined virtual networks to create a very real protopia.

Create

Unless you live under a rock, it is likely that you are a member of at least one social network. Whether its Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, or a blog platform like Tumblr- you have created a virtual portrayal of real life you. I had an interesting conversation with my 17 year old sister yesterday about this topic. She was talking about how important “aesthetic” has become, and the great lengths her peers will go through to completely scrap an old look to become something new. “Finstas” are being created, and for all y’all who aren’t in high school, these are fake instagram accounts used to post photos that you only want your close friends seeing. It’s not even a matter of these posts being nasty or offensive, these are typically just photos that don’t go with the users “real” insta aesthetic.

The question then becomes, what is real? 

If you scroll all the way down to my very first Instagram post, I’m still the same ol’ Lauren I am today. Just younger, and strapped with an iPhone 4. The core of a social media identity is to represent who you are, but in a virtual world. This is sort of a crazy concept to wrap your head around, so it does not come as a surprise to me that we’re running rapid with finstas and gym posts, when we haven’t once lifted a weight IRL.

On or offline, there is a (not so) simple solution to this: self awareness. 

How do you define yourself? How would you describe yourself to others?

When I was in 6th grade, I shopped at Hot Topic and listened to Good Charlotte. In 7th grade, I had a change of heart and style, and started shopping at PacSun. The middle school years are when you’re searching for your identity. Trying on different masks, seeing which one fits. If I had an Instagram back then, do you know how many punk rock princess posts I’d have to delete before setting foot in PacSun…

It is concerning to me that kids have to go through this process of finding and creating themselves with a smartphone permanently attached to their hip. Social media has become a window to the world, and rather than developing their own identities, we’re clinging to the identities of others. Everyone wants contoured skin, a million followers, and an A1 aesthetic… but are losing touch with their own reality in the process.

Don’t get me wrong, if anyone is a social media advocate – it’s me. But, I am not blind to its dangers, In fact, I’ve made it my life work to create an anecdote.

Educate

We’re always learning, whether we realize it or not. While scrolling though Instagram, you’re learning about the world. About what people ate for lunch. About protopias. Literally– anything and everything.

This classroom is an interesting one, though. With the exception of posts that are created with the intention of being educational, most users aren’t putting their content out there with the thought, “wow, someone is really going to learn something from this.” But we should. What if everyone on social media stopped and thought for a second, “what can people learn from this?” before hitting that – post – button? Unrealistic, I know. But this can be flipped. What if everyone on social media stopped and thought, “what can I learn from this?” as they are scrolling though online content. This type of open-mindedness and thirst for knowledge can lead to a more fully developed sense of self. Think about thinking. Don’t just get lost in the mindless clatter that social media can be.

Inspire

Perhaps content we see or post isn’t meant to teach a lesson, but instead has the power to spark someone’s imagination. At the core of the platform that I’ve created, Out There Social, my goal is to inspire others to leave their comfort zone. This is the fuel that ignites the fire of everything I capture, ponder, write, and share. This is why I do what I do. This is why I love social media. Because I can reach the masses with messages that are so near and dear to my heart. I left my comfort zone in the dust years ago, and have been virtually screaming from the rooftops for everyone else to do the same.

We must realize the power we have as social media beings. Anything you post online, is seen by someone. It may not be a crowd of millions, but an audience is an audience. You have the conscious choice to decide how you will use this virtual stage. You have the free will to portray yourself to this audience anyway you choose. Your best bet, be yourself. Easier said than done, when most of us have a hard time grasping who we are.

Think of yourself as an online source of inspiration. Use your voice to challenge others to think for themselves. Allow people to walk in your shoes, but give them the freedom to tie their own laces. Close your eyes an imagine your own protopia. Then, get out there and make it happen.