I set out to write my top five tips for new experimenters today and found there were really only two universal suggestions I felt I could and should make:
- Simplify your design. There is no complex question that can’t be better asked with a simple one. Simple design means stronger statistics, a clearer interpretation, and less variables to control. If you cannot phrase your core question in a sentence, you need to drastically reduce the scope of your experiment.
- Know your design. Before collecting the data, you should know exactly what kind of data it will be, how many variables, and what kind of statistical test you will use to analyze it. Then you need to collect 4-5 “throw-away” participants and run them through this analysis. This ensures that the data can be readily analyzed in a rigorous way, from start to finish. You will know you are ready when your looking at the successful results of a pilot, which will discover study-killing bugs (of which there are MANY)
Good post. I would add a #3, it’s kind of an aspect of #2 although important enough to stand alone –
Make sure you are one of the pilot subjects. It’s amazing what kind of things you notice when you’re actually in the scanner that you never otherwise would – anything from the fact that the stimuli aren’t very visible, to the fact that the sequence you’re using makes the bed shake, to the fact that the task is just so long & boring that you fall asleep by the end (which is so much easier in the scanner than when you’re sitting up at a computer, which is when you probably piloted the task!)
If you’re not MRI safe, get a trusted fellow researcher to do it. But never assume that non-scientist volunteers will tell you these things because they don’t (I think because they don’t want to look stupid by questioning your authority.)