Demystifying the ICR

by Ken Rosenberg

Lab meetings are a good way to keep current on everyone’s projects … and a great way to make sure YOU keep current on your own!

Last Wednesday, our resident satirist, Edo Steinberg, wrote about weekly lab meetings as if they were a coping group for social science junkies. There is always that haunting nugget of truth at the core of all comedy but, generally speaking, it’s not so bad to be a lab rat. The Institute for Communication Research (ICR) is open to all Telecom grad students. It’s a unique facility and a precious resource for those looking for an appropriate workspace – regardless of career trajectory, chosen methodologies, or level of current expertise. It is run by ICR Director Professor Rob Potter and Lab Manager Sharon Mayell.  Even though it’s practically on the other side of campus, it’s worth the trip.

Professor Rob Potter attaches electrodes to the face of Telecom grad Sean Connolly … without IRB approval! *gasp* (It’s not necessary for fun little demonstrations like this.)

The lab is open to all graduate students and can be a resource for all kinds of scholarship. This includes:

People who are new to lab research. As long as you have IRB approval, you can observe any study in progress. Go behind the scenes and watch researchers collect data from participants – just ask the principal investigator on the study, first.

People who are curious enough to pretest. If you have a research question, you might have a study. Still, it could be wasteful to go forward with a full-fledged IRB-approved experiment without first conducting a smaller version with a handful of people. Fun fact: you don’t need IRB approval to hook up your colleagues to equipment and expose them to media. If you have a few friends in the department who, in turn, have a couple of hours to spare, bring them to the ICR and pre-test your hypotheses … or just have fun learning how to use the equipment. Rob believes that the lab can and should always be running. With plenty of time between ongoing studies, there’s always an opening for curious minds.

People who don’t use physiological measures. The ICR is great for all grads, regardless of their preferred methodologies. The ICR uses MediaLab, which is a great software tool for administering basic audiovisual treatments and questionnaires. Lab software can even be used for content analysis. A multipurpose room can serve as a neutral setting for some in-depth interviews. There are computer labs for research with stacks of methodology handbooks.

People who are new to the program. Don’t have a solidified research question? Need to know how to craft a solid survey? Not sure which classes to take next semester? As they get further into the program, many Telecom grads make the ICR their second home. Even if you’re not there to use the facilities, you can bet that someone will be there – someone with experience and good advice. Seek them out!

People who just need a break. The grad-only rooms in RTV are wonderful havens.  However, if you need an even quieter setting with fewer distractions and a slightly more serious tonality, ask Rob for a key to the ICR and have just the right place to study.

People who want to go places.  Sharon has been long helping people conduct their studies.  Recently, her contributions led to her first publication as a co-author. Rob, an alumnus of our PhD program, went to his first lab meeting at IU a long time ago and met with Professor Annie Lang and a few grad-level colleagues. Now, he is a tenured professor who literally wrote the book on psychophysiological measures in communications research.

If you want to find out more about the ICR, check out the website (props to grad Nic Matthews for his assistance in the design). Rob is also happy to give tours. Additionally, attending the brown bags on Fridays can provide glimpses into the ongoing research at the ICR and the forthcoming publications.

Rob sends out an email at the beginning of each semester. Sharon recommends getting on the mailing list, even and especially if you don’t intend to regularly attend lab meetings (she sends out notes from each meeting).

The ICR is not some imposing laboratory, it’s a resource for all Telecom students. So, head over to Eigenmann Hall (6th floor—take the elevators on the right) and see what the ICR can do for your academic career. Who knows … maybe, in time, you could be running the lab!

Students in Rob’s psychophysiology course begin to turn the tables and test his eye-blink startle response.

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