Paid Research Assistants
As a full-time research assistant, your primary obligation will eventually be collecting data. The type of data collection (behavioral, EEG) looks different for each type of study, and will be assigned as opportunities become available. You will also be asked to develop skills in two important areas: (1) computer programming (for experimental design and data analysis), and (2) collection of reliable and valid ratings of symptom severity and cognitive ability. Early on, you will be asked to split your time between developing skills in these two areas, as well as learning how to conduct EEG data collection. The flow chart of activities can be found below. After you have been fully trained in each of these domains, you will split your time between running research participants, analyzing data, programming experiments, and administrative duties.
You will be given your own folder on the server, where you can store work-related documents. Your personal folder will also include a subfolder for storing your ethics training certificates as well as a subfolder for storing your Matlab assignments. You are free to store any additional work-related information (e.g., interesting research articles, data figures, Matlab assignments etc.) in your personal folder.
There are also some general expectations for professional conduct. You’re expected to arrive on time for your scheduled hours, and to have a method for contacting other lab members to cover for you if—for whatever reason—you are held up and not able to meet your research participant at the scheduled time. Professional demeanor with respect to interaction with colleagues and research participants is expected. The dress code for the MAPS Lab isbusiness-casual Monday-Thursday. On Fridays you can wear jeans and a less formal top. At all times, make sure to use common sense—avoid wearing clothing that is too revealing, is too informal (e.g., comfort wear such as pajamas), or features inappropriate language.
Finally, research participant confidentiality and responsible research practice is considered of utmost importance, which includes maintenance of confidentiality and secure data storage. An overview of these issues will be provided in your CITI/HIPAA training, and our lab-specific implementation of these practices will be covered while you shadow participant data collection. If you have questions or concerns about data handling or confidentiality, please feel free to contact Dr. Erickson directly.
Before you are formally integrated in the lab and can begin collecting data, your first week will be focused on completing the on-boarding procedures listed below. If you run into any problems or anything seems unclear, don’t hesitate to ask Laura or any other research staff member for some guidance. Please note that the steps below are not listed in any particular order, but some procedures must be completed first before moving on down the list.
- Jeanette will be in contact with you to schedule two Occmed (Occupational Medicine) appointments. The first appointment is to update any vaccinations that are required by the university to interact with a clinical human population. The second appointment is to retrieve your ID card that’s needed as a form of identification to work in the hospital.
- Begin CITI training as soon as possible, since you must be finished before you can be added to any protocols. If you have not yet created a CITI Program account, navigate to citiprogram.org and complete the necessary steps to sign yourself up. You will need to register for the following courses: (1) Human Research – Biomedical Faculty/Investigators, Research Staff, or Administration Staff and (2) the CITI Conflicts of Interest courses. If you have worked in a human subjects research lab before, you may have already completed some of these CITI training courses. Check with the lab coordinator to find out what trainings may count towards your CITI certification. Once you are done with both trainings, save a copy of both certificates to the following folder: Erickson Lab → 04_IRB → Certificates, and let the lab coordinator know that you have finished.
- Retrieve the L026 key from Dr. Erickson. This key opens the entry doors to the lab and any room within the space.
- Contact Service Desk (x-23456) to set up your BSD ID username and password. NOTE: Jeanette should have put in a request to have your BSD profile already created at this point. If service desk can’t find this request, then you must contact Jeanette and notify her to submit it. Since it can take up to 5 days for an update in the system, please go to Laura so she can set you up with a temporary setting.
- Contact the service desk (x-23456) to set up your UCHAD account, and once you’ve obtained your password, go ahead and set-up your Oracle account. You will receive an email outlining how to complete HIPAA training through your Oracle profile. This training will take no more than 1 hour to get through.
- Set-up your desk phone and voicemail. You must email firstname.lastname@example.org and include your name, phone extension, and a sentence indicating that you want to set-up your voicemail box and associate your name to the phone extension number.
- Email the AURA help desk, AURA-Help@uchicago.edu, for eIRB access. In the body of the email, include your name, Chicago ID #, CNET ID, department and role.
- Install and set-up MATLAB on your desktop (NOTE: if you do not yet have access to your BSD ID username and password, hold off this step until then. Laura will give you a temporary alternative). First, go to https://www.mathworks.com/academia/tah-portal/university-of-chicago-719588.html and select “Sign in to get started.” Create a matlab account with your @uchicago.edu (NOT @yoda) email address and click on “Student” when prompted. Download the latest version to your computer and log in with your @uchicago email and matlab password to activate the license.
- Schedule your New Hire orientation session by going to https://staffnewhire.uchicago.edu/page/your-first-week. Click on the “Orientation Session” link in the first bullet and log in using your CNET ID and password. Please note that all sessions are conducted on Wednesdays from 8:30 am to 12:00 pm, so please plan accordingly.
- Ask Laura to invite you to the MAPS Lab Box account, that will be associated with your @uchicago email.
Matlab is a programming language that has many critical applications in research. Although it will be important for you to learn how to use it in this lab so that you can preprocess the data that you collect, you will find that Matlab is used in a wide variety of laboratories and disciplines. Many first-time users find the notion of learning a programming language daunting; however, the tutorials are designed for the novice programmer, and assistance is available if you get stuck.
The format of Matlab training in this lab is through the use of self-guided tutorials, which are all available on the Z-drive in the volunteer RA folder. You can go through the tutorials at your own pace, making sure to provide Dr. Erickson feedback regarding your comprehension of the information (you will be prompted to do this at the end of each tutorial). If you get stuck in any of the tutorial exercises, you are encouraged to work with other research assistants in the lab to find a solution (this, after all, is the best way to learn!).
Before you can start running participants in experiments, you will need to also be added to the IRB protocol, which cannot happen until you complete your CITI and HIPAA training. Again, make sure to get these steps done as soon as possible!
After an IRB amendment has been submitted to add you to the experiment protocol, and while you wait for Z-drive access, you will begin shadowing a research assistant through data collection procedures. There are several steps to completing any given protocol, including:
- Scheduling participants and using the lab calendars
- Arranging for transportation
- Obtaining informed consent
- Collecting data
- Paying the participant
- Logging relevant information in the lab GUI
- Replenishing the experimental checklist
After you have shadowed 2-3 participants from beginning to end, an observer will watch you complete data collection for 2-5 participants, depending on the complexity of the experiment and need for additional training. The observer will provide you with feedback and support until you are ready to complete data collection procedures by yourself.
In the MAPS Lab, we have several assessments that we complete with patients for the purposes of (1) establishing a diagnosis, (2) measuring the severity of patients’ symptoms, and (3) measuring their overall cognitive ability. As part of your role in this lab, you will be asked to not only learn how to administer these assessments, but how to score them reliably. Though “reliability” can refer to many different things, here I use the term to describe inter-rater reliability. That is, you will need to learn how to score patients’ responses on these assessments in such a way that another research assistant would have arrived at the same score had they been the ones to administer that same assessment. This skill takes some time to develop, but is critical for obtaining valid and consistent clinical data.
As this process takes some time to complete, you will be asked to begin training as soon as possible. You will begin with weekly meetings with Laura who will go over the Structured Clinical Interview for the DSM-V (SCID-V), as well as other clinical measures such as the BPRS, CAINS and YMRS. During these “overview” weeks, you should request that your name be added to all DSR protocols if it has not been added already; this will allow you to shadow other research assistants and eventually practice administering assessments for any study when the time comes.
During the “shadowing” phase of training, you will watch another research assistant administer a measure and then complete ratings along with them. You will also be asked to watch videos of assessments being administered, and you will complete your ratings based on the interview from the video. This will help you become familiar with the type of information that needs to be recorded with a given clinical measure, as well as the use of benchmarks to make your ratings decisions.
After you have shadowed approximately 5 assessment packets, you will be asked to administer the measure yourself while being observed by another research assistant, Dr. Erickson or Laura. The observer will provide feedback for improving your interview skills, and will likely observe several more administrations before you will be allowed to conduct your assessments independently. Finally, even after you are independently administering your measures, you will continue to meet once per week in a Diagnostic Consensus Meeting (DCM) to discuss ratings and diagnostic decisions.
While working in the MAPS Lab, you will be given access to the Z-drive, which is a shared storage folder that can be accessed from any laboratory computer. The Z-drive contains folders from many different laboratories. For our purposes, we only use the Erickson Lab folder, which will contain a number of the tools you will need as a research assistant in the lab.
Begin by making sure that you can locate the Erickson Lab folder and create a shortcut to that folder on your desktop for easy access. Navigate to File Explorer on your computer and find the Z-drive on the bottom left-hand corner. It will appear as: psy [//bsdshares.uchad.uchospitals.edu] (Z/). Double click on this server then open the “Groups” folder. Scroll down until you find the “Erickson Lab” folder. Right click and select “Send to” → “Desktop (create shortcut).” You will now have a shortcut to the Erickson Lab folder on your local desktop for easy access.
Over the course of your time in the MAPS Lab, you will become familiar with the folder structure. Very briefly, you’ll notice that ongoing studies have their own data folder; there is a folder for IRB documentation and administrative duties; and most study staff have their own folder to temporarily store files for their own use. This is also where you will find all Matlab tutorials. You’re free to put anything you would like in your own personal folder and to manage that content however you wish. However, refrain from saving things into other folders or deleting items from other folders unless you have been directed to do so. As you read through the next section of the document (Experimental Procedures) you’ll find more detailed instructions on how to locate specific subfolders and files within the Z-drive.
NOTE: Before moving on, please take the time to thoroughly go over each section of the overview. Once you’ve understood the basic outline of your role as an RA, and you have completed the on-boarding procedures, refer back to the “MAPS Lab Manual” on the website and navigate to “Experimental Procedures.” From recruiting a participant, to wrapping-up an experimental session, this page will serve you as a step-by-step guide for conducting a complete experimental session with a study subject.