Month: June 2014

Just a few days of meditation might be enough to boost attention and memory

Do you practice meditation to relax, alleviate depression, or restore feelings of inner peace? If so, you’ll be happy to hear about research out of UNC, Charlotte suggesting that brief meditative practice not only improves mood and alleviates anxiety, but also boosts certain aspects of cognition, such as attention and memory.

This finding comes from a study conducted in 2010 by researchers Fadel Zeidan of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Susan K. Johnson of the Department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Their paper is published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

To investigate how meditation affects cognition, the team of researchers recruited 49 students from UNC, Charlotte, none of which had any prior experience meditating, and divided them into two groups – an experimental meditation group and a no meditation control group.

Students in the experimental meditation group received meditation training based on basic Shamatha skills for 20 minutes a day for a total of 4 days. Meanwhile, students in the no meditation control group listened to an audio recording of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” over the same period of time (20 minutes a day for 4 days) and did not engage in any meditation.

In addition to administering several questionnaires to assess the participants’ mood, anxiety, and feelings of mindfulness, the researchers administered a series of cognitive tests designed to measure attention and memory (see below for details). These cognitive tests were administered at two different times during the study – before training began on Day 1 and after training concluded on Day 4.

The question was simple. Would a mere 4 days of meditation training be enough to produce measurable improvements in attention and memory? Their findings suggest the answer is yes. (more…)

Tar Trek: A new series of posts about science in the “Tar Heel” State

Introducing Tar Trek, a new series of regular posts here on Charlottology dedicated to showcasing and promoting discussion of the latest scientific research going on across the “Tar Heel” State.

Below is a quick rundown on what you can expect to find in this new series…

tar trek logo_2

In each Tar Trek post, I’ll provide a brief overview of the methods and major findings of a scientific study that was carried out at a college or university in North Carolina. I’ll also offer a critique of each study, based on what I see as being the major strengths and weaknesses of the research and based on my assessment of how I think the research could be of practical, real-world importance.

I’ll kick things off shortly in the next few days with a review of a paper published in the field of Cognitive Psychology, given that this is my field of expertise. However, in future posts I hope to delve into other fields of science as my time and understanding of the material permits.

In full disclosure, I should make clear that until now I’ve rarely taken the time to read many scholarly articles that weren’t at least tangentially related to my field. As such, my summaries and critiques of studies from branches of science very far outside my field (e.g., Quantum Physics, Molecular Biology, Chemistry, etc.) might at times be somewhat superficial, at least as I’m starting out here.

Nonetheless, I’ll do my best to communicate all scientific findings as accurately as possible without making too many bone-headed mistakes. That said, I’m bound to get some things wrong when writing about areas of research with which I’m unfamiliar, so feel free to chime in with corrections if you know more about a topic than I do. After all, sharing and discussing the exciting research we have going on in our state is the ultimate goal here.

Stay tuned for more…

B.K.

Finding the Best Job in Charlotte

Now that college graduation season is behind us, it’s time for new graduates to head out into the workforce and start looking for jobs.

And to provide some help to those looking to stay in Charlotte or relocate to the area, I’ve compiled some data on the labor market in the general region comprising Charlotte, NC, Gastonia, NC, and Rock Hill, SC.

Specifically, clicking on the image below will bring up three interactive graphics about the labor market in the Charlotte region:

Graphic A) A list of the top 40 employers in Charlotte, rank-ordered according to the number of people employed at each company.1*

Graphic B) Average annual salaries for specific occupations and major employment sectors in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill region.2

Graphic C) A scatter plot comparing median annual salaries for various occupations in Charlotte to opportunities for employment, as indicated by number of people currently employed in each occupation.2

*Side note: Remember that Huffington Post article from back in March 2014 about how Charlotte is one of the weirdest cities in the country? Well, contrary to the author’s claims, the top 3 employers in the area are NOT Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Red Ventures (though RV continues to grow). On the contrary, the three largest employers in Charlotte are Carolinas Healthcare System (32,500 employees), Wells Fargo (20,600 employees), and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System (18,143 employees). Click here, here, and here to read our other posts dedicated to fact-checking this Huffington Post article.

Click on the image below to view interactive graphics of the labor market in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill region:

CLT_Labor_Stats

Instructions on How to Use the Interactive Graphics:

Note that Graphics A, B, and C can be sorted and filtered in a number of different ways to provide different perspectives on the labor market in the Charlotte area. Below are some instructions to help you get the most out of what each graphic has to offer.

1. Graphic A can be sorted alphabetically by company name or by number of employees (highest to lowest by default). You can re-sort the data by hovering your cursor over either column header (i.e., “Company” or “# Employees”) and clicking on the icon that appears.

Similarly, Graphic B can be sorted alphabetically by “Title” or by numeric value for each column of data, such as Median Salary, Mean Salary, Total Employed, 10th Percentile Wage, 25th Percentile Wage, 75th Percentile Wage, 90th Percentile Wage, or Location Quotient.

A note about this last column of data – sorting by Labor Quotient can be helpful for identifying a type of work that is relatively unique to the Charlotte area. As defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

“The location quotient represents the ratio of an occupation’s share of employment in a given area to that occupation’s share of employment in the U.S. as a whole. For example, an occupation that makes up 10 percent of employment in a specific metropolitan area compared with 2 percent of U.S. employment would have a location quotient of 5 for the area in question.”

2. Graphics B and C can be filtered to display data for either specific occupations (e.g., Family and General Practitioners, Physics Teachers, Postsecondary, Retail Salespersons, etc.) or major employment sectors (e.g., Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations, Education, Training, and Library Occupations, Sales and Related Occupations, etc.). Sorting in this way can be accomplished using the filters labeled B.1 and C.1 for graphics B and C, respectively.

3. Graphics B and C also support keyword searches. For example, if you wanted to see a list of all occupations containing the word “teacher” rank-ordered by median salary, you would simply set the filter in B.1 to “detailed” (for specific occupations) and then type “teacher” into the filter labeled B.2.

4. When viewing detailed occupations in Graphic C (i.e., when filter C.1 is set to “detailed”), the data can be filtered according to major employment sector by using the filter labeled C.3. This permits you to view the relationship between median salaries and opportunities for employment for only those occupations that fall under a chosen employment sector (e.g., Management Occupations).

5. Finally, hovering your cursor over a data point in Graphic C will bring up information related to that specific data point (occupation title, median salary, mean salary, total employed, etc.).

All occupation and sector titles displayed in Graphics B and C are the official designations used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Sources for Data:

1 Charlotte Chamber of Commerce (data recent as of 2012)

2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. May 2013 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates.

Average Salaries for 681 positions at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Earlier this month the Charlotte Observer published their online database of salaries for employees of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS).

This searchable database lists the total compensation for 18,515 CMS employees between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014, with total compensation defined as “base salary, bonuses, state longevity pay, stipends for extra work and any other source of reportable income earned during that year.”

Although the Observer’s database is helpful for learning what a specific CMS employee earns (a.k.a., snooping) , it’s not quite as helpful for figuring out the average income across all employees with the same job title (e.g., middle school principal, 6th grade teacher, etc.), something that would probably be useful to anyone considering applying for a job at CMS or going into the field of education more generally. And let’s face it, anyone who’s planning on being a teacher in North Carolina these days would do well to be as informed as possible about the current state of affairs in our state before making any serious commitments. Indeed, compared to the rest of the country North Carolina ranks near the bottom in terms of both average as well as starting teacher salary.

So, I compiled the data from the Observer’s CMS salary database and calculated the median income for each position. Distributions are also shown for positions with more than one income value. The distributions reflect what is called the interquartile range – the distance between the 3rd quartile (income value at the 75th percentile) and the first quartile (income value at the 25th percentile).

For points of reference, I’ve also included the median income for men in Charlotte ($38,767, as denoted by the dashed blue line) and the median income for women in Charlotte ($29,218, as denoted by the dashed pink line).

You can view the median incomes and distributions for each position at CMS by clicking on the image below:

cms salaries

Note that the data can be sorted by income (highest to lowest or vice versa) or alphabetically by position. Also, hovering your cursor over a data point will bring up the following information about a position:

  • Position name
  • Count of number of cases (number of CMS employees in this position)
  • Median income
  • 25th percentile
  • 75th percentile