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The experiment gremlins

Things we’re looking good. They were, but the longer the experiment the more gremlins come out. If you’ve ever done any sort of research you’re familiar I’m sure. You test and retest equipment over and over, but no matter how many times everything looks happy, well the day of the experiment everything goes wrong that can go wrong. It’s amazing we can even do science with our little gremlin pals just waiting for us to try it.

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More experimental prep

Is this our setup or is this electronic equipment from the late 50’s? I’ll never tell… (okay, let’s be real, this is a lot nicer looking than our cable mess).

Things have been busy, welcome to my life. But seriously, there is a lot happening right now, most of which is top secret (shhh don’t tell anyone). But as usual, leading up to an experiment, there’s a lot of prep work that needs to happen. Mostly because things always go wrong and we want to maximize our chances for them to go right. So let’s dive into what it’s like the second time.

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Work and School

Let’s face it, if you’ve ever gotten any sort of degree, you know it’s a job all its own. You can even say you’re a student on almost all things that ask for employment, so it’s not a new idea. When you start a PhD or in some cases, even your Masters, you even get paid for your work, albeit not great. So I was always impressed, and surprised, by people who work while pursuing a degree because I knew I could never do something like that, then I did.

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Success! Journal paper 4 of 4

I’ve been waiting for this day for years, but here we are. The fourth and final paper, what I’m calling “last paper” has been accepted for publication as of this morning! It’s been a long, hard journey and this paper didn’t make anything easier, but it’s almost over. It just needs to go to typesetting and that will be the last of last paper. As with the others, it’s time to look back and the journey last paper took and how I finally got here.

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Living through history

When I was a kid I thought history was something we read about in text books. World wars were from a “less civilized” time, we are a modern people after all. With the fall of the USSR along with the start and end of the gulf war not too long after, I thought, perhaps foolishly, that history was a thing of the past. I never suggested I was the smartest of children. But here we are, living through history. I didn’t realize it could be so painful, then again maybe if I had paid more attention I would’ve known.

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Data mountain

Well the week is over and I’ve barely been able to drag myself out of bed it’s been so exhausting. Unfortunately, we’re doing it all again next week too, so it’s not over yet. But the first of two test experiments are done, I say test because these don’t actually count toward our original set of experiments we’re doing later this summer. Meaning there’s going to be a lot of work coming my way, fun times.

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A mental health day

Let’s face it, it’s been a busy…. life. This week has been the longest month for me and we’re doing it all again next week, so I need a minute. Mostly my brain is tired and since it needs to do a lot of work tomorrow I want to give it the day off and just relax. So once again I’m reminding, mostly myself, that it’s okay to do that from time to time. My goal has been to write something daily while doing my PhD and while this arguably sort of counts, even if I wrote nothing (like what happened recently), it’s a good reminder that not doing something doesn’t set you back to zero. So for today I’m taking a little break for myself. Heck, depending on how tomorrow goes, don’t be surprised if I take the day for myself too.

Over the years I’ve learned that mental health is a balancing act, don’t mind me while I shift the balance a little.

More on experimental prep

I kind of wish my equipment looked this cool…

Since we have a rather large and cumbersome set of experiments happening it’s my job to make sure they go off without too much trouble. I say too much trouble because no matter how much you plan, test, and retest, something will go wrong. Heck it may not even be wrong on our end, it may be wrong on someone else’s side, but that’s why we plan. So once again I’m talking about how we prep for our experiments.

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Forgotten inventions, or so you want a patent

Fun fact about me, I enjoy making things. You know, in case that wasn’t obvious. But, once upon a time I thought it would be smart to make sure I protected my ideas so I hold one patent based on something I came up with. Or at least I did have one patent, now once the paperwork is done it will be two. Unlike my in progress papers I can actually freely talk about this, but for the most part I think the journey is the important part of the story.

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Word play

Come on in…

It’s been a day, so I don’t have a whole lot of energy to write or to think for that matter! But my brain works in mysterious ways, even to me. So I thought I would talk about a word that somehow bounced into my head and as any good brain does, it made some very odd connections. Today we’re talking about the word sane. Or rather the word insane, with me so far? Because this is where we get a little crazy.

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The end of a story

I love to read and if you do too you can probably empathize with this. What is it about the end of a story that makes the disconnect so painful? Maybe painful isn’t the right word, jarring perhaps? Abrupt? Whatever the adjective you choose closing one book leaves a world of possibilities for the next, but for me, there is always a bit of a hangover jumping from one universe to the next. Leaving me to wonder if that’s a common phenomenon.

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A big revision

Ever have a really good idea, maybe even a “big idea?” Well I’ve apparently had a few, but some are bigger than others and currently we’re diving into some very intense experiments using my “big idea,” but we’re running into certain limitations. While I could happily call it here, not put the effort into doing anything about it, and just live with it, that’s not happening. For anyone who knows me, that’s not even an option. So instead big idea is getting a big revision.

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Making greatness

I do love making… new friends.

If you build it, they will come? Okay not quite, but if you can buy it you need to make it. That seems to be the theme for the next few weeks as we’re getting ready to start several different experiments and the scope of them is massive. Not so much the experiments themselves, but everything that is going into them and everything we are going to get out of them.

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Adventures in experimental design

When did people start trusting me with experimental design? I have no idea, but here we are and I’m helping come up with a series of experiments we will be doing in roughly one week… seven days. So between now and then, we have a lot of things to figure out. We have a rough idea about what will happen, but there are a lot of moving parts and it turns out we are probably missing a few things so we’re going to have to get creative if we really want to get to the bottom of things… fun times for all!

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Whatever it takes

Well, yesterday happened. If you’ve been following around for awhile the last time I didn’t write a post we were dealing with apocalyptic weather (as in no power bad). So I think after years of being consistent, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought something bad had happened. In reality, there was just a mountain of work and no time to relax. I don’t like pushing myself like I had to yesterday, but it was for a good cause or at least I think so, or I wouldn’t have done it.

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Robot paper is live!

sad beat up old retro robot on a wooden floor shot from above

Finally! After years and years of trying to get this published I finally have the paper out in the world. Okay, to be fair it was accepted about a month ago and I did a deep dive into the paper itself (here), but it feels a little more official now that it’s out there in the wild, or at least open-access like it should be! Granted I’ve told this story before, but indulge me as I recount for the final time why this paper almost killed me, literally.

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The mysterious data

I sometimes miss the days when the answers were in the back of the book. At this point I would take even just having answers that are semi related to the questions I’m trying to work out. Being a researcher is a double edged sword. On one side, for a brief moment in history you will know something that no other person in the world knows. On the other, how do you know that it’s correct? Questioning your results is an important part of research and right now, there’s more questions than answers.

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Mounting pressure

After yesterday’s win, you would think things would be smooth sailing, but alas that isn’t in the cards! I mean yesterday’s good news still applies thankfully, but wow did I wake up to a flurry of emails and now a mountain of work that all needs to be addressed all at the same time. Wait, is there an echo in here? I feel like we’ve done this before…

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A big result

night scene showing young boy with a little moon in his hands sitting on meadow done digitally

I’m stepping away from my planned sharing of the notes from my lecture to bring breaking news! For those who don’t understand what’s going on, a while ago I had an idea, a “big idea” that I’m convinced will be the thing I’m known for… if it works. And our first attempt was not great. In fact, we got absolutely nothing. The second and third attempts however we were ready and it looked like we had something. The question is what did we have?

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The first lecture

The thing is today?! What, how did that even happen? Yes, I know the linear nature of time, but wow does time have no meaning these days. What am I talking about you ask? Well today is my first lecture, hence the title of the post. Unfortunately I’m not exactly ready, but I am going to be recycling a lot of the stuff I used last year when I taught this class, so that shouldn’t be a huge problem…. or will it?

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From imagination to reality

It’s amazing what a good night of sleep will do for a person. Hopital-PI often has what he calls his “shower ideas” and frankly, my “big idea” was also a shower idea, but I find that the best ideas come to me when you’re not even thinking about them. When you step away from a problem and focus on something else, your brain just does something magical and works out the solution without you even realizing it, sometimes anyway.

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A dissertation dilemma

Okay, since I’m still waiting on my new and fancy toys to arrive for my dissertation I’ve been debating about going through the whole thing once again using the equipment I already have access to. Since there’s a limited amount of time I may just have to power through and go ahead with data collection using the old equipment, but it’s still anyone’s guess if I’ll do that because frankly I’m not sure it will be worth it. Since it’s up in the air, I figure I can write out my thought process and hopefully figure it out one way or the other.

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The dead don’t speak

In combat it’s easy to forget when someone is killed. Forget isn’t the right word, but you’re fighting to survive, so you literally don’t get the chance to process the loss in the moment. All good things come to an end however and it’s often not right away that it sinks in. You experience that fresh loss for a long time before it sets in. You forget that the person has died. You look for them in the group you’re serving with until it clicks. The truth is, the most painful part of loss isn’t the initial death. It’s having to live loss that over and over before it finally becomes your reality.

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Finalizing the figures

Okay technically they are videos, not figures, but they are demonstrating things that could be shown in figure format if we had the space. In fact, we do have one figure in the paper I’m dealing with that has stills from the video demonstrating some of the things we found. With the finalization of the response for “last paper” I need to sit down and get the code fixed to redo some of these videos, which will be a challenge.

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The mental illness monster

Fun fact those of us who suffer from mental illness are more likely to harm ourselves than others. That isn’t to say it doesn’t happen, but the rate of violent behavior among people who have mental illness is no higher than the average. So when a politician, who isn’t even qualified to speak on the topic, much less give an option, blames mental health for…. oh I don’t know someone shooting a school, it makes me angry. Being an asshole isn’t a mental illness and going on a murder spree doesn’t qualify as a mental illness. The problem isn’t mental illness, it’s access to firearms. Yes, I’m am a monster, but the only one in danger is me.

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Summer schooled

It’s that time of the year again! It’s summer term, which means that on both the school and hospital sides we will be getting students for summer internships. This is good in that we’ll have some extra hands for experiments, but it also means that we’re teaching the students how we operate in the lab. The difference between the school experience and the hospital experience is that on the school side they take actual lecture style courses to help get them up to speed. Which means someone has to teach those courses… I’m one of those someones.

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Challenges in data collection

It had to come sooner or later, I needed to finally take a look at some of the data I collected for my dissertation. The problems were many and the biggest issue is that I’ve never worked with the software we used to collect the data, so there were issues… lots of issues. So today let’s recap the problems I’ve faced and hopefully I the next time around this won’t be so damned painful.

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Semi-final paper edits

Okay, with all the “big” things happening the past few days I really need to switch gears and focus on the other major deadline I’ve got coming up and that’s the response to “last paper,” which is still not due for another 2-3 weeks I believe so I still have time, but it’s not just me that needs to sign off on it, it’s all my collaborators and that is the problem. Mostly because last paper took so long in part due to disagreements within our group.

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The big payoff

Yesterday I finally had the chance to get not one, but two new datasets! Those datasets were for a project I’m calling “big idea.” In my mind, it will change the way a lot of things are done, advance science, and I even joked with hospital-PI that I would need to retire after we publish because I’ll never do anything better. I have a lot of hope for big idea, but the first dataset we got was a fail, so the question was, what happened and did we fix it?

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The big data haul

It’s been one hell of a week and it’s only Monday. Experiment days are always hard, but when you’re doing multiple experiments in one day in, let’s say not so ideal situations, it can be hard. But we’ve made it out the other side! Unfortunately, just because the experiment is over, doesn’t mean things get any easier. At least in this case, because now comes the hard part.

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The value of work

Close-up Of Jobs Text On Wooden Blocks Over Keyboard In Office

I recently saw a post on Twitter about the lack of postdoc applicants and it made me think about how little we really get paid. While inflation and the general cost of living (e.g., cell phone, transportation, housing, etc.) is increasing at an enormous rate, the amount we get paid as students or even postdocs is so low it’s almost insulting. Which highlights so many problems all at once it’s hard to figure out where to start the discussion.

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Calm before the storm

It’s going to be a busy week and while I feel like I need to say that every week, this week in particular is going to be challenging. There are several experiments scheduled that I’ll be in charge of, or at least have a big role in, on top of papers (multiple), and other work. So instead of getting a head start, I’ve been trying to take a break. Because if you’re going to have to push yourself, there’s no point in starting the race exhausted.

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Another year of lazy goals

It looks like today is officially the end of the school term for me. It’s somewhat artificial since I was never taking any real classes anyway, but we need to mark time somehow and the school term works as well as anything I guess. But with the end of the semester, we have the start of academic summer, which means it’s time for me to plan out my goals. My lazy goals that is, or how I make sure I take some much needed rest.

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Another big experiment!

Things have been off to a rocky start for my “big idea” there’s a lot of moving parts, people to coordinate with, and things to manage. It’s no surprise things haven’t gone well since we started trying to get this project off the ground, but we’re still trying and that has to count for something… right? As it turns out, we may have lucked out this next week!

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New equipment

Things are looking up! After last weeks attempt at collecting data for my PhD, I realized how important it would be for the new equipment I requested to be ordered and in my hands the next time I’m collecting data. Unfortunately there’s a process to getting new equipment and despite having funding for my project, there is no direct way to spend the money. Instead there is a winding path you need to follow in order to get equipment in a research lab.

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How to save a life

You’re on a boat in the middle of the ocean and you’re taking on water. You suddenly find yourself with your head barely above the water in the middle of nowhere. The depths of the ocean here are unfathomable, you’re tired, you hurt, the ocean keeps fighting your every move. You’re one wave away from death. No salvation is coming because this is depression and to everyone around you, you look perfectly normal.

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A belated thank you

As of yesterday I now know the schedule for the DARPA Risers 2022 conference. Or rather just the conference part itself, the website makes no mention of the Risers program specifically, again adding to the mystery. If the confirmation email I got was any indication, the information will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. So I now know who will be speaking at the event and I’ve discovered the universe isn’t without its own sense of humor.

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The next big experiment

Well things are moving fast around here, like I predicted they would this year. Of course, things are currently going better than I had hoped, but that could change. Last week was a busy one and next week will be no different, but next week is a particularly big week, because I’m going to be doing another experiment for a somewhat different project. Yep, another “big idea” experiment is coming.

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The last paper response

Well it’s been a few weeks since I got the response back for “last paper” since I have roughly three weeks left to finalize all the edits they requested, this weekend I plan on tackling most/all of it so that we can get the ball rolling with my collaborators so I can (hopefully) get the response back to the editors before the deadline they set. Because there is a deadline and I do not want to be late, mostly because it will make more work for me if I am.

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The first time is always the hardest

If something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Especially when it’s the first time. I’ve got my first dataset for my PhD dissertation, but it was a battle of wills and the technology made sure to let me know, it’s in charge here. But at the end of the day, I got what I wanted, so it’s a win, even if it’s a bit of a loss too. Frankly, I’m so exhausted right now so forgive me if this post is all over the place, well more than usual.

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Experiment prep

Tomorrow is my first experiment! To get ready I have a few loose ends to tie up before the big day. Mostly I just need to write everything out, make a list of items I need to set up, organize a few things, the stuff no one thinks about when they head off to an experiment. Tomorrow is going to be bumpy, but the first time always is, so best to be prepared.

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Yet another book chapter update!

Well if the universe isn’t apologizing for the last few decades of hell and torment, I’m not sure what’s going on, but good things seem to be happening. I’m not going to question it so when I saw an email recently about the latest with the book chapter I got very excited. It sounds like the book, along with my chapter, will be coming out very soon.

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When DARPA calls

Fifteen years. It’s been roughly fifteen years since I started this journey and the dream was always the same. We all have stupid dreams as a kid, we want to be astronauts and sports stars, but the odds aren’t in our favor. We’re told to be realistic. Sorry kid, your dreams are too big. You need to shrink yourself to fit into the tiny box we as a society provide you. I was never good at following instructions, so maybe that’s why the past fifteen years have been a special kind of hell, but today, today made it all worth it.

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The first dissertation experiment

One of my favorite photos I took years ago of my labmate gelling a participant for an experiment. The syringe holds a conductive gel, the needle is blunt tip so it doesn’t hurt or puncture the skin. The gel bridges the air gap between the scalp and cap because hair gets in the way.

It had to happen eventually! But not today, this Friday however will mark the first of several experiments I will be undertaking in the (currently) slow march to my PhD. In an effort to help people understand that experiments aren’t just something that happens at the scheduled time, let’s take a look behind the scenes at what I need to do between now and Friday to get ready. It’s going to be a looong week.

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Mental health and medication

Pills

Mental illness is like any other issue with the body. There are effects from it, there are treatments for it, and like someone who’s diabetic, you (probably) lack the correct balance of chemicals in the brain and there are medications for that. Of course we live in a society where a small, but vocal, group of people are pushing for “purity.” You don’t need medication, you can just eat healthy, think your way through, change your attitude. That is a lie and one that is deadly. You cannot fix mental illness through diet and exercise anymore than you could ask a diabetic to start producing insulin on their own.

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Another day off

When I started the 365 days of academia project, the goal was simple. Write daily, that was it. In hindsight it was both a lofty goal and one that has been as rewarding as it has been challenging. It turns out I have a lot to say about a lot of topics and despite feeling like I would run out of something to write about, almost three years later I still have things I want to say.

However, we all need a break sometimes. So for my mental and physical health, this is all I’m writing for the day. I hope my little break reminds you to take one as well. Because rest, like food, water, and shelter, is part of the process of living, not separate from it. It is certainly not a reward for doing something, so kick your feet up and take a break. I’m sure you could use one too.

The myth of “better”

It’s somehow Friday, finally. It’s been one hell of a week and things are slowly ramping up so it’s only going to get worse. There are a lot of moving parts happening right now and I’m just trying to keep a handle on things, so if mental health seems to be the theme of the week, then well it’s with good reason. Also it’s mental health awareness month. Which, somewhat ironically, I was not aware of until recently. So the theme of my life fits the month I guess.

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The mental health stigma

You don’t look depressed. Chances are if you struggle with depression you’ve heard that once or twice, or dozens of times on a seemingly never ending loop. If you have a broken bone you can be diagnosed via an x-ray or CT. If you have cancer, there are blood tests or MRI scans that can catch it. If you get sick, rapid tests or PCR will tell you if it’s COVID. But how do you diagnose depression?

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It’s okay to not be okay

It’s okay to not be okay. The world is on fire, almost literally, people are having rights stripped away before our eyes, the environment is a disaster, global warming is going to kill everyone in probably very horrible ways and no one cares, and the pandemic is being ignored, much like everything else on this very long list. In the face of all of this and far more than I can list, I will let you in on a secret. It’s normal to not be okay right now.

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Freedom fight

Well yesterday I quietly had a small breakdown in the good sense because I was finally getting the care I wanted from my healthcare providers and when I logged onto twitter for the evening I found a flurry of activity regarding something the supreme court was doing. Wow was I in for a shock when I realized what was going on. I hoped that in my lifetime I wouldn’t see something like this happen. Afterall we were slowly chipping away at the problem, but here we are.

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