We're a little crazy, about science!

To code is divine, to err is human

Yesterday we had a problem. My data was not playing nice. It decided that I didn’t really have what I thought I should be seeing and that left me… anxious to say the least. Since this is all so new, one misstep could ruin everything. To make things worse, there was one of three choices and none of them were good news.

The first was an error in my code, this would’ve been the “best” case and if this was the issue at least it’s something that could be fixed. The second was that I genuinely didn’t have the stuff I thought I did! That would’ve spelled the end of my “super secret technique” and thus I would be readjusting my trajectory for my PhD. The last was that the thing I was looking for was specific to a certain condition, since we were trying something slightly different, maybe that didn’t elicit the thing I wanted to see. Well, we have a somewhat answer…

Welcome to another day of what does a PhD candidate do? Technically I’m calling this 365 days of academica (year 2!), but who cares about the details? This is my daily chronicle of the trials and failures as a researcher and someone just trying to get that damned degree. It’s been a journey and this year is going to be the most interesting year yet! Okay, maybe I’m bias, you be the judge! With the intro out of the way for the newcomers, let’s dive in.

Yesterday I had a problem. I didn’t want to talk about it and to I forced myself to do it. There was an issue with the early results of my experiment. I am pioneering a technique that will aid in healthcare, it’s a noninvasive technique and will help both with people who have spinal cord injury and just research in the general sense. It’s all very hush hush at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it at all, I just can’t tell you what it is! Of course, there was a problem so that technique may just be garbage… sometimes that happens unfortunately. Welcome to the fun world of science, I’m always one null result away from needing to rethink my career trajectory.

Today I was going to attempt to solve the mystery (in between a Skype a Scientist call, writing this post, processing the data I collected yesterday, and editing my R21 grant, it’s been a busy day!). To debug I planned to check the full dataset and not just the bits I took out for my analysis, it would tell me right away if I had the right “sections” of data or not. If I saw the thing I’m looking for in sections of data that I didn’t have I knew I had a code error, if I didn’t see it anywhere, well then oops I guess I really didn’t have anything after all or at least the task I asked my subjects to perform didn’t elicit it, which is just as good as saying it doesn’t work because I really, REALLY needed it to work in this case.

Shortly after I started trying to pull the full “chunk” of data that had the trials I wanted to see I caught the first error (probably of many) in this new code I wrote. Basically I was looking in the wrong sections! Now I’ve fixed the issue and I am going to reprocess everything. If there is still nothing then I need to look again for other errors or look at the full section of data to see if I can find what I’m looking for, which should (in theory) work because I did it with the very first dataset I collected.

Basically I think I’ve found the problem so my “super secret” technique isn’t quite dead yet, just wounded. That doesn’t mean I have something for sure, it just means that I didn’t find what I wanted because I was looking in the wrong place! Now that I have the error corrected it’s on to seeing what I have, with a little luck I will know by the end of today if my technique is working or if I maybe, probably, have some weird fluke in my original dataset. Not the nice buttoned up story one may want, but that’s the thing about daily blogging, it’s messy and you don’t get a ending sometimes.

Still, the work continues and I’m extremely hopeful now that this was the larger problem I was dealing with. Tomorrow we may talk about how my SciComm session went if I haven’t finished. If I have we may be in for a failure, or if I’m lucky we’ll be celebrating a bit of early success. Who knows! In any case, I’m excited to see what happens!


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