We're a little crazy, about science!

The last PhD requirement

Real photo of me determining significance between two samples. It’s scarier than it looks.

We’re already at the end of the month, how the hell did that happen? It’s been close to a month and a half since the term started and it feels like it’s flying by. I realized that when I first started this project I covered a lot of the stuff I was learning at the time. In fact one of my previous class notes posts was in my top 10 highest viewed blog posts for 2020. Somewhere along the line I stopped doing that, so today we’re going to talk about what I’m taking this term, why I’m taking it, and why I’ll probably be adding a few step by step instructions for how you can do what I’m learning too in some of my upcoming posts.

If you’re new around here, welcome to my tiny portion of the internet. I’m a third year PhD candidate in neuroengineering. I’m developing a new technique to help people with spinal cord injury and every single day I talk about each step I’ve taken to get there. Somedays I talk about school, sometimes I discuss experiments, and other days I talk about hobbies and things I do. On occasion I post up little guides for everyone to learn a few of the things I’ve learned as well, because what good is knowledge if we don’t share it? Am I right?

Today we’re talking about the last requirement I have for my PhD. Okay, technically not THE LAST, but it’s the last requirement besides defending my PhD. Yep, I’ve completed damn near everything I need to do besides proposing and defending my PhD. The proposal may (or may not) happen this term and my defense will happen either next year, at the soonest, or the year after. It’s all going by so quickly… and yet surprisingly slow sometimes.

A good postdoc friend and now professor (AWW YEAH!) suggested I take as many statistics courses as I possibly could. I was hesitant since I know next to nothing about statistics besides that intro to stochastic processes I took. That class was basically voodoo and it scarred me for life! I really didn’t feel like sacrificing a newborn for the hope of finding p < 0.05 while reciting mystical text, but I decided I would take the class, dare to challenge the elrich terrors, and hopefully learn something useful. So does anyone know latin, I need to translate some of this…. anywho moving on.

Since I apparently refuse to do anything easy, I’ve enrolled in a statistics class, technically called statistical methods in research. This class marks the last class I will ever be required to take from now to graduation. If I do take any other courses, and I can if I want, it will be because I want to learn something else. I may or may not do that, I mean I already feel overwhelmed and I’ve barely learned how to draw the summoning circles in the living room to determine my sample size requirements and do you know how hard it is to identically distribute your independent candles?

If the course used MATLAB I would be good, but we’re using an old archaic form of language to summon our statistically significant demons. It’s real name will drive a sane person mad so we simply refer to it ‘R’ lest our mere mortal brains liquify at the sound of the word and run out our ears. It’s a challenge that I was not expecting and like learning any new language it hasn’t been as smooth as I had hoped. But I mean who among us hasn’t accidentally summoned a illithid because they forgot the semicolon at the end of a command? That’s right, it happens to the best of us.

Between learning ‘R’ and how to perform statistical summoning testing the course has been a lot more work than I originally planned for. I had wanted to take a moderately difficult course for my final requirement, instead I need to fight my way through the Nine Hells of Baator in order to make sure that the underlying assumptions of the statistical test I’m using hold. Let me just say this now, have you ever traveled to Phlegethos just to find out if your data are normally distributed? It isn’t a fun time, I don’t recommend it! Don’t even get me started on the Q-Q plots, those things are evil!

Thankfully so far I seem pretty adept to the challenge. So far we’ve had three small assignments and one homework for the class. We’re barely getting started, but I’ve managed to get a perfect score on everything. It’s just a little a lot time consuming. With everything else I have going on (experiments, literally killer weather, pandemic, more experiments, writing until my eyes and fingers bleed) it’s just another stress on the list of things I need to get done.

Yes, my final course is going to be a journey, but it’s not one I’m not sure I really want to take. They say the hardest part of a journey is the first step. I would argue that the hardest part of changing course in a journey is after you’ve taken the first step. Ah who am I kidding, we’re doing this. It’s going to be done and I’m going to share the forbidden knowledge I learn with all of you so you too can have your brains dissolved by a gelatinous cube. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!


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