We're a little crazy, about science!

Twice the work, half the… fun?

I work with… Braiiiiins!! Well yesterday I touched on an experiment I did waaaay back in October-ish of last year! With the way things are going it feels like five years not 5 months, but what can you do? My main-PI has started to not so gently or subtly push me to process the data to his satisfaction and start working on the publication of the results. There’s been a lot going on that has pulled me away from the project, from the end of December to the middle of February I was working on grants, but now there isn’t a whole lot stopping me from working on this project almost exclusively… if you don’t include the other grant I’m writing and the fellowship I’m supposed to apply for.

Once upon a time I was a mechanical engineer. I have a BS and MS in mechanical engineering and my focus was on control systems and engineering design (specifically biomimicry). It was nice being the person in the lab who knew what they were doing. I was dare I say an expert at what I did because I was the only one who knew how to do it. Then I jumped to neuroengineering. While they both are engineering fields, neuroengineering is a cross between control systems, data systems, and neurology. While I had some experience in the last thing and a lot of experience in the first thing, there is enough difference that I came into the lab without any clue on how to do… well just about anything. Almost a full three years in and it’s still a painful transition, but I don’t suspect that will go away anytime soon.

I’m the oddball in the lab, which doesn’t help anything. Most of my colleagues are focused on the brain exclusively, changes in the brain, brain-machine interfaces, machine learning, I could go on, but it’s brain all the way down. I was never one to do things the easy way and why not make a difficult PhD process even harder than I needed to! I decided the brain was boring, I wanted to do something new and exciting, so I wanted to study how the spinal cord interacted with the brain. Brain adjacent would be at best how I like to think of it.

I like the work so much because my Co-PI, who is a clinical researcher in a hospital working with non-invasive spinal stimulation (which is just as cool as it sounds!) uses a LOT of control theory to understand how the spinal cord works. It made me happy because they were using very similar techniques I would use to determine how to control a motor for example, but with people and the best part was he didn’t even realize there was an overlap. I saw it right away and jumped on it, which is basically the story of how I got here without giving up the “super secret” technique I’m working on for my PhD.

The catch is my main-PI asked me to work on a collaboration between the two labs that was very strictly brain related and not anywhere near what I wanted to do. That isn’t the problem, the problem was the methods used in the experiment. I didn’t (and still don’t) agree with how it was done. It worked and we got the data needed, but it could’ve been done a whole lot better than the way it was performed. My main-PI went in with ideas about how the experiment should go and we had to somewhat temper those expectations and ended up with an okay experiment, not a great experiment.

If it’s one thing I’ve learned in control systems and in the work I’ve been doing in my current lab, it’s that the difference between good results and amazing results are how you design your experiment and I’ve spent a long time developing the protocol for the experiments I want to do for my PhD for that reason. Since this will be my first journal paper (okay technically second) in the field, I’m not thrilled to do the work for something I wasn’t fully sold on, but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes. I don’t get a whole lot of say in these things and while I gave feedback when we designed the experiments, we didn’t exactly take those ideas into the experiment itself. Again, not a huge issue, I just felt that if I was going to put my name prominently on something I would have some say in how the work was done.

Yes, this is me once again complaining about the experiment, but it was a frustratingly experience, so you’ll have to forgive me. In any case, now that the fellowship and grant can be put off (slightly) my main-PI has given me explicit instructions to focus on this project and to do the data processing, write the paper, and start thinking about where we are submitting it. I get a few months, at best, to finish this so it’s a short reprieve from the other writings I need to be doing, but that doesn’t mean I’m on vacation. It just means I get to do half writing and half data processing instead of all writing. Yep, twice the work and stress!

All this to say, I haven’t had time to thoughtfully add to my “in statistics” posts, but that doesn’t mean they are over. It just means that I can’t spend the time I would like on them so you get easier (or rather quicker) updates like this for a bit. It all depends on how quickly I can get the stuff my main-PI wants done and if I can find some free time (haha) to do something more in depth. Speaking of which, I should probably get back to work!


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