We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for April, 2021

The game plan

A pirate's treasure map
A pirate's treasure map.

Well I’ve got two days (not counting today) to get so much stuff done I don’t even know where to start. The good news is I’m feeling slightly better about my odds. The bad news is nothing is done so there’s nothing to celebrate just yet. I have a plan though and I feel good about the way I laid out my work, if I’m careful (and lucky) I’ll be able to get it all done. We’ll see, it’s going to be tough, but today let’s cover why I plan my work when I get swamped like this and how you can do it too.

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The thing about deadlines

Man pressed against glass in office. The entire office is full of papers pressing against him. He's drowning in work.

It’s no secret I’m running around trying to finish everything I need to do lately. Deadlines for just about everything all fall within a few days of each other. I literally have a about a dozen things all due next week plus or minus two days. I’ve been trying to remain calm and remind myself that I’ve been in this situation before and it always works out in the end. That doesn’t stop me from stressing out and yesterday I got an email that could derail a lot of the planning I’ve been doing to make certain that all the work gets taken care of. Yep, I got another job to do.

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Learning can be painful

Well today was the final lab meeting of the term. While the weekly meetings will (probably) be continuing, it’s still a big deal and could (hopefully) mean the end of my six weeks or so of torment. Normally I give it a few days before I talk about just how badly the meeting went, but this time was different and I’m thankful for it. The difference? My main-PI was out for medical reasons, so we got to talk about the project a little more freely.

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An end in sight

Hourglass on laptop counting down
Hourglass on laptop counting down

Well I had an awkward conversation with my main-PI yesterday about some of the progress I had made and while he seemed generally supportive, it unfortunately wasn’t particularly helpful. All that work I had hoped to finish over the weekend? Still going, but there’s other things going on too so we’re counting down to the end of the term now and there’s an end to a lot of this, but it’s going to be (as always) a race to finish.

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Flexible coding for data visualization

My main-PI has an odd habit of wanting us to edit things as we’re presenting them. I’ve watched this happen and had to do it myself. Suddenly you find yourself editing a paper/grant/etc. and forgetting how to spell your name because you’re so flustered. It isn’t just papers though, it’s our visualizations that we make. He will ask us to go in and change things as they are being shown. This has happened to me several times already and more often than not I’m ready for it. So today I figured I would go over some of the things I do to make sure that I don’t spend the entire time sweating over edits to my code.

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Apparently I’m close?!

We’re talking about it again, the fact that every week for the past 5 weeks now I’ve been given tasks to do and then presenting on them the following week. It’s been… hard. However, my main-PI gave me hope that the end of all this is close, at least that’s the hope. He said I was close, so today we’re going to talk (as usual vaguely) about what I have left to do before this weeks meeting and why I cannot wait to be done with this.

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When you don’t want to say no

In undergrad I had a discussion with my advisor, or rather he was more of a mentor, he wasn’t technically an advisor. It went something like this, I don’t know what to do next because it all seems so interesting. He argued that it was a good problem to have and while I have generally narrowed down my focus (I am doing a PhD after all), I still have an issue with focusing my excitement. It’s like being at Disneyland and trying to force yourself to go on just a single ride your entire trip. I don’t wanna, I want all the knowledge!

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On the prefrontal cortex and abuse

Adulthood is often thought of as the point where you’re done developing. Most states for example don’t allow anyone under 21 to drink because that was where we drew the line, but we allow people as young as 18 (here in the US) to join the military, vote, etc. You may think that this would be roughly where we stop developing and that would explain the somewhat artificial line we’ve drawn. The truth is much stranger than that and when it comes to the brain you don’t develop evenly.

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Journal club

Okay, get this I completely skipped over the fact that my Co-PI started a “journal club” for our little lab. I say little because for the longest time it was just the two of us and the research coordinator (who is amazing by the way!), but now we have not one, but two others in the lab. It’s nice not having to do a lot of extra work, but different topic for another time. We formed a journal club a short 8 weeks ago and every other week one of us sends out a research paper they find interesting about a week prior to our biweekly meetings and then that person presents on it. This week it’s my turn and of course, the universe is against me.

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On the ambiguity of email

As per the usual around here I’ve been swamped with things to do. Between classwork, experiments, data processing, and writing, its been a lot. It may sound like I’m repeating myself at this point, but stuff just keeps coming up and I prefer talking about it instead of just keeping it all bottled up. More to the point, it means I have new things to do and I like to talk them out here so I have a clear(er) path moving forward. What does this have to do with email and the title of today’s post? Well, let’s talk about that.

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Mental health and time management

I don’t make the rules. As much as I like to think I’m in charge of my body and that I can will it to do what I want, I’m more of a passenger here. Sure I can make plans, that doesn’t mean my body will agree or that my brain will let me do all the things. It’s a very tense arrangement, I have life stuff to do because I have basic human needs and my body/brain tells me exactly where I can shove all that. Somehow I’ve managed and I figure why not share how I’ve developed work arounds for some of this, maybe it will help someone else in the same boat.

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Not so alone

Of all the odd twists and random occurrences that have happened in my life, I think yesterday was probably in the top ten, if not top five in my most unexpected events list. For those who don’t follow me on Twitter (you totally should FYI), I’ll explain and if you already know what I’m talking about then maybe just skip to the middle/end of the post because that would be for you specifically.

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Fun with coding!

Yesterday I worked and worked, then I worked some more. By the time I called it quits it was well past my normal stopping time. The problem was that nothing was going right yesterday. When I finally gave up I had gotten exactly nothing done. It was one of those days as a collogue said sometimes you just have to power through it. The problem is I don’t have the time to just power through. Which reminded me of how I normally deal with stress, which is funny and I recommend others do this too.

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Another week in review

A week ago exactly I gave a review of the week I had and a look at the week coming up. I thought it was so much fun I’m doing it again, because that’s what passes for fun around here. Who knows maybe I’ll do this regularly! Basically a lot has happened this week and now is a good time to catch everyone up on some of the oddball things I’ve done and things I may have missed in favor of freaking out about the work I’m doing. So let’s just jump into my semi-traditional introduction, then we can look back and ahead. It’s fun for everyone!

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The homework rush

Not the most exciting of topics, especially after yesterdays news that I’m giving a presentation at the BRAIN conference, but my homework is due tomorrow. This will be the first time this term that I haven’t finished it early. Normally I will have turned it in days in advance to get it off my plate, but there’s so much going on that I’m not even certain that I will have the chance to finish it. What do I do in that situation? Well keep calm and carry on… I’m not British, but I think that’s how the phrase goes.

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I’m giving a talk!

Well I slipped through the cracks yet again! It hurts me to admit that I’ve probably earned this one. The 7th annual BRAIN initiative investigators meeting is coming (in June) and I was selected for a Trainee Highlight Award. Is it a big deal? Probably not, but I’ll take a win when I can get it. Today we’re going to dive into what exactly this means for me and why even little victories should be celebrated. Is it a little victory? I mean they did pick me, so what does that say about them?

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Everything went better than expected!

So yesterday I had my hands full with a bunch of work to do, no motivation what so ever to do it, and a deadline that was today. I didn’t want to burn myself out, especially since I still have a homework assignment due this weekend and yet another round of tasks set out before me, this time before the next week so that’s… umm terrifying. Let’s just dive into what happened today during my meeting.

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When the exhaustion hits

Woke up this morning feeling less than stellar. This happens pretty regularly when I push myself for long periods of time. It’s not ideal, since I still have a bunch of stuff to do, but thankfully after living with my limits for so long I have a few back up strategies to help me get through it all. Ideally the school would offer accommodations to people like me, but to get them there is a lot of hoop jumping, enough that it doesn’t make it worth the effort. I suspect that’s the point.

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New computer issues…

I took this photo right when I got the new laptop.

Well if I’m not a magnet for computer issues I don’t know who is. If it’s not one computer it’s the other. In this case, I had problems a while back with my desktop (here) where the watercooler went bad and my CPU decided it wanted to scream at me anytime I ran the computer, like just turned it on, not doing anything with it. This time it’s my laptop that I’m having trouble with and unlike my desktop, the laptop is my daily use computer so I’m not too happy.

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Mental health in academia

Five years, that’s the average time it takes to finish your PhD. Depending on who you are and how you think, that may be a blink of an eye or forever. I signed away four years of my life early on so five years and frankly the commitments leading up to it didn’t feel like that long at all. In a lot of ways getting a PhD is a lifetime of work and not long at all. I’ve hit the half way point roughly and I can see why so many people drop out of the program. It’s a lot.

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A week in review

I figure it’s a good time for the recap of the week. I mean there was a lot going on and while I want to spend some more time on my “in statistics” series, I also really need a break. So instead of spending a lot of time making sure the information I’m presenting is accurate, concise(ish), and (with luck) well thought out, I figure it would be easier to talk about the things I’ve had to do this week and the things I get to look forward to! Joy, welcome to life as a PhD candidate.

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Defining parametric tests in statistics

We’ve been throwing around the term a lot in this series. I’ve been saying in parametric statistics this, in parametric statistics that, but I kept putting off giving a definition. It’s not because it’s hard to understand, it’s just that typically when you’re doing statistics you already know if you’re using a parametric test, but because we try to make no assumptions in this series, we’re going to put this to bed once and for all. Today we’re talking about parametric statistics!

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Independence in statistics

A while back we introduced the central limit theorem, it was a way to take data and make it normal (gaussian) as if by magic, which is one of the assumptions needed for parametric statistics (the most commonly used kind). Today we’re introducing another assumption, that the data are independent. The idea of independent events is probably straightforward, but it’s yet another bedrock of statistics that we should talk about in depth to help us understand why things are the way they are.

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Variance in statistics

Sometimes you just want to kick a distribution right in the mean.

Variance, it’s one of those concepts that get’s explained briefly then you find yourself using it over and over. Now that I have a free moment, I figure it’s about time to revisit the “simple” concept and just take a minute to apricate why we have to deal with variance so often and why we try so hard to minimize it when we’re doing experiments. Just like the discussion about the mean, there’s some subtilty that goes into the idea of variance and it’s square root cousin standard deviation and we skip over it in favor of getting into more complex topics.

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Scientific figures are hard!

Well now, part of the work I needed to get done this week involved making some new figures. Actually I had added work dumped on me yesterday that I got done just as quickly thankfully. However, there’s a bunch of other figures I need to make that are due… tomorrow! Ah! So of course instead of actually making them I’m here to talk about how big a pain figures are and why we (the scientific community) stress out about them so much.

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Clinical research in a pandemic

Male and female characters scientists or lab attendants working in science laboratory using microscope, lab glassware, vector flat illustration. Scientific research, experiment, science and education.

One of the more interesting things about the pandemic is that everything at the university level shut down. They still send out emails suggesting that everyone wants to go back to in person classes, but they haven’t followed through with that threat. Human participant research has been halted and even though we’re probably going back to “normal” in the fall, right now nothing is happening. That’s at the university level though, clinical research is a different story.

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Another approaching deadline!

Well it’s going to be down to the wire this week. It’s good to know we’re keeping the theme, if you’ve been following along for awhile you already know it’s always down to the wire. This week is particularly challenging because I have competing interests for the time I have. There’s only 24 hours in a day, so there’s only so much work that can get done. I would prefer to not do it at the last minute, but here we are… again.

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Fun with Rstudio

Okay, not really. Having to use R is a pain. I’m not a fan and the structure they use is very confusing to me as someone who uses MATLAB on a regular basis. I understand matrices, I regularly make and successfully work with higher dimensional matrices ( > 3, which hurts your brain to think about a 20+ dimensional matrix, but hey whatever gets the job done). R on the other hand feels foreign and the commands feel clunky.

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The lonely cultist

Listen closely as I am going to divulge a secret from the universe. It will be so earth shattering that you will forever remember this movement. There will be an irrevocable before and after. It has taken me decades to uncover this secret and as the sole owner and guardian of it, I am trusting part of it to you. You can be a part of something larger than yourself, find secret truths, and if you are ready to receive them, find your own. There are secrets in this life hidden just beyond human sight and they are waiting for you to find them. They are calling out to you in the wind. Do you hear them? Are you ready?

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Cracks in the support system

Family, friends, relationships, these are just a few things that provide people with a safety net. How many people, if they lost their job, would be able to rely on family for support? Surely not everyone, but a good portion of people have others to help them if they were in need. Hell, here in the US we’ve made it almost necessary to rely on the kindness of others to crowd fund for healthcare needs. Like it or not, people need people, well most do anyway…

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