A data detective
You did a cool experiment, you have some interesting data, and you found something unexpected! Great, but what does it mean? Sometimes the answer isn’t as straightforward as you may hope. That’s the problem for the day, I found something in my data that makes no sense and the worst part is I have no idea what it means. It’s definitely something, so now I need to go through the steps of making sense of it. That’s the problem with doing something new, you have no frame of reference for the result.
When I started my PhD I got some funding from my PI, that funding came with a project attached that was somewhat related to the work I want to do. I wasn’t thrilled with the experiment, it felt rushed and not very well thought out. However, I did the experiment, processed the data, technically still processing the data, and I’m even giving a talk on it (more on that here). It’s all somewhat exciting to be close to finishing with this loooong chapter of my life. COVID slowed things down dramatically, but now that I’m wrapping up I need to figure out what this blip in my data means. It’s the one that I’ve been ignoring because it makes no sense! So add detective to the list of things I need to be to do my PhD.
Why did brains need to be so complicated? I’m just going to throw this out there, the brain is just a giant rube Goldberg machine, there everyone go home I solved the mystery no need to look at it anymore. But seriously I’m going through the data and most of what I found makes sense. Don’t worry, I’ll be nice and share once we publish it, but right now I’m beating my head against a wall because we found activations in an unexpected area of the brain that has nothing to do with anything we were interested in. It’s totally unexpected, so much so that my Co-PI, who doesn’t understand EEG well enough to have an informed opinion, but knows the biology well enough to offer insights, suggested it was an artifact. It’s not, we already all came to the same conclusion in our lab, so even he is surprised by the finding.
Never fear, obviously there are other studies which could help shed light into what I’m seeing, right? WRONG! Nothing, zip, zero, nada! There’s nothing out there on what I found because frankly no one has done this yet really, it’s new science, which is the point I guess, but there’s no precedent to help me explain what we have. I have a few guesses as to what it all means and I’ll probably have to put forth that hypothesis when writing the paper, but I really, REALLY hate having to do that without any sort of precedent for what we have.
Bottom line, today I’m doing a deep dive into studies that may have an answer or at least an adjacent suggestion! I need something to help make my case and even if I can’t find anything that specifically tells me what we have, I can find related things that will help me make a good argument for what we found.
Sometimes playing detective comes with the job, luckily the internet has been a huge help, I don’t know how people did research before it was a thing.