We're a little crazy, about science!

Competing projects

With summer upon us I still have a few things to wrap up, but I am hoping that by the end of the month I should be able to take a breather for a few weeks/month we’ll have to wait to find out. The issue now is that my main-PI and my Co-PI both have projects for me to do and both of those projects are incredibly time consuming. Oh and they both want them done at roughly the same time. Sounds fun, right?

Being wanted isn’t a bad thing I guess. I mean I absolutely love my two PI’s, it just feels like split custody sometimes and I’m stuck in the middle with both parents fighting to get to have me more. If it wasn’t for all the work I need to do it would be incredibly flattering. It’s nice to feel wanted, that’s not the issue. The issue is that I have projects to do for both labs and they are roughly on the same timeline. Like I said, deadlines tend to group and this isn’t any different. Once again, just a few weeks after the last time, I’m left flailing around hoping to meet the deadlines. At least this time it’s for something other than class.

Currently I’m working on two projects for my Co-PI. The I didn’t want to say no project (here) and the surprise summer project (here). Now I love, LOVE the work my Co-PI does. It’s exciting, fun, and I enjoy doing it. We do very exciting stuff and some of the questions we’re trying to answer are very cool, but more importantly they will actually help people. Some of this stuff is incredibly groundbreaking or at least very novel. Both projects I’m a part of I see the potential for them to lead to better treatments for pain and spinal cord injury, if not other things too!

On the other end of the spectrum is my main-PI. Maybe other end of the spectrum is the wrong phrase, the opposite corner maybe? Anyway the stuff my main-PI does is equally cool, incredibly interesting, but it’s lab stuff, so it’s several steps away from helping people. The project I’m working on for my main-PI was the subject of my talk the other day (here) and I’m doing some surprise summer teaching (here). Because I have two mechanical engineering degrees and have extensive machining experience I’m also consulting (depending on who you ask I’m ether all in or just consulting) on a customized exoskeleton project. It’s all really good science, it’s just not science that will help people now, or maybe not even anytime soon. It’s questions we need to answer, but the solution to those questions are years away. So I’m still equally excited to do them, I just get a little down that the cool stuff I’m doing isn’t going to be practical for a certain amount of time.

That’s the main difference between the two labs actually. Both do work I’m completely in love with. Both do amazing science that will help people undoubtedly. Both are run by brilliant people whom I have the highest respect and appreciation. Basically I’m in an incredibly lucky position to work under both of these people. The difference is that one is a clinical lab and one is a research lab. The clinical side of things we’re trying to implement tools/ therapies/ breakthroughs that will help people as soon as we publish the results. These are things that others can implement right away if they want and others can check our work easily. The research lab side of things are tools or research that cannot be used right away. It’s stuff that is incredibly complex, somewhat unwieldly, and still needs to be refined if we’re going to use it in daily life.

I think after two years in both settings that I prefer the clinical side of things. For one the experiments are streamlined. I don’t have to worry about getting IRB approval for experiments, scheduling, etc. it’s all done for me. The research side of things I need to write an IRB (basically getting approval to do the experiments) myself, I need to do the scheduling, and there’s a lot more that I’m responsible for that slows things down. It’s all good stuff to learn how to do, I mean if I ever run my own lab I will need to know how to write an IRB for sure. It’s just one more step before I can collect data and when I’m rushing to finish my PhD the fewer steps to data collection the better.

So right now I have my main-PI and Co-PI both wanting me as much as possible in their lab. I’ve got responsibilities in both and it feels like double the work my collogues and lab mates are doing. Some days I wonder if I made the right choice, but most of the time I’m glad I took on the responsibility of both labs. Once I get some of this stuff done I think I will get the chance to split my time more how I want. I’m also in discussions with my two PI’s about where I really want to be, the responsibilities I feel comfortable taking on, and how I want to finish my PhD.

I hope to graduate in two years, maybe sooner if I’m lucky, but definitely not later. That may seem like a long time, but in research it’s a blink of an eye. So I need to get this stuff solved quickly before I end up spending twice as long doing my PhD as I planned. And in case you’re wondering that does happen sometimes. I know several instances of people taking 8 or more years to finish. The school gives us a cutoff of 10 years, yeah a whole decade to do the work before they say you can’t continue anymore if you’re not done. I don’t want to spend 10 years getting my PhD, so I’m trying to get a clear path to the finish and making sure both my PI’s are on the same page.

There’s a lot of work to do and competing deadlines to contend with, but I’m hopeful that with a little bit of planning it will all work out… maybe.


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