We're a little crazy, about science!

Smile for the camera

Today is photo day! What is photo day you may ask? Well it’s the day we take pictures. Okay, probably a little brief, today is the day that we’re meeting with the lab and school public relations team to release a joint statement about our new award. It’s the first award for our new collaborator (surgical-PI, who I still need to find a better pseudonym for) since he just started his new lab at the hospital at the beginning of the year. While it’s not a major award (dollar amount), we tend to celebrate these things anyway, so we’re taking pictures together, surgical-PI is getting a tour of the school lab, and we’re going to get interviewed about the details of the project.

It’s all very exciting, I’m excited, all my PI’s are excited (since I’m apparently collecting PI’s like people collect pokemon cards… gotta catch’em all?) and it will be an interesting way for me to make a small, but somewhat noticeable splash in the field. As a reminder, I’m not a neuroengineer by training, at least not originally. I started as a mechanical engineer (both my BS and MS are mechanical) and making the jump to neuroengineering has been (and still is) a challenge. However, I recently got my first journal paper published in the field and I’ve got several others in the works. One is in review, two are being submitted soon, and one I’m second author on is in review, but since I’m second author I don’t count it, but I figure I’ll mention here anyway.

Basically no one knows who I am because I haven’t done anything yet that is published. All my work to this point as led to publications, but they aren’t quite published. This will be a good chance for others to learn of my existence, which is important because like I mentioned yesterday about my latest award (here) making connections and talking about your science with people is a mutually beneficial thing. It leads to collaborations, unique viewpoints on your project, and sometimes even a friendship or two, which let’s face it I could use a couple of locally based friends right about now.

In short this will benefit my, my collaborators/PI’s, and hopefully give us all a chance to get the community excited about the thing I am trying to do. The project is about to kick off soon, so we need to get everything in order beforehand and part of that is the PR side of things. I’ve never had to do anything like this personally. I’m not 100% sure how will go. I have a few ideas based on the emails exchanged, but I can’t say for certain.

I do know that we’re all meeting at my school-PI’s lab. There we will give surgeon-PI a tour of the lab, show him some of the other stuff we do, and just show him what kind of capabilities we have. There will be several photos taken of us, that much I know. Then there will be a short interview portion. I don’t know if it will be all together or if we’re being interviewed separately, but I suspect that it will be done together since we need to be careful about the information we share on the project. Once the project is officially announced (the award has been officially given to us, but it hasn’t been made public yet), the cat will be out of the bag and my “super secret” technique will be public knowledge.

I’m not 100% sure I feel great about that, mostly because I still don’t know for sure it works and everyone I’ve spoken with in the field about it has basically told me it’s not possible, but we’re going into to give it a shot anyway. The odds aren’t great, but the pilot data is convincing enough (obviously) that we got the funds for the project. I look at it this way, no one has tried what I want to do. No one, at least not that I can find. Saying something can’t be done without checking that it can’t be done seems foolish. Sure the odds may not be great, it may not work 100% of the time or for 100% of people, but if it works 20% of the time and for 20% of the people, the information we could get would be a huge step forward in understanding how the nervous system does its thing.

To be clear, the people I’ve spoken with aren’t being discouraging exactly, they just don’t want me to get my hopes up. I look at the project as a chance to push the equipment to its limit, to see what is and what isn’t possible, and there are different degrees of failure to the project. It’s not a this works or this doesn’t work binary choice, it’s a gradient. Even if only certain aspects of it work, or even if just one part of it works and it’s somewhat repeatable, I think that will be good enough for me. The worst case would be complete failure, at which point I can at least say I tried, but my pilot data gives me hope that it won’t be a total failure.

Cautiously optimistic, that’s how I’m trying to go into this. I can both be hopeful and realistic, but the reality is if no one looks you’ll never find anything new. I’m early career so there’s no harm in looking, either way I’ll get my PhD from this project. In short, no matter what the future holds for my “super secret” technique, I’m going to smile today and make sure that people understand that, yes, this is a high risk project, but it’s also high reward.


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