We're a little crazy, about science!

2021 in review

Last year I did “a year in review” and yesterday, feeling a bit curious on seeing what I had accomplished the year before last (2020), I went back and read it. Obviously the last year has been… interesting to say the least. We’ve collectively been through some shit, but that doesn’t mean nothing good happened so for a moment at least I want to catalog some of the good stuff that happened last year. So next year, I can do the same look back and see what my goals were and what was actually accomplished.

There will probably be no real order to this list, mostly because I’m doing this from memory instead of digging through last years batch of posts. I think that’s more authentic, since it’s good stuff I actually remember (i.e., something important enough for me to remember). The catch is remembering one thing will probably remind me of others, so not exactly chronological order.

It’s amazing how different each year can be when you’re doing your PhD. Last year I listed a bunch of things I had accomplished that were mostly blog related. I’m proud to say my “Know Your Spinal Cord” series is still the champion of traffic to my little corner of the internet.

I didn’t write the book on the spinal cord, but I did write a small novel spread over almost 60 posts that were both detailed and accessible. I’ve gotten emails from medical students thanking me for them and while I can’t respond to everyone, I do read them and I appreciate letting me know it’s helped you. This year the spinotectal tract took top spot from my favorite tract (and the prior top performing post) the spinothalamic tract. Yes, I have a favorite spinal tract, I’m weird like that/ I’m also a bit ashamed that the internet would betray me like that (not serious). In short, the series took a lot of time, effort, and planning, but it exceeded my wildest expectations on how many people it would reach and/or help and I hope I can say the same thing next year.

This year I’ve also had more engagement with my blog from likes, to comments, last year I saw the most activity around here that I’ve seen in the past eight years this blog has existed. That’s not because of me though, that’s because of all of you. So thank you for letting me know you’re out there. I don’t base my worth or happiness on my blog, but I do value the people my blog has brought into my life. Chances are if you’re reading this then I’m talking about you specifically. So one more time, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. We don’t know each other, but you all mean the world to me.

However, blog stuff was basically the extent of the things I had accomplished in the year 2020 (I just really wanted to write it like that). Man, have things moved quickly. This year — or rather last year now since we’re on 2022 — I’ve won awards, won grants, and had some great things happen. So I’m actually excited to recap some of my non-blog related things! It will be tough to top last year in terms of accomplishments, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m going into this year hoping to do just that.

First up, I was invited into the OR and this time I wasn’t the one on the table! Back at the beginning of the year I got the chance to sit in on a few different surgeries to see how the clinical side of things did what they do. Since the stuff they are looking at is closely related to the things we do, it made sense to shadow a few people. When I did my first shadow back in January of last year, I never expected to be going into the OR on a regular basis, but about 10 months later I started going in and doing experiments basically every week now. Out of all the stuff I did this last year, that’s probably the thing that stands out the most. Ironically it doesn’t mean as much for my career as some of the other stuff I will be listing, but it means a lot to me.

This year I worked on four different papers. One from my Masters degree that we’re still trying to get published, one from a class I took, one from hospital-PI, and one I had to do for my PhD funding. All four papers are written, it was a weird type of hell I found myself in writing four papers at once, but I made it. For a while it felt like nothing was getting accomplished and I honestly thought about quitting. Like seriously just walking away because I was obviously useless. Nothing was getting out, it was just stuck with me getting backed up. We submitted three of those papers (the only one we haven’t submitted even once is the PhD funding paper), but nothing was changing. Thinking back that was a sad period, but then something magical happened.

My first paper got published! Now I haven’t talked about it and I promise I will dedicate a whole post to sharing it since I already outed myself in a pretty dramatic fashion. That’s because not only did that paper get accepted, but a second one did as well! That one I talked about in detail (here) and that was the secret paper from hospital-PI, the one I couldn’t say no to (this post). I’ve got one paper in review now and the last is going to be submitted soon, so 2022 should bring (hopefully), at least two more first author journal papers for me!

The school also covered the first paper being published since it was for a class and having a journal paper published from class work is almost unheard of. That wouldn’t be the first time the school featured me and my work in an article. The first time was when I modeled COVID for the same class funny enough (here), technically the video was featured as well and that was another time I outed myself, so not so anonymous these days I guess. I will say modeling COVID freaked me out and for good reason, most of my models predictions were accurate (within reason) so I had a good idea about how bad things were going to get and frankly, unless something seriously changes, I don’t think they will be getting better any time soon.

On to another happy note though! In yet another case of outing myself, I was awarded a spot in the 7th annual BRAIN initiative investigators meeting to share my science (here). Out of 500 or so posters, I was one of I think 50 or less (I don’t recall the exact numbers, but I was surprised that I got picked) who got to give a five minute presentation on the work I did. This talk was based on the work I’m still in the process of publishing, the one paper I had to do for my PhD funding I listed above. I won’t relink since it’s not super important. With the award I even got a small cash prize and a chance to get my name out there a bit. I’ve been very lucky this year with stuff like that.

Next up, I finally, FINALLY! got awarded funding! Normally when you write a grant proposal as a PhD student you’re ghost writing. I’ve written several now, only one funded, but they all had the same thing in common, my name was nowhere to be found! This proposal wasn’t for one of the big three (NIH, NSF, DoD), but it was still a rather large award. In this case I wrote the grant AND my name got to be on it. I was listed explicitly in the section where people involved list their experience/background. In either case (ghost writing or not) it’s something that gets added to my CV, but I was excited to be included on the list of people when I wrote it.

Funny enough, the school is doing a story on me specifically, not just in relation to work I’ve done like the other two times. The story is on how I got the funding and made the connections needed to get awarded. It also is a bit on my “super secret” technique which isn’t so secret anymore, but will be fully revealed this year when I do my PhD proposal defense (hopefully in the next month or two).

I also got a job! I’m officially a research assistant in a major hospital working in a cutting edge lab. I’m thrilled about the opportunities to do all sorts of cool research, but also for the chance to learn new stuff! It also helps that I’m being paid like an adult and get health benefits, retirement benefits, etc. Mostly I took it for the chance to do something I really loved and that’s helping people. As hospital-PI reminds me, research doesn’t pay well, but there are other benefits.

I’m sure there’s a lot of other stuff I’m missing, but this was (for me anyway) some of the big highlights! I hope 2022 will bring even more adventures, new accomplishments, and if I’m lucky, forward progress on my PhD! I think tomorrow we’ll look ahead again (I did the same thing last year) to see what I hope will be in store for me this year.


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