We're a little crazy, about science!

Sanity and the week ahead

The past week has been surprisingly difficult. There are a lot of things right now that are up in the air and without moving forward, nothing will be settled. Still, there are ways to prepare and things that can be done now to take the stress off. We already know how last week went, so let’s take a break from directly talking about my horrible mental health and take a look at the week ahead. Spoiler, this is another way I deal with my horrible mental health. You didn’t think it wasn’t related, right?

When we last left our hapless narrator (that’s me!) he was told that the amount of work he wanted to do for his dissertation was about 1/3 the actual work I would need to do (yep…). This turn of events, after agreeing to the previous number, was not exactly surprising since nothing has been committed to writing, but is still very frustrating. To add to the issue, hospital-PI is understandably upset about it and in that frustration wants to wash his hands of the whole mess, meaning possibly ending our collaboration for now, as he put it (more). Outside help was not to be found and the message was the same, I’m our main character here, is literally trapped in his program with no way out. Not even joking, in the literal sense, the only way out is to quit and start over. Literally start over in a different program, years of extra work.

Obviously that isn’t ideal for anyone so we’re looking at alternative measures. Or rather I am looking at alternative measures. The next few weeks will be crucial in getting everything set in stone, or as close as I can get to having it all set in stone, for the remainder of my degree. Once I do my proposal defense, the bar will be set and while I can probably get away with doing less, having the bar raised would be harder/not really possible, because the committee as a group would have to agree that I need to do more. So far I have at least two people who would firmly push back at that, so on the scale of likely outcomes, it’s about as unlikely as it can get.

The problem is getting to my defense so I’m going to first lay out what I need to do to get there and then talk about what the week ahead will look like. This is yet another way I like to cope, but I think I’ve mentioned that in previous posts. Talking about the immediate future doesn’t change how hard things are, but having it written out helps me make sense of it. If you’ve never done it, give it a shot, you may be surprised how calming having it displayed can be. At the very least it helps you come up with a plan of attack, which is what I need right about now.

The road to my proposal defense is probably longer than I would want, but not horrible. The IRB needs to be approved, since I cannot collect data before that happens. Next, since one of my committee members went to another university recently, they need to be dropped and another has to replace them. After that, I need to write my proposal, which after speaking with school-PI should be anywhere from 10-15 pages. That’s a lot of writing! After that happens, I can set a date, which will finally put me on track. Before the big day I need to put my presentation together, practice with the lab, as we normally do, then defend my proposal. If I want, I can reserve a room to do it or I can do it in the main lab. I’m probably just going to do it in the main lab, home court advantage and all.

Since that’s about a month or so of work ahead let’s talk about what I can do to conquer the list in the next week. First is the IRB application. I got a second round of modifications requested, which will be done shortly, as in today. Once that happens I’m hoping I will get final approval. Unfortunately final approval isn’t final. I need to submit an amendment to add the hospital to the sites, I was just informed of this, so somewhat anticlimactic, but I won’t be collecting data right away anyway, so it’s not a huge deal.

Next is my committee. With one of the people on my committee leaving I have an unfortunate gap in my committee that needs to be filled. I’m really sad about the professor who left, she was someone I looked up to a lot and I was lucky to know her. She’s the senior author on the seizure detection paper (here) and probably the smartest person I’ve ever met, she was also somewhat recently listed as one of MIT’s top 35 under 35, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who would think that.

Finding a replacement has been challenging for her role and knowledge base, but I found someone in a different department (thankfully I’m allowed) who deals with spinal cord injury. While not in the same field as the previous person was, the new person will have good insights for some of the work I’m doing I think. He’s also a friend of hospital-PI, knows the situation, and is also somewhat upset about what school-PI is doing, although he too has no power in the matter. Sad theme going on as you can see. He already agreed to be on my committee, so all I need to do is send him the form, get his signature, and boom my committee has been healed!

Oh and before I forget, I’m also adding surgeon-PI to the committee mix. So that will be fun since he’s both sarcastic and super supporting of me. Side note, I work in the most sarcastic lab at the hospital, it’s great we give each other a hard time all the time so he fits right in even though he’s a surgeon. Hey, no one is perfect. But the committee form should be done before Monday assuming both the people do not have a traditional work/life balance. Most of us take our work as part of our life and I operate that way too since I find it both fun and rewarding, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they signed it on the weekend when they are supposed to be “off.”

There is one other bit of work I need to do this week that I’m hoping will happen. I need to get “last paper” submitted for review (finally). Technically this paper was fully written back in September I think, but it’s been a lot of fighting about the conclusions I drew, the scope of the analysis, and how I did the work. Part of the issue is neither group, school-PI nor hospital-PI, know the full extend of the work I did. I’m the glue in the group (or the spinal cord as I like to joke).

My knowledge base isn’t as deep as school-PI or hospital-PI, but it spans both fields enough that I’m proficient at both sides and this paper has both fields involved. So I’ve been trying to explain to both sides why I did what I did or why I agree with some of the issues they have. I’m close though and I’m hoping that I can wrap this up finally. Hospital-PI is not thrilled about it, but I don’t think either party are going to be happy in the end. I plan on finishing the final changes tonight, but school-PI wants to include a paragraph in the paper that hospital-PI was firm about removing, so I’m a little nervous about that. I really regret some of the things I wrote or the analyses I did now, but nothing can be done on that front.

Basically this week is going to be about tying up loose ends. There’s a lot to be done and not a lot of time to do it all. If I’m lucky I will start writing my proposal soon and if I can manage it, get it out in the next week or so. I’ve written so many different grants over the last year that I can probably just copy and paste most of the logic into the proposal and fill in the details with the method and timeline for the work. If I get a good proposal draft done and ready I could go on to defend my proposal in the next month or possibly two depending on availability.

It’s going to be a tough chunk of time, but I’m hopeful that I can get it all done. If I can get the paper, IRB, and committee stuff figured out before the end of next week I should be on track. Anything else I get done, assuming I can get anything else done, will be extra in my book.

See, I feel better already (not exactly, but it’s nice to have a list at least). Now, it’s time to stop typing and start working!

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