We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for March, 2022

Not so smooth sailing

Incredible art by: Nunzio Paci check out the rest of his stuff, he’s super talented!

When we last left our exhausted student/medical professional he was anxiously awaiting the meeting that was scheduled for today. It was a rough ~24 hours, but here we are on the other side of the meeting and now there’s a firm(er) plan in place moving forward. So what does that mean for our haphazard student? Well, it could be worse… probably… maybe?

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An ominous meeting

Yesterday after my post I got a phone call (not a text) from surgeon-PI. We discussed his role in my dissertation and the funding we were awarded for my project. There have been some lingering questions about the involvement of the hospital and whether it will be necessary to have a second IRB agreement for my degree. Who knew my decision to take the job at the hospital would make life so difficult?

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Dissertation proposal progress!

After yesterday I wasn’t expecting to write this so soon, but here we are. I’m scheduling my proposal defense. Seriously, I got the email late last night from school-PI and while the proposal still needs some work, it’s close enough that he feels confident in starting the scheduling process now, meaning full speed ahead for me. Honestly I’m a little in shock because things seemed to be moving so slowly that I thought for sure I would be in purgatory for another few weeks minimum, but apparently not!

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Dissertation proposal prep

Well I’ve done it, sort of. I’ve submitted my revised proposal to school-PI and I’m hoping to hear back soon regarding his feedback. In the meantime I’m going to have to start working on the sides for my proposal. I think this is an important step, so today I’m going to discuss the dissertation proposal and what goes into it. Because somehow I can’t find a post where I talked about this… oops.

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Committing to the story

For the past few days I’ve been talking about telling a story with your data. Because at the end of the day as a researcher that’s what we do. We do an experiment and, assuming it goes well, we have a story to tell about the result we found and what it means to the people reading the paper. Ideally any good story will have great visuals to add to the story and to help the reader. Which is where I’m still stuck…

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Characterization of interlimb interaction via transcutaneous spinal stimulation

A graphic hospital-PI put together to share our results. I made the figure on the left under the methods heading, which I’m still very proud of.

I was debating about talking about this because I’m “only” the second author on the paper. Apparently I’ve gotten picky now that I have a handful of first author papers in review/published. I’m joking, but seriously, this paper has a special place in my heart and today I want to talk a bit about the science, but also the story behind the paper, because it is an interesting one!

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A busy weekend ahead

This feels a lot like my workstation… Art by: Erlson Neba

As per usual it feels like there’s a lot going on and I’m getting nowhere. It’s an interesting feeling, but I’m sure we’ve all been there. Since there’s a lot of things, I’m once again grouping them into a single post so I have something of substance instead of several very short posts over the span of the next couple of days. What’s going on this weekend you may ask, well just the (hopefully) final version of my dissertation proposal, some data analysis for an experiment we’ve been working on, and a bunch of prep work for all the things happening next week.

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Data visualization dilemma

Data visualization is an important topic to think about. How do you best convey what the data are telling you? It’s something I struggle with because I take it so seriously. Most things can be done simply, the old standby the line graph, box plot, or even scatter plot all work well enough, but more often than not, you want to tell a story and sometimes the obvious plot isn’t the best choice.

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Intellectually curious

I don’t recall what sparked the memory, but I was reminded today of an email I got from school-PI complimenting my new job. He said I was intellectually curious and that struck me as a touch odd because I assume we all are in our own ways. It’s not that I’m not appreciative of the complement, because I am, it’s just that I never understood how we can live in a world full of mysteries and not want to at least glimpse behind the curtain.

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The dreaded dissertation timeline

Things are slowly moving forward. I’ve got an IRB approval, I’ve got a proposal mostly written, and I’ve passed along the needed equipment list to school-PI for purchase. Once I finish my proposal modifications, I should be ready to start scheduling my proposal defense. At which point, I should have the greenlight to collect my data and, in a perfect world, graduate soon! But…

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Robots, dissertations, and disappointments

If today wasn’t a whirlwind of emotions I don’t know what was. There were ups, there were downs, there were robots. I think it’s safe to sum up today with the quote, “the best laid plans of mice and men…” which as you may have guessed, didn’t go the way I had expected. It’s not all bad news, but it’s not all good either. Let’s just quit being cryptic and dive into the events of the day.

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On the shoulders of giants

Tomorrow I’m doing something for the first time, ever. I got an email yesterday with the good news and while we don’t have all the equipment we need for the project, we can still get some good data and an early look at what the data will look like. I’m so excited I’m shaking, I barely slept last night, and my mind is swimming with the possibilities. This is what it’s like doing research on the edge.

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Big claims and big evidence

In science, ideally, when you make a large claim, you need a lot of evidence to support it. In theory anyway, in practice with the speed of the internet, claims often get taken as truth no matter how self correcting later. The claim that vaccines cause autism for example has been thoroughly debunked over and over, but the claim still persists despite the piles of evidence to the contrary. Global warming is another good example of how having a lot of evidence doesn’t mean acceptance.

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Burnout and mental health

After yesterday’s post on the whole match situation, I figure it’s probably time to talk about burnout. Because truthfully when you work yourself past your limit and you get even a small rejection, much less a rejection of that magnitude, you’re setting yourself up for a bad time. As a society we are told to push ourselves, to work harder, to “grind” as much as we can because only then will the system acknowledge our worth and reward us for our efforts. It’s a lie and we all know it, but propaganda is a powerful thing.

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Match, SOAP, and Suicide

Well how could I forget to talk about match? Unlike previous years, I’ve got several friends who are anxiously waiting or at least were waiting, to find out if they got matched or not. The medical system is broken and match is part of the problem, but for those who aren’t in it, you may not understand what match even is or why it’s important. In fact, if you don’t follow medical students on twitter for example, you may never even realize match was happening.

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The value of clean data

Actual EEG data I’ve collected, this is “raw” or untouched data.

In my line of research we have fancy algorithms to remove outside contamination to the data we collect. The problem with collecting electrophysiological data (electrical recordings from a person) is there is so much damned noise everywhere. The problem is magnified when you collect data that have a low signal to noise ratio (meaning lots of noise, not a lot of signal). Signal in this case is the thing we’re interested in measuring and while we have dozens of algorithms to filter (remove) the noise, there’s still no substitute for data that was well collected.

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The first one

Ever look up an answer in the back of the book? The problem with research is there’s no back of the book, but typically when you do an experiment you can at least glance at research surrounding your work and make sure you’re not going completely off the rails. Because I like to make my life unbelievably difficult, and because I don’t like taking small steps forward, I’m going to (hopefully) be the first to do a few things this year. But it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.

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A town on fire

Section of Route 61 or graffiti highway, nicknamed such because it’s a highway and there’s a lot of graffiti. Sadly a few years ago they covered it with dirt because a lot of the graffiti was obscene.

My brain works in mysterious ways, but did you know there’s a town that’s burning and will probably be burning for another (roughly) few hundred years? Not a town exactly, but it’s yet another case of truth being stranger than fiction. If you’re not familiar with the story, or just like learning more when you can, let me introduce you to the town of Centralia.

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Failing for success

Sometimes I get into a groove and since we’ve been talking about failure, I think it’s time I shared why failure isn’t the end of the story. Failure sucks, let’s be real for a second, it hurts, it’s not fun, and it feels like a very personal attack. Or at least that’s what it feels like to me. When someone rejects something I’ve written or proposed I feel like I’m being told I’m not good enough or that I don’t deserve to be a researcher, imposter syndrome is a bitch. But failure isn’t the end, it’s just somewhere in the middle.

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More on failure

After a rough night of sleep I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about today. Failure. Because like I mentioned yesterday, in my journey to a PhD, there was plenty of it. Part of this was due to the fact that I had no idea what the hell was going on or how to prepare for my PhD, but a big part of this was due to the fact that I held a belief that wasn’t true. I thought, because it’s what we’re told, that when applying to grad school grades aren’t the only thing that matters. And I was lied to.

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The transition to grad school

It’s that time of the year again for anyone who’s applied to grad school. This is roughly the time people get acceptance letters, or if you’re like me a pile of rejection letters, but look at me now MIT! Can you tell I’m bitter? Any sort of life transition is hard, be it high school to college, college to work, or even sleep to awake (or is that just me?), transition can feel downright scary. Well the person I’m mentoring “Kay” is about to take that jump and I can’t lie, I’m super excited for her.

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Self care and health care

Maybe it’s just me, but going to the doctor is exhausting. I think selfcare in general is exhausting and so I’ve basically automated my routine, or maybe created a standard routine it is the correct way to phrase that, to make my life as simple as possible. One thing I can’t do is that with is my health care. I can’t be the only one, so in the spirit of sharing, let’s talk about self care and health care.

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And then DARPA appeared…

DARPA and I go way back. Right after I got out of the military back to be exact. Not that more than one or two people even know my name (and probably only vaguely), but DARPA is the reason I’m where I am today, even if the people who helped me get here don’t remember me. As much as I love the DARPA origin story, that’s all it’s ever been, that is until today, when school-PI let me know that DARPA was paying attention.

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The IRB and committee and dissertation proposal, oh my!

Well today has been eventful! After a bunch of emails, meetings, and miscellaneous things, I have a clear shot to my dissertation proposal! I don’t want to say it’s been smooth sailing or that things won’t be rough, but I’m feeling optimistic after all the news. Since there’s a lot, I figure we can cram it into a single post as I take the next few steps to the big proposal defense day.

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Mentoring and mental health

With great power comes great responsibilities. Well as a grad student, you don’t have a whole lot of power (see: none), but you do have responsibilities. You also have more freedom to do the things you want (need) to do the way you want. One of those responsibilities, and my favorite frankly, is mentoring. With all the stress of doing my PhD, being a mentor is something that helps keep me sane, so today I’m going to share some great news along with why I enjoy doing the mentor thing.

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The PhD dissertation proposal

Spinal column shown through a semi-transparent person
Spinal column shown through a semi-transparent person

Well we’ve finally arrived, for real this time, to my proposal timeframe. There are a lot of things that need to happen between now and when I defend my proposal, but thankfully most of those things are started or almost finished. The one thing that isn’t started… well that would be my actual proposal. Be not afraid! I’m going to have the draft done today, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

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The final days of the “last paper”

Well I don’t want to get my hopes up, but I have some big news! As promised in the last, last paper update, I wasn’t going to talk about it until we had submitted the paper for review. Well as of today, last paper is FINALLY in review! Now this could be months before we get it actually published and maybe even longer if there is several rounds to the edits, but this is a big step.

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PhD Committee struggles

Silhouette row of businessmen sitting in meeting room
Silhouette row of businessmen sitting in meeting room
Hopefully your committee won’t look this creepy.

I formed my PhD committee! Then it fell apart… Then I fixed the problem!! But really I didn’t… A PhD committee is a big deal and you can spend a lot of time trying to find the right professors only to find out that they don’t have the time. In my case, I got lucky and formed my committee without too much headache. Then one person left and the whole thing fell apart. So what goes into a committee anyway and why do you need one?

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A (not so) small celebration of… me

a gold star
a gold star

I can write small novels on the accomplishments of others and praise the work they do, because the work they do is worth praise. I think I come off overly flattering, but I mean every word of it because people deserve to be celebrated. Well sadly, I lack that ability for myself, but I’m pushing through the skin crawling feeling that I should delete this and write something else to celebrate a victory, or at least an acknowledgement of a win. So today we’re talking about my least favorite subject, me.

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MK-Ultra, or lies my government told me

Still from video taken in 1955, artist William Millarc takes part in an LSD experiment alleged to have been part of the MK-ULTRA program.

I love a good horror story. Now, personally I prefer fiction, but sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. As the title of the post suggests, we’re talking MK-Ultra since I love the absolute absurdity of the story and frankly it’s a great illustration of how little the common person knows about what the government does in the dark.

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Nuclear war, or how I learned to stop worrying as I was vaporized

Well in the history of humankind, it’s been a hot second since we didn’t have the impending threat of nuclear war. While I would like to believe that the possibility of a nuclear attack is so remote we shouldn’t even worry about it, the truth is I would rather be prepared than not. So let’s talk a little bit about the history of nuclear warfare and how it’s shaped our world even today. Things like, have you ever wondered why shampoo and conditioner were sold separately? Hint, it involves nuclear warfare.

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