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.
I haven’t finished my proposal yet. It’s done, mostly, but I still want to go through and make some changes. As I suspected, a lot of it was copy and paste since the funding I was awarded ($150,000 for two years) was based around my dissertation, so if the document was well written enough to get an award like that, it’s good enough to be used for my proposal defense. The only additions I need to make involve making a figure for my proposed timeline, possibly add some new references (from work I’ve done since I wrote the grant proposal), and adjust my sample size so that I’m not doing the full proposal.
Basically I’m done, since I need to send this out two weeks before my proposal (minimum) I’m trying to rush it, but there’s still time because I don’t have a formal date set yet. I won’t start trying to formalize that until after my proposal has been reviewed by school-PI and I’ve been given the green light to go ahead and start arranging the date. I’m trying to keep an open mind that I’ll be able to do this quickly, but I’m not sure how long it will take since I now have six members on my committee, which is a lot of busy people to herd together into one room at the same time.
Speaking of committee, one of the emails I got was from my recent adjustment. Last I mentioned it (here), I thought I was good, had a person drop because she went to another university, then thought I had fixed the problem, only to find out one of the people didn’t fit a requirement. So I needed to wrangle in a sixth member, which as of today has signed the paperwork agreeing to be on my committee and I have the thumbs up from the director who reviewed my selection to make sure it fit all the requirements. So, bottom line unless someone else leaves, my committee is ready to go!
Which also brings me to my second bit of good news. I just (as in moments before I sat down to write this) got word that my IRB has finally been approved and I’m clear to collect data! There is still one small hurdle I need to jump through, I need to submit an amendment to add the hospital I and surgeon-PI (who was part of this proposal) work at. It’s a minor formality and I think it will happen quickly, not 100% sure, but in any case, I can’t collect data until I defend so even if it takes a few weeks, it won’t hold me up at all. The hardest part was getting the IRB in the first place, but now that it’s final, on the school side anyway, I can focus on the rest of the things I need to get done.
You may be wondering what the next steps are before I propose. Well there’s a lot so I think we can just skim through the list. First I obviously need to finish writing the proposal and send it off to school-PI. Once he gives me his blessing, I can send it off to my committee with a request for availability so we can do the defense. I like to send these out with as much lead time as possible, so end of the month early next month would be ideal.
That doesn’t mean I can relax though, between then and my actual proposal I need to make my slides explaining everything I’m proposing and what I want to accomplish. Basically the rationale behind the proposal, my timeline, the reason for my timeline, etc. That will be a bit of work because almost all of it will be made from scratch and the proposal itself is about an hour long, sometimes longer.
Sid note for a reference point. My qualifying exam was supposed to be an hour long, but because school-PI stopped and asked lots of questions it lasted almost three hours. Plus I did it while I was sick because school-PI traveled with us to a conference and he was sick (which got several of us sick along with him). This was before COVID and let me just say, if we have to wear masks for the rest of our lives I would happily do it. People are nasty.
Anyway so an hour’s worth of slides for the presentation and hopefully everything will go somewhat smoothly and it won’t last for several hours longer than it was scheduled to last. Even then I don’t get to take a break once my slides are made. No, between when I set my date and the actual date I will have at least one, if not more, practice sessions to make sure I, (1) know the material, (2) the slides and formatting make sense, (3) the slides follow a natural order (progress linearly), and (4) the presentation itself is clear and convey what I’m trying to do.
Remember, the purpose of all this isn’t to fail you, just the opposite. So I know I’m not going into my proposal defense setup to fail. Although my first qualifying exam was set up intentionally so I would fail and that was a hard thing to deal with and I’m still upset about it, obviously. Maybe I’ll retell that story now that I’ve had a few years to cool off. I think when I first told it I was still in shock about the whole thing, but on the brightside it was the thing that convinced me to start my 365 days of academia project, so it worked out in a way.
In any case, this time I know I’m not being set up for failure, I think school-PI was trying to teach me something (or maybe he didn’t like me, I get that feeling from time to time). So there will be practice, feedback, and help from the lab. That way when the big day comes, I’ll be ready to go and get (with luck) swift approval for my project from the committee.
At the least, I imagine they will try to help narrow the scope or make things slightly easier for me since I’m already proposing something particularly difficult, my “super secret technique” is not an easy thing to do and there’s no guarantee it will work at all. However, after meeting with one of my committee members, I feel better because he said the grant we applied for was very competitive (only one or two awarded) and the proposal was reviewed by a lot of scientists who have expertise in the field who thought it would work, so I have that going for me at least. I mean high risk, high reward, which is how I like it (even if it makes me uncomfortable having that large chunk of money dangling over me now).
Getting back to the events leading up to my proposal, once I practice a few times (depending on how the first practice goes) I can do my defense. So between the last practice and the actual defense I may get a small break, but nothing to write home about. In summation, the time between now and when I do my proposal defense will be hectic and just chaotic in the general sense.
Then again, it feels like that’s been my normal for a long time now, so maybe that’s why I’m not really anxious about the proposal defense… yet anyway.