We're a little crazy, about science!

The proposal edits

We’re just a few short days away from the two week mark to dissertation proposal defense day, maybe, I’m still waiting for responses from three committee members, two of which I speak with on a regular basis, so I’m not too worried about them, one has been ignoring everyone’s emails, so I am slightly anxious to hear back about that one. Since the time is rapidly approaching I need to have both my written proposal and slides figured out, like now.

Yesterday I emailed off my latest edits to the written proposal along with the slide deck I made for the presentation. The slides feel simple enough and I got minor changes on that front, which reflect the changes that were requested for the written proposal. There were some other things that needed to be addressed with the proposal and in an effort to document the struggles of writing on a deadline, now would be an excellent time to go over the progress made and the work left.

The initial proposal was written about a month ago. I feel like I’m cheating somewhat because 95% of what I wrote was literally copied and pasted from my grant proposal. That’s the advantage of writing grant proposals I guess, because I didn’t need to do much work to get my dissertation proposal ready (it’s in the same general R21 format, which is helpful). The main difference between the R21 I wrote and the dissertation proposal is that the dissertation proposal has no page limit where I was limited in the R21.

This means adding details that were dropped or adding further clarifications to the proposal that I wouldn’t have had the space for otherwise. For reference an R21 has a one page specific aims and six pages to outline the work you’ll be doing (not including references, thankfully). That gives you a total of seven pages and trust me when I say that it is hard to keep it in that limit. Figures get shrunk until they are just barely readable, text gets chopped, and no matter how important you feel each word in a sentence is, you’ll have to find things to cut. I’ve gotten into the habit of cutting a word or two if the sentence is too long and starts a new line (leaving a large blank gap for the next paragraph). That trick has saved me a lot of headaches.

However, right now my proposal is almost 16 pages (15 and a half technically speaking) not including the references. As per my habit of citing multiple examples of a point I’m trying to make, which I think is a better practice than citing a single study (even though I had a reviewer argue that was not a good practice!), I’ve got almost 100 citations in the proposal so far and I may break through to over 100 by the time I finish it. So in total my proposal is, as of this writing, up to 20 pages (including the four for citations).

But there’s still more work to be done. Like I said last night I sent off both my slides and proposal to school-PI and surprisingly he responded this morning with very thorough feedback. I like thorough feedback because I find it helpful, so I’ll take it. Mostly there were minor things that I missed because I’m in a rush, formating things. I’m using overleaf to write my proposal, which I like to use ever since my seizure paper, which was done in overleaf for the class I took that precipitated the paper. So I had a sub-subsection (think 1.2.3) when I should have just had a subsection (1.2) for a few of the sections because I copied and pasted the code and filled in the titles for the section without noticing I had copied a subsubsection bit of code.

Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, he wants me to do a more thorough overview of some of the machine learning things I will be doing with the data I’m collecting. That won’t be hard, but some of it involves making figures and that is time consuming. Some of the things he wants me to add are formulas for the analysis I’ll be doing.

Thankfully “last paper,” which is still in review (same for robot paper), has all the formula written out and explained in detail. Another thing I hate is when papers cite other papers, who cite other papers, and it’s just a chain of papers citing other papers to find the formula that they used. So I always, ALWAYS explicitly go through the formula used to get the result because I refuse to make others dig like that. This habit is going to work in my favor because I can literally copy and paste from the methods section and I’m basically done.

Now as a reminder, the one major requirement I have left before I can do my proposal defense is that I MUST send out my written proposal to committee members at a minimum of two weeks prior to my defense date. The earliest day I could defend (and I’ve included in my poll for availability) is the 18th, meaning I need to send this out by the 4th at the latest, which is Monday, or two days away.

The actual defense probably won’t happen the 18th, but I would rather be on the cautious side. RIght now it looks like it will be closer to the middle/end of that week, but that could change with the availability of surgeon-PI (who is incredibly busy) and the one professor who is not returning emails for whatever reason. School-PI needs to select his availability, but I have a feeling he will do it last to select the date he wants that works for everyone since there would (in theory anyway) be multiple to choose from.

For now the blog will probably be flooded with progress on getting this done, but I plan on having all the edits done today for at least the written proposal if not my slides as well. Since I didn’t mention it, the slides needed to include the same changes school-PI requested I made to the proposal and include pitfalls, which I didn’t add for some reason. Pitfalls, for those not working on your dissertation, are literally things that could go wrong and how to overcome them. I have four major pitfalls listed in my proposal so I just need to copy them over to slides or if I’m feeling fancy I can make graphical examples of the problems that could come up (I’m not feeling fancy).

With a little luck, I’ll send this version off later tonight, school-PI will give me a greenlight tomorrow or Monday, and I’ll send it out to my committee shortly after with a nice little reminder to select availability. If all goes well, I will have a date selected for the actual proposal defense sometime this next week. If it goes any longer than that, I may start running into issues with the people who selected their availability because it is very much a first come first served kind of deal.

Once again, it’s a lot like herding cats, which is why I’m trying to do it now instead of last minute.


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