We're a little crazy, about science!

Seven days…

Okay, I’m not going to do a countdown to my proposal defense, as much as I really want to do it. But since we’re a week away from the big day, I wanted to give an update on the plan and maybe recap a little about where I am. Yes, it feels like a theme, but with such a large milestone coming up, it’s basically all I’m focused on for the moment!

By this time next week I’ll have defended my PhD proposal and then the real countdown starts, the countdown to graduation. From then on out it’s up to me, and how much I can do, to finish the project I’ve taken on. I’m a little nervous about the size and scope of the project, but once we (I) have the data collected the rest should go somewhat smoothly. I’ve spent the past four years working up to this moment, so I’m going in prepared for the work ahead.

There are two main milestones you need to hit (here in the US anyway) to get a PhD. I’m aware this isn’t the case in other countries, so I want to clarify that this is US specific. The first milestone is your qualifying exam. For some it’s a literal exam in front of your committee, for others it’s a project. I was in the later thankfully, I don’t do well with exams, projects on the other hand I can do all day. Your qualifying exam (again, US only) is the separation between being a PhD student and a PhD candidate. It’s the “test” to show you actually belong where you are. Trust me, you do and even if you fail it’s not exactly your fault, it’s a systematic issue, one I’ve written about extensively (like this).

The second step, which I’m not sure is US specific, but I believe it is, is the proposal defense. Your proposal defense is more of a conversation about the work you plan on doing for your PhD. And there will be work! You’ll sit with a larger committee than you did with your qualifying exam (at least that was the requirement in my case) then discuss your project, what you’ll do, how you’ll do it, and your proposed time frame. I’ve already had one practice with my slides (here) and it went better than expected so I’m slightly more relaxed about the whole situation for the moment.

Most (all) of this I’ve discussed in detail in previous posts. But I don’t think I’ve actually bothered to discuss what comes next. Because like I mentioned the rest of the timeline is up to me and how fast I can do the work. That’s because when you get to your proposal defense (ideally anyway) you’ll have everything you need to get started (like your IRB approval). Since I have the greenlight to go ahead and start collecting my data from the school IRB office, the only reason I’m not actively collecting my data is this small hurtle known as the proposal defense.

After next week it will be full speed ahead to quickly and efficiently collect the data for the project. I will be recruiting a lot of people from our lab (since we do non-invasive research, we test on each other regularly) and some from outside of the lab. The first phase (Aim 1) of my project will take just a few months once I collect all my data. I’ll need to process it, make sense of it, and arrange it into something that will make sense to others. In this case, the first minor milestone after my proposal defense would be to get this data and publish my first paper on the work.

That’s easier said than done, but again I now have a significant amount of experience working with the type of data I will be collecting and I know how I want to perform the analysis, so it’s just a matter of sitting down and doing the work. There will be several aspects that I’m still not sure how to do, but that will be a learn as I go type deal unfortunately. Most of the code for the project is (thankfully) already written in one form or another, so I just have to reformat it to work with my data. Expect a lot of code writing posts as I go so I can pass on tips as I’m figuring this out.

Aims 2 and 3 will take the longest so it’s important for me, if I want to finish on time, to get the data as quickly as possible so I can do the analysis. I don’t suspect the work will be easy, because this aim will take ~8 months or so if I’m lucky. Longer if I’m not so lucky, which would almost certainly push back my target graduation date.

As a reminder for the regulars around here (or for anyone new) I want to graduate in almost one year exactly. In fact, the deadline to defend my PhD is the same every year and for anyone lucky enough to be defending this year, it’s just a few weeks away, so literally this time next year if all goes well I will be posting about the PhD defense and debating about what’s next for this blog.

Aims 2 and 3 should lead to another journal paper, but that probably won’t be published until early next year if all goes well. The worst case scenario is that none of this works, which means little (or no) journal publications from the work. Thankfully that won’t affect my graduation, I did the work, I found a limitation, and there will now be documented evidence to show this for future researchers who may want to travel down the same path.

I’m like 80% confident this will work though. My qualifying exam data look good and I’ve had a few attempts at collecting similar data which were somewhat promising (using slightly different methods, which does make me nervous, but whatever). The point being if it turns out that none of this works, I will still graduate and while it may make more work for me, it will also help keep others from coming up with the same idea.

So no pressure or anything, one to two hours next week will just dictate the next year of my life. No pressure at all.

Not even a little worried.*

*definitely freaking out)


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