The long wait
Soooo… my dissertation. Haven’t really talked about that in a bit. Yeah, things are off to a rocky start. In the spirit of being transparent and sharing all the struggles, I figure today we can discuss where I am in the process. That includes the hold ups, the let downs, and why I’m officially just a bit nervous that I’ll actually be able to meet my goal of graduating in the spring. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but at least it’s temporary, he says as if he actually believed it.
Quick reminder of who the guy on the other end of these words is! I’m a fifth year PhD candidate in neuroengineering. My BS and MS were in mechanical engineering and fun fact, those are two very different fields. One day I will build the best prosthetics ever, hopefully, maybe. But for now I’m bumbling my way through the process and a few years ago I started the 365 days of academia project. At the time it was a year long commitment to blog about my journey and I enjoyed it so much, well I decided to do it to the end. So here we are heading into year four of the project and I’ve published a few papers, won a few awards, and generally have done things I never thought I would do. Not too bad, right?
One of the final hurdles I have is my dissertation. I’ve defended my proposal (here) and it went well, but if I want to graduate on time I had a very strict schedule to collect my data, process the data, make sense of the data, cry about the data, publish the data, cry a bit more about the data and finish my PhD with the data. It was going to be tight and that was if we could get started the day after I defended, which for those counting was a few months ago.
Since then I’ve got exactly one data set. It’s not great, I may not even use it since it’s so hard to organize, and because of all the technical troubles that I was dealing with, I’ve decided to wait until I had the proper equipment to collect more. Time and energy are precious commodities and I have very little of either these days, so every minute has to count. The first experiment was scheduled for a total of three hours and it ran over five. There were a ton of headaches long the way, I was promised stuff that wasn’t actually a thing, and it was just not great all around. I’m still a bit frustrated about the situation, but what can you do?
The equipment was ordered shortly after that experiment and there was a long backlog before it would arrive. Originally we had hoped for it to get here the beginning of the month, which was still bad, but whatever I could work with it. Then the middle of the month, okay fine I can’t do much about that, just need to work smarter not harder. Now it’s the end of the month. I’m told (as of a few hours ago) there’s a 75% chance the equipment would ship next week and a 25% chance the week after. I’m assuming we’re looking at, at least two weeks if not more.
The problem is the pandemic people are ignoring. The thing about ignoring a problem is that it doesn’t actually fix anything, it just gets worse in the background until you are forced to notice it. Sort of like if you had a small kitchen fire and just pretended like nothing was wrong until the entire house was up in flames and you’re still convinced it’s a government conspiracy to get you to call the fire department and that, if people weren’t sheep they would realize that fires rarely kill anyone. They died WITH smoke inhalation, not FROM smoke inhalation.
Yes, this is me once again complaining that, in the general sense, we are just a bunch of dumb ape offshoots and we should probably not act so high and mighty when we have the power to fix something like two global pandemics, but we decide it’s not worth the bottom line, which of course is money and not people. Weird how people are needed to make money, but money is still somehow more important than the people…
Anyway, the point being, because of COVID (and soon to be monkeypox, joy) there are serious delays in shipping. Parts still aren’t really going anywhere, welcome to the world is on fire and we’re pretending it’s not. So I can’t get the stuff I need because people are getting sick and/or dying from COVID and no one cares. Frustrating on both sides of that equation thank you, especially the people dying part, still really shocked no one gives a shit.
So for now I’m stuck in this sort of limbo waiting for the equipment to arrive and dreading when it does because that’s going to make so much more work for me it’s not even funny. Now if it were just my dissertation deadline I wouldn’t worry so much. I mean it’s a letdown, it really is, I really wanted to finish in five years. That was the average, and I did my Masters faster, so I figured I would take the regular amount of time for a PhD and just enjoy it.
No, the problem is that I need to present something at the DARPA Forward conference in the fall, which is less than a handful of months away. Now I’ve gotten better at speedrunning data processing, I really have, but this is just an insane speed to be working at, I should know, I’m mostly insane. I don’t even know if my “super secret technique,” the thing I’m getting my PhD on, will actually work! I’m still forced to work with an n = 1 dataset and I could process the newest data, but that wouldn’t help much (and it makes things more complicated later when I have the right equipment).
In short, we need to hurry up and wait. I’m not thrilled about it, both school-PI and hospital-PI agree, even the rep for the company (whom I’ve emailed at least half a dozen times in the past few weeks) agrees. This is not good, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
Sometimes the wait is worse than the actual work though. I would rather be exhausted with a lot of data than stressed without any data. But that’s just me!