The wait of it all
See what I did there? As we are now at the end of the month, I’m starting to stress, yet again, about my dissertation experiments. Because life isn’t stressful enough after the past few days, my brain has decided to focus on yet another thing outside my control. But as with everything my brain does, writing it out helps, which is why we’re going to talk about what I have left to get my degree and how I’m anxious to get started.
Since starting my PhD I told myself that I wanted to finish in five years. Five seemed like a good number because (here in the US anyway) that’s the average time to finish a PhD. There was a lot to learn for me since I came into neuroengineering with a mechanical engineering background (once again pointing out that those are two totally different things), so I didn’t want to rush. I did my Masters degree in a year and I wanted to get the full experience since this was my PhD and all.
At the beginning of the year, some three months ago now (here actually) I defended my PhD proposal and was ready to dive into the data collection. But along the way there were bumps (to say the least) the equipment I was promised wasn’t a thing, so we (I) rigged something together to make it all work and it was still a huge mess. In the end I got one dataset (out of ten) and it’s a mess. Such a mess I haven’t actually touched it yet (seriously). So we ordered some new equipment and played the waiting game for it to arrive.
To be clear, the stuff that happened the first experiment wasn’t anyone’s fault. One PI had good intentions, but a bad understanding of what I was doing and the equipment he had available to him because we were borrowing equipment from like four different labs to get this done. I never claimed my project was easy! So I don’t blame the person, in fact I’m grateful that he made such a huge attempt at helping me, it just didn’t work out. That said, I needed equipment and unlike my “big idea” project I actually was awarded funding for this project (a substantial amount IMO).
Unfortunately COVID is still a thing and we’ve been waiting for the equipment through the delays since. Now Friday I was supposed to reach out to the company rep to find out if the stuff had shipped. Since I didn’t hear from him, I’m assuming it’s a no, but he could be delayed in emailing me, he could be waiting for the tracking number, there’s a lot of if’s that would’ve been cleared up if I had emailed him Friday about the order like I had planned. Unfortunately, Friday was a worst case scenario, red alert, someone needs to go to the ER kind of day, so I completely forgot to send the email (can you really blame me?), which means I know nothing.
Now I was told there was a 75% chance it would have shipped on Friday and a 25% chance it will be shipped this upcoming Friday, but I was told it would be shipped for sure in the middle of July and well that came and went without much fanfare so I have been harassing the rep via email every week since to find out the status of the order and lament about the fact that I don’t have it and my PhD is on hold until we get the equipment. Not to mention DARPA really wants to see what I can do and I would like to have more data to show than the original pilot study I did.
Basically the clock is ticking and I’m stuck in a waiting mode. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. As I somewhat hinted in previous posts my “super secret technique” (SST for short) and “big idea” are related. Like very related, big idea could only happen in the hospital setting though and SST was a more generalized version. Ironically I would argue I came up with the ideas backwards, big idea should’ve been first, but who am I to do things in an expected order?
Since they are very related though, there is a lot I can do on the big idea side of things (since that project has some momentum). In fact, I’m very excited that my early work helps confirm that SST does work and that I can do what I claim. I’ve been writing some super interesting code for big idea that I will definitely be able to use for SST, so the past few weeks I’ve been plugging away at that writing code that is nice and flexible (like this) so when the time comes, I can just plug the data in and have a super nice looking figure that tells the story I’m looking to tell.
It will be self-adjusting so right now I’m writing the function to adjust for three different situations, depending on the input data. This step alone will save me a ton of time when I actually have the data collected for my dissertation and it will mean that once I have the data processed I can produce figures that will be (hopefully) paper quality and I will be able to just jump into writing the manuscript right away without too much problem.
Still it’s stressful not knowing when I can actually start collecting data and being forced to sit and wait for equipment as my timeline becomes more and more condensed. I gave myself a ton of time for analysis and even a bit of wiggle room for collection, but now we’re looking at having to shorten the time I get to do everything and that feels scary. I may as well start writing the introduction, background, and methods for my dissertation, I have nothing else to do. So it goes.
That’s rough, that after all this time you still don’t have your equipment. But it’s a good idea to adapt by changing the order of work and doing your coding and writing now, absolutely. I remember that SST and “big idea” are related, but I didn’t realize you’d be able to apply data processing effort from one to the other; that’s cool.
Delays or no delays, you do have people behind you who want you to succeed. If you have a lot of work pile up, or if you end up graduating late … it doesn’t mean you’re going to fall through the cracks. You’re getting your career started with a bang at the hospital, and hopefully that helps make up for it. In any case you’ll make it okay … I have your back, insofar as I can, and it sounds like quite a few others do too.
I realize that may not be a lot of comfort. As I’ve said before, I stress over schedule delays too, and the primary reason is not capitalism, not society’s expectations, not any fear that I won’t be cared for if I don’t produce enough. It’s the basic fact of my own mortality and the desire to have impact on the world before I’m no longer in it. That’s not something anyone else can help me with, so delays and failures just hurt, and there’s no getting around it. If you’re feeling something similar then I understand.
As usual, best of luck.
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July 31, 2022 at 1:27 pm
Yeah it’s been a stressful wait. I’m lucky there are things I can do in the meantime, SST and big idea use a lot of the same processing steps, so I’ve been writing the code with the dual use in mind. Hopefully it will help when the time comes, but…. it looks like the wait may be over!
Yeah I don’t mind having graduation pushed back so much as I feel annoyed that I want to do the work to graduate on time and I just can’t. It’s more annoying than anything else, plus I have big plans (possibly run my own lab kind of plans) and I really want to get those things going or at least move onto the next step.
I think we’re on the same page. The whole leave the world in a better place than when I found it feeling sums it up pretty succinctly. The desire is there, but there’s just so many roadblocks in the way.
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August 1, 2022 at 4:48 pm