We're a little crazy, about science!

A small step towards graduation

Well the hurry up and wait phase is over. As of today I now have the equipment I need for my dissertation experiments so it should be full speed ahead with data collection. Now I could do data collection and analysis simultaneously, but I don’t think I want to do that since I’m in a hurry and I’ll explain why in a minute, but now that I have equipment we’ve made a small step toward finishing this project. There are some things still lingering, but I think we’re on the right track forward. The only question is, can I get it done in time to graduate in the spring?

For those who don’t know me a quick introduction! I’m a fifth year PhD candidate studying neuroengineering. My BS and MS are in mechanical and as I always like to remind people, those are two very different fields. I’ve successfully defended my dissertation proposal (here) and as of today I can now start collecting data for the project because I was waiting for some very specific equipment to be delivered. It took forever… but here we are! I’ve also recently started working full-time (recently as in almost a year now, wow time flies!) in a hospital doing research. It’s been an interesting experience, if not an incredibly busy time for me. So if you’re new here, welcome! This is my 365 days of academia project (year three, going into four soon!), a glimpse into my life as I navigate my degree.

With the introduction out of the way, we can discuss what’s coming and some of the hangups I’m already dealing with.

If this were a few weeks ago it would’ve been mostly smooth sailing. I could’ve somewhat seamlessly gone to campus and collected my data on the weekends mostly since even though I should have Friday’s those are being eaten by work lately. Unfortunately, last week someone close to me had a medical emergency, so I’ve been helping deal with that. Then on top of it, I’ve just got news that one of my labmates tested positive for COVID. For the record, I have yet to catch COVID and I want to keep it that way. As I explain to the people around me, I’m not looking to get sick and I’m not looking to get other people sick, so I stick to the precautions we know work. Namely masking and avoiding contact with others.

The good news is my labmate was masked as were we all. This wouldn’t be the first close call we had and we’ve basically been very lucky with no one catching it, because masks work. I’ll be getting tested in the next few days (or if symptoms start to show) to verify that I’m COVID free. Friendly reminder it takes 3-5 days after exposure to test positive so I’ll be testing within that window and in the meantime I’ll be avoiding everyone like I am sick so I don’t spread the damned thing if I am sick. Which automatically means that I will not be doing experiments this weekend out of an abundance of caution.

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t go into the lab and check the equipment to make sure everything is working. Luckily for me the lab is basically (very) empty on the weekends so there will be no one in the building, much less the lab. Checking to see if everything is working is important because previously nothing was working. I couldn’t get the equipment we had loaned to me working correctly so it would pause randomly and stop recording. Meaning I have like a dozen files that I need to sort through if I want to use that first data collection for my dissertation, which I’m on the fence about right now.

Once I’m sure I’m (1) COVID free and (2) the equipment is working properly, I can work with the participants to see if we can get two or so scheduled for over next weekend. Ideally I can get two done a day, three if I push, but the first “test” experiment took so long that I’m hesitant to try to schedule that many. Two would be ideal for now, meaning I could get four of ten datasets collected in one weekend or about 40% of the data I need for aim 1 (which is my main aim and the one I really need to have a positive result for). If that goes smoothly the following week I could try to cram the rest of the experiments in (adding Friday, ideally) and that would be ten out of ten for aim 1! The trick is I only have five or so people lined up, so I really need to recruit some more people if this is going to work.

Of course all this hinges on the fact that I remain COVID free and the workload I have on the hospital side of things. There’s a lot of overlap, but I can’t work on two things at once (I can barely work on one thing at a time frankly), so there’s a whole load of “what if’s” at the moment that I’m trying to plan for. I don’t think this will be a huge deal though. I think once I have the data most of this will be smooth sailing (mostly), but it’s a matter of getting the data so that I can process it when I find the time (assuming there is time to process it).

Really I’m excited about the prospect of getting started. I’ve been in a holding pattern for so long now it feels a little surreal. With the DARPA event coming later this year (just a few months really!) I would like to have some of the data processed and fancy figures made for everything to be ready to go for the big event. Speaking of which, I’ve made travel arrangements and what not for the event already (with the help of the DARPA coordinators, who are amazing!), so that’s all taken care of so I no longer have to stress about all that thankfully.

No, for now it’s just a matter of what we find. Will “super secret technique” (SST for short) be the next big thing, or will it be a huge flop? Either way it will be good to know for future generations wondering the same question, but I have high hopes and the data I’ve collected for “big idea” helps validate some of the original SST findings, which fingers crossed means it does work. I’ll know more after we get the data collected, but it’s an exciting time full of possibilities with just a little bit of fear that it won’t actually work. Only time will tell.

With any luck I’ll have some data and results by the end of this month or next month and we can finally say once and for all this works or doesn’t work. I’m hoping for the former obviously, but the later wouldn’t be the end of the world either.

2 responses

  1. Is the person who had the emergency still doing all right? Are you having to help with followup care or anything?

    Good job still being careful about not getting sick – but even so, that stinks. My gaming group was about to go back to meeting in-person, but one member was near somebody who tested positive this week, so we’re staying online until he’s clear.

    I’m glad to hear that you are a step closer and will soon be rolling, anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 2, 2022 at 7:03 pm

    • Thanks for asking, yes they are okay. I am helping with care, which feels overwhelming at times, but I wanted to help.

      Yeah I’ve been lucky so far. More and more people are just ignoring the pandemic making it an awful time to do anything. Sorry to hear about your friend. I hope they recover quickly and I hope you remain COVID free!

      Thanks, I’m hoping the data collection can go super quickly. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I just need to rip the bandaid off and get it done so I can focus on making sense of the data.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 4, 2022 at 10:58 am

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