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The long road to the end of my dissertation

Sometimes you’re so focused on something that when you take a second and look up you realize it’s almost the end of the year and you’re wondering how the hell that happened. It feels like just yesterday summer had started, we had our interns at the hospital and I had just defended my dissertation proposal. Now we’re roughly 8 months to the dissertation defense deadline and there’s work to be done. But there may be more, depending on how things go.

Quick refresh about me since I should be doing that more often. First, this is my 365 days of academia project! It started as a one year goal to simply blog about things daily as I work towards my PhD. I loved it so much I kept going and in less than a week we’re going to enter year four of the project. Time flies my friends. As for me, these days I’m a fifth year PhD candidate in neuroengineering with my BS and MS in mechanical engineering (two totally different fields!). It’s been a struggle for sure, I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’ve learned a lot. I got funding for a grant I wrote, I now work in a hospital doing clinical research full time, and I was selected as a DARPA risser, just to name a few of the things that have happened in the last year! But today we’re talking about the final hurdle in my PhD experience, my dissertation.

At the beginning of the year (… how did that happen?!) I defended my PhD proposal. It went well despite one of my lovely committee members, who I call surgeon-PI, trying to accidentally make more work for me by suggesting a whole other battery of tests. Tests that would’ve added so much work that even school-PI, who has an incredibly high tolerance for the amount of work a student can/should do, said nope.

The project consisted of three aims and two sets of experiments. The second set was school-PI’s addition and I really didn’t want to do them. I think they will take far too long for me to do in my timeframe and are far outside the scope of what I wanted to do. However, they got added in anyway because that was the bar he set and he’s the committee chair so he’s the ultimate say on what I need to do to get my degree. The other committee members play a role too, but he’s the head and gets the final say.

My goal is to graduate in the spring. There’s certain things I need to do between now and then. Ideally I would have one to two papers published on the work (assuming it isn’t a total failure, but even then something may still be publishable, maybe). I would also complete all three aims and aim 3 is a demo of what I’m trying to show so if I got aim 1 and 3 done, that would be enough for me! However, there’s aim 2 and aim 2 has been a headache I’m not even ready to think about.

Which brings me to the topic of the day really. I’ve been ignoring aim 2. Data collection (2 of 10) for aim 1 is coming along fast and I should be done in a few weeks if I’m lucky. However, aim 2 is much harder and could take months of work to coordinate and get done. I’m hoping once I make it far enough with aim 1 I can convince school-PI to either eliminate aim 2 or drastically reduce the number of people needed for aim 2.

I’m hopeful since there were delays in getting the equipment and I want to graduate on time school-PI will agree that the work I’ve done and am doing is enough or we can reduce the number of people needed for aim 2 to something more reasonable. Unfortunately I won’t know the answer until I’m closer to the end (well even closer) and I’ve done all I could. I do want to attempt to get a few people for my aim 2 if I can, I mean I’m not trying to be lazy about it, but there’s only so many hours in the day and I have other commitments.

I think if I managed to secure a job offer or had something lined up that was contingent on graduating in the spring then it would be more of a sure thing. Having nothing to make my goal more needed than wanted means there’s no reason why I couldn’t conceivably graduate later without any sort of consequence other than graduating later. It makes it hard to justify needing to graduate in the spring basically. I do need to start looking at options for after I graduate though. Most offers will have a deadline to graduate if you get the offer, so between now and when I find something, I guess anything is possible.

So for now I just need to keep going and see what happens. Right now the next obstacle I need to meet is the DARPA Risers conference, which is fast approaching! With luck, I’ll have all of the aim 1 participants data collected and I can get both the conference and the journal paper for aim 1 taken care of at roughly the same time. With as much that has happened this year, things for the last four months of this year are going to be incredibly busy.

“It’s only temporary,” he whispers as if he really thought that were true.


2 responses

  1. August isn’t “almost the end of the year” Alex, it’s a little over half way. Don’t scare me haha.

    Aim 2 was getting beyond proof-of-concept to the heart of the idea, if I remember correctly. But I suppose you always could do something in that vein as part of your continuing work post-PhD (and probably will, if Aim 1 says it works), so I shouldn’t be disappointed if you end up axing it.

    I guess I’d kind of assumed you had an automatic placement in the hospital after graduating and would be doing that for at least a little while … are you looking at other options?

    Liked by 1 person

    August 14, 2022 at 2:18 pm

    • Haha, it feels like it’s almost the end of the year to me! Sorry for the heart attack though!

      Yeah, the second aim would’ve been after we show this actually works and apply it to another population, but the number of people and the amount of work was significant. I’m hoping to avoid doing it and leave it for someone else, but I don’t know that I’ll be that lucky.

      I do technically have an automatic placement. I mean I’m an employee so I already have a job, but once I have my PhD I would be qualified for a different position and there are some options there. Technically I will owe the hospital a year after I graduate since they help pay for school, but that doesn’t mean I have to be in the same position the whole time. So I’m hoping to have an offer from the hospital prior to my graduation, which would be great for me, but also help justify finishing at a certain time.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 15, 2022 at 11:20 am

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