We're a little crazy, about science!

The helping hands

So granted it’s my blog, my journey, and basically all about me, so maybe I think too highly of myself. I’m trying to not read too much into the implications and what that says about me, but I’ve always thought of the blog as more of a tracker for myself than anyone else. Not that I’m not happy to have the company! Today though, I thought it would be nice to talk about why it takes a village to make a dissertation, despite what it may sound like sometimes.

Speaking of narcissism… lol quick rundown of who I am again. Currently I’m a fifth year (how did that happen?!) PhD candidate in neuroengineering. My BS and MS are in mechanical engineering (two totally different skill sets), and I’ve spent the past year full-time working in a hospital after I decided to take the job. There’s been a lot of ups and downs along the way, mostly downs up until about a year ago frankly. But there was a lot to learn and it turns out you need to suck at something new before you get good at it. Who knew? This is my 365 days of academia project, a daily goal to blog about my progress, which I started after my first year as a PhD student, so we’re on year four despite being on my fifth year in the program. Welcome!

So the gears are slowly turning and I’m getting data for my dissertation. I currently have 7 of the 10 datasets needed, I have one person on the schedule for sure and a handful of maybe’s. It’s going to be close this week, but I’m hopeful I’ll get the rest of the data needed. It’s a huge undertaking and I’m the one doing most of the work, but there are others who are helping me along the way who are doing a significant portion of the odds and ends that make this all possible.

One of those labmates is a person who just happened to have family who offered to help. From that one person alone, I managed to get four of the datasets I’ve collected! Not too bad if I do say so myself. They’ve been a huge help and while I can thank them in the acknowledgements, it feels like a small gesture for the amount of help I get just by gathering people for my experiments. It helps remove some of the stress and planning around the experiments and while it means I have to actually collect the data, it’s one less thing I need to worry about.

I now have two students in different tracks, one who hopes to go to medical school and the other who’s a masters student, helping me as well. One and perhaps both will be funded from that grant I was awarded. The nice thing about not needing the funds to pay myself is that we can put that money to getting me some help and help I have got!

The potential medical student in particular has been with me since the beginning of the data collection. While they are not experienced in data collection, they have been a huge help in gathering the equipment, grabbing things, cleaning the equipment, etc. Cleaning in particular is a huge time suck and it’s nice not to have to do it. I remember doing for other senior lab members because that’s really all I was qualified to do and doing it helps out a lot more than you would think. Having to step away to get a piece of equipment, particularly when the experiment started, is difficult too, so having the extra set of hands is really a lifesaver. It means I can focus on collecting the data and getting the participant in and out as quickly as possible.

Now I have a second student, the masters student, who is going to be helping out as well. They already volunteered to be a participant for the experiment and have been present for three of them. They are also another set of hands to grab things, help out, take pictures, etc. while I am collecting the data, setting up, or just working with the participant in general. There is such a thing as having too much help, but I think this is a good amount. Right now during the experiment both of them are probably pretty bored, but that’s part of the learning process.

Having two people also takes the stress off for both of them in case one cannot attend the experiment. I could, in theory anyway, do it all myself without help. For example, the data I collected for the Effects of TSS on the brain paper was 110% collected solo by me. It can be done, but it’s exhausting and I really didn’t want to do it all alone. Having the help means the time between the experiments is shorter too. We’re averaging around an hour between finishing one and starting the next, which is much, much faster than if I tried to do it all myself.

Both of them will be helping with the data analysis as well, they probably won’t be able to do much and it will be more for teaching than time saving, but they need to learn and it will be a good way to double check my work as well. The dataset I’m creating is going to be very unique and learning how to work with multimodal data is an important skill that will follow them around as long as they are in the field. With everyone more senior to me graduated, it’s an important part of keeping the lab going so that they can help and teach others as they progress as well.

There are a ton of other people who have helped or are helping that I would love to talk about, but this post would get incredibly long very quickly. Instead I will just point out that it takes a ton of people to make anything, even a dissertation, happen. It’s tradition that my name is on the work, but they all get to claim a piece of it as their own too. In fact, all dissertations have acknowledgements for that reason, there’s no such thing as a lone scientist, despite what TV shows may tell you.


2 responses

  1. “Maybe I think too highly of myself,” wonders the guy who thanks his blog readers every time he publishes a paper, and was all uncomfortable and embarrassed when it came time to share a nice feature article his school wrote about him. Haha you’re all right.

    I’m glad you get to have help, especially since you put in the time helping other people with their experiments earlier on.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 29, 2022 at 10:16 pm

    • Haha okay fair.

      Yes, having help is a nice change of pace. It feels weird being on the other side of it, but I’m not complaining.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 30, 2022 at 2:40 pm

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