No time like tomorrow
I’m not a procrastinator at all. In fact to prove it, I’ll list all the reasons why I don’t procrastinate, tomorrow. But seriously, sometimes putting things off until tomorrow is the best kind of care and time management. In the magical world of tomorrow you’ll feel fully awake, well rested, and the best you’ve ever felt. Of course, that’s just a fantasy, but even then sometimes self care is the best thing you can do for yourself. Which is why I’ve decided to put off the work I wanted to get done today for the magic world of tomorrow.
My deadline is fast approaching. I’ve only got a few weeks until the DARPA conference submission deadline, there’s a lot of work to do and no time to do it. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried. Since it’s been a minute let’s recap how we got here, where I’m hoping to go, what happens if we don’t hit it, and most importantly what happens if it all falls apart. Not that I’m stressed about all this or anything (heavy sarcasm).
Since it’s year five of my PhD I can officially say super secret technique (SST) is now four years old, almost exactly since I came up with it in October my first year of my PhD. SST was and is a long-shot. It was a large gap in the field that I was surprised to find nothing on. It’s a high risk, high reward type project and at the time I started the journey I thought, it’s just my PhD, what do I have to lose? I mean if it works, then that’s amazing, if it doesn’t then there’s a written record of it somewhere so others, who may end up one day having a similar idea, wouldn’t fall into the same trap.
For my qualifying exam, the first step to your PhD, I tested SST and the results were amazing. They are so good I’m still having trouble believing it’s real and I’m going to be somewhat disappointed if there was an error in my processing somewhere, but to this day I cannot find one. But it’s an n of 1 pilot study, so it amounts to a whole lot of nothing (fun, right?). So I’m still stuck between SST being a success and a failure, but either way we learn something important.
Obviously success is the fun outcome because it would create a whole new avenue of research, but it was low stakes for me, you don’t need to have a good outcome to finish a PhD. That is, if you design an experiment and your hypothesis turns out to be false, you can still get your PhD because you advanced the state of the art, just not in the way you were expecting. That’s part of science and you don’t fail your PhD for not having a successful outcome. So again, low risk as far as that goes and I thought my PhD was the logical and only outcome from this journey.
Funding was difficult to comeby. Turns out finding funding for a project that no one has really done is hard, but last year I managed to secure two years of funding for the project (here), which is one more year than I need to finish my PhD, so no problems there! The funding was a big deal and the school decided to do an article on me. It wasn’t the first time I made the school news, but it was the first time they featured me specifically. That was kind of cool and I thought it couldn’t get any better, but then DARPA called (here).
My story with DARPA begins over 15 (!?!?!) years ago and suffice to say that one DARPA manager in particular is the whole reason I’m on this path to begin with. After being nominated for DARPA Risers, then selected as a Riser, it feels like the stakes are a lot higher than I originally anticipated. The conference is just handful of weeks away and I’m sorely lacking in the finished data analysis department. That basically brings us up to speed and is (for me) a succinct timeline of the events leading up to now.
I have several deadlines and three presentations this month (and it’s only the first people) on my work with SST. Two to the lab, thanks to a special guest coming to see my work, the third is with the DARPA program manager whom I impressed enough to be nominated for the Risers program.
The first meeting is just one week away, so yeah no worries there. Actually I’m not freaking out too bad about that because that is “just” a presentation for the lab. I will need to put some effort into it (assuming I get even a single dataset processed by then!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), but it won’t be too embarrassing no matter the outcome.
The second is with surgeon-PI, who is on my committee. He will get to see what I’ve been up to since I defended my proposal like decades ago (pandemic time) or was it the beginning of the year? I’ll never tell (okay, fine). That is semi stressful because, well it’s surgeon-PI and he thinks so highly of me that I really want to show off a bit and have something really good by then.
The third will be with one of the program managers for DARPA to cover my poster and slides (in case I get selected for a talk). It will give him a chance to see what I’ve been up to as well, but more importantly give him a chance to give feedback on my poster/talk to make sure it’s as good as it can be. I’m honestly excited about it because I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve given plenty of talks, shown plenty of posters, but never at an event so serious (in my mind at least).
So with all that work looming over me, you would think that I would be hard at work, and I will be… tomorrow. Part of why I’m so good at what I do is because I don’t do anything if I’m not feeling it. I’m not trying to be cocky or anything (okay, maybe a little…), but I hit my deadlines and get my work done all because I don’t work when I don’t feel like working.
That doesn’t mean I can say no to experiments, setup, etc., but I do have control over my time when it comes to data analysis and what not. I’ve learned over the years (the incredibly hard way) that I can sit and watch my computer all day and feel like worse crap when I come back to it the next day, or I can walk away and get more work done the next day than I could’ve had I worked both days. It’s a theme around here I keep trying to press because I was once sucked into the horrid “grind” mentality where you’re working 24/7 and sleep is a waste of time.
Only others benefit from you working like that, you certainly will not. As a PhD candidate hoping to graduate soon (maybe…) I’ve only made it this far because I know when to walk away. Which is exactly what I’m doing today. Yesterday was a 12 hour experiment, I don’t have the mental fortitude to sit down and solve complex coding issues today. I really don’t, so if I don’t take a break today, guess what? I’m going to feel exactly the same way tomorrow. So today I’m going to relax and tomorrow I’m going to finish the last little bit before I have exactly one dataset processed.
It’s the tricky part, aligning my datastreams, so it’s taken some work. I got part of it done last week, but it’s not as easy as you would think so the work continues. Once I have the data aligned I can perform the analyses I want to do. The code for that step is (in theory anyway) written, I’ve tested it on dummy data, so I’m confident it will work, but it’s computer code, so naturally it has a mind of its own. If tomorrow goes smoothly I should have my first glimpse at if SST is successful in a different participant, if not I’ll have to find time during the week to get it done if I want it for the first presentation. It’s a risky venture, but it’s the best course of action.
Now excuse me while I sleep forever, or until tomorrow, whichever comes first.