We're a little crazy, about science!

The final week

It’s officially prep time, well it’s always prep time, but in this case I have two conferences back to back next week, so there’s some work to be done. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but what else is new? While everyone is different, since there’s so much going on, I thought it would be great to take the time to discuss how exactly I am getting ready for these events and talk a bit about the stuff that will come afterwards. The next week will be a major one for me, in my opinion anyway, so I want to give myself the best chance at a good outcome.

First, thanks everyone. Yesterday’s post seems to have taken off more than my usual posts, which is a bit stressful, but also nice to see so many people relating to it. For a long while I felt stuck in my PhD program. I didn’t feel like I was learning, no papers were being published, and I really felt like school-PI hated me for some unknown reason (which probably says more about me than him since it was a feeling that existed only in my head). Then all of a sudden I have half a dozen papers published in less than a year, I’ve got DARPA noticing my research, I got funding, apparently the entire school lab is talking about me, and I’m finishing up my PhD. I will probably have to sit with those feelings a bit longer before I can make a cohesive (for me) post on that topic alone, but it feels like I was not moving for a long time then I was rocketed to nearly the finish line overnight. And I have years of posts to capture that, so good work past me and I hope future me enjoys looking back at the memories I’ve committed to digital paper.

So DARPA, wow. For those who are unaware DARPA and I go way back, so far back I hadn’t even started college yet (here). If it weren’t for me being a huge idiot when it comes to social interaction I would’ve never picked up the phone and called the head of a DARPA project, but hey here we are so big dumb past me did something right. I guess I can’t complain too much and maybe I should do something stupid like that more often. In any case, 15 years or so later, after trying to kill myself, after being homeless on several occasions, after almost being refused entry into the one and only program I wanted to be in during undergrad then doing who knows what with my life, and next week I get to thank the man who set me on this journey in person. Because we never met and he probably won’t even recall me reaching out, but I never forgot him.

Sometimes when very magical and meaningful things like that happen in life, I think the universe surely has an odd sense of humor.

I haven’t made a post specifically about this yet, but I think I may have mentioned it. In case I haven’t and just to have that info here, I submitted an abstract to another conference and was selected for a podium presentation. There’s a chance to win some cash prizes too so that will be fun. The problem is the conference is the day after the DARPA conference and the same day some of the DARPA coordinators are touring the school-lab. So I will probably do the presentation, drive to school, demo my work, then return to the conference to finish the poster judging portion.

That hinges on getting the “fancy” part of my project up and running, real-time decoding blah, blah, blah. It’s harder than it sounds because you have to input a bunch of data in semi-real-time, then do stuff with it, and have at the very least something to show the person it’s doing something. If that’s vague, well it’s on purpose. But I don’t think I’ll be ready for that, despite giving my best effort, so I may just miss the school side of things and attend the conference (less stress for me for sure and I will have already met these people at the DARPA conference). I have some very basic stuff done for that part, but there’s still a mountain of challenges to overcome and a lot of programming that I’ve never done before.

Which means in the background of getting ready I’m trying to cram months of work into weeks. You know, nothing major (or new frankly).

Aside from that, I have my poster ordered and it’s now on the way (read about that here), I can’t wait to see it in person. I also ordered some business cards to hand out in case anyone asks for one. Will I give one out? Probably not, but I would rather spend the money and have them ready than not. I have probably handed out half a dozen business cards in my life and several of them went to DARPA coordinators that I still talk to surprisingly! One of whom is going to be attending the DARPA conference and I haven’t seen her in a few years so it will be nice to catch up. Basically, when I’ve needed a business card they have led to some very important connections and the old ones I had (all 98 out of 100, lol) were in need of a serious update since they are roughly 5 years old now.

My new business cards are super nice looking, I spent a lot of time working on the design even though it was minimalistic (I always opt to put the minimum on cards), I wanted to make them meaningful to me in an abstract way. I think I nailed it personally. With my new cards, I hope last another 5 years or so, ~$50 USD every five years isn’t too bad of an investment in my career even if most of them stay in a drawer or go into the garbage. I don’t have them on hand yet, but they should be here in just a few days, so I hope they came out half as nice as they looked online. With all the changes happening, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get a lot more use, so all in all, no regrets with that.

With the physical stuff checked off my to-do list I can focus on the other things that need to happen. Namely getting my pitch together for the poster and a second pitch together if I get selected for the presentations while I’m at DARPA Forward. The poster presentations happen first and out of the “up to” 30 people that got selected (yay me for getting picked!) five of them will get the chance to give a presentation on stage. I’m already getting nervous thinking about it and I don’t think I will be selected, I already saw all the incredibly talented people who will be my “competition” for the five slots. I can see why they all got selected and I already have a dozen or so I think will get the award because the work aligns better with DARPA programs. Mine is good, obviously good enough to be selected, but I don’t think it tightly meshes with the stuff that DARPA is doing, so I won’t be surprised if I’m just one of the people in the audience.

However! Only fools are sure of the future, so instead of being an idiot (see the theme?) I am going to pretend like I will 100% be selected and make sure that my poster pitch conveys everything important, but also have my 5-minute stage talk ready and memorized. Roughly, I can’t memorize things to save my life, especially when stressed, I once forgot a co-workers name from stress, stupid aphasia. Mostly I want to have some bullet-points that I want to touch on when I talk. It’s more outline than speech and that seems to work best for me. I’ve managed to give entire presentations using just bullet points without any real practice (surprise talks are not the wins you think they are!), so I’m hoping that I know myself well enough for this despite the stress level going in. Besides, the likelihood of me being selected is near zero, so I don’t have to stress too much despite outliers existing (statistics joke, aww yeah).

The good news about the second conference is that it’s on the same work I’m presenting at DARPA. That’s good news for a lot of reasons, but the big one is that I can reuse my poster! The conference gave a max size, which was a bit bigger than the one DARPA gave, but I’m okay with not taking up the full poster board and I really don’t want to make another poster (not that I have time to do that now). The bad news is that my talk (this one was already “awarded” to me) is not in the same format. It has different requirements for the slides and length, so I will need to adjust by making new slides and by making sure that I hit my MAIN points without too much extra detail in between the points. It’s not the end of the world, but it is one more thing I need to do. The slides for that are due by the end of the week and surprise, I haven’t made them or given serious thought on how I want to structure my talk. I know school-PI wants me to practice both talks in front of the lab on Friday so that will be fun. Know is a strong word, he’s hinted he wants me to do them in front of the lab before the events, but he never said he wanted me to do it flat out.

Mostly now, it’s fine tuning things and waiting for the stuff in the mail to show up. I have confidence in the companies I’ve selected for both the poster and business cards, but things happen, so hopefully nothing too crazy will occur between now and when they arrive (like getting lost, damaged, our outright destroyed).

The last week, where does the time go? It feels like only yesterday I got selected!


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