We're a little crazy, about science!

The road forward

Well, it’s been a journey. As I keep mentioning, it’s not over yet, but I can’t help but look back at some of the first few years of posts where I felt lost and/or hopeless. Things have a tendency to work out and I knew it then just like I know it now, but I won’t lie and say it’s been easy. Between now and graduation there is still significant work to be done, but now that I’ve crossed the last week off my list it feels slightly more manageable. I still feel a bit like I lost something, even after gaining a whole lot, but I think that comes with any long-term accomplishment and I should probably brace myself for the feeling to hit again when I finally get my degree. Hopefully, it still feels like something that may not happen for whatever reason.

Be careful what you wish for, that’s the saying, right? Well I made a whole lot of wishes and while most of them have come and gone just as quickly the last week proved that if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other things will eventually happen, even if it’s not exactly what you were expecting. Maybe that’s survivor bias talking, I mean I’m sure some of it is, but right now I am just thankful that the last week actually happened (for those who are new). But like I said, there’s still work to be done so let’s stop focusing on the last week and start looking ahead. Celebration’s have to end eventually and I will fully admit that I celebrated the shit out of that win, so for now it’s back to work I go.

However…

There is one more “win” I want to mention. Some of you may have caught it if you’ve been following along (yay!), I know at least a few of you have, but school-PI asked me to do the impossible. Basically even with all the stuff I had to do he wanted me to construct a fully operational real-time demo of my “super secret technique” or SST for those who are new. Now if you’re not aware what that kind of work entails, one of my former labmates graduated before finishing something similar for a prosthetic control system (real-time of course). It was very impressive, but took him months or longer to get it up and running and I had just a few weeks.

Well it was down to the wire, but I did it. And when I mean down to the wire, I mean I had a friend who was helping on this project in the lab helping me debug the code remotely for hours the night BEFORE the actual demo. Thankfully all the code I wrote was mostly correct, but there were a few things that needed to be changed. Still, he was there in the lab from like 4pm to 9pm the night prior to the actual demo helping me work through it all. I couldn’t get to the lab to do it myself or I would’ve, but we got it running and the demo went well.

Unfortunately the demo isn’t the full version of what I want to do, it’s an extremely barebones demo to show proof of principle basically. I was going to scrap it, but I actually like the idea of keeping the demo just to have it for fun or whatever, so I spent some extra time the last few days just cleaning it up a bit and making it run a little better. Well it turns out that today we had another surprise demo so it was a good thing I got the software more polished! I had a small debugging session with the same labmate, who is getting good at setting up the equipment now because of all this, but from what I can tell it went well so that’s good news.

Basically I hammered out a lot of the background stuff I’ll need to do to make everything work for the stuff I’m going to be passing along to the lab when I graduate. It’s not all done obviously, but a lot of the front end stuff (GUI or graphical user interface) is all finished, it looks pretty, but doesn’t do much at the moment. That will change over the next few months and I hope to have a very polished system up and working by the end of the year (if all goes well). With all the testing we’ve done though I’ve got a lot of the stuff I needed to figure out all done. It will make a huge difference when I start to implement all the rest of the code to get the main program running. It also forced me to create a lot of the documentation for setup, which will save time at the end as well.

So what’s next?

Well between now and graduation, whenever that may be (please be next term!!!!!) I need to write at least one paper, possibly collect more data if school-PI really pushes me to do it (I’m hoping to knock it down significantly if he does), write a second paper based on the second data collection, THEN write my dissertation. You know, easy stuff. Most of this is dependent on finishing the data analysis, which I’ve made a lot of progress on thankfully, so now I just need to finish the rest of the basic stuff for the remaining participants data. I’m on 5/10, which seems like I’m behind, but with the code written it’s actually much more straightforward than you might think to power through the rest of the analysis.

The first paper (probably) won’t be any of the “fancy” stuff. None of the closed-loop control or anything, but basic neuroscience stuff. Really digging into what we have and making the argument that it’s meaningful. After the two conferences, I’ve got a lot to think about from all the judges who asked me questions about SST and what it means. So I’m hopeful that when we finally get to writing the paper it will go smoothly. Papers for me typically move quickly, or at least the first draft. That’s the hardest part though so once the draft is done we can review it, edit it, submit it, not as simple as I’m typing it out, but with any luck by the end of the year the paper will be in the last stages of editing (hopefully!!!!) so I can get somewhat back on track with the work that needs to happen.

Now that we’re mostly sure there’s something to SST, we can probably start looking at the second phase soon. I still don’t feel confident that it’s what I think it is and my dissertation will most certainly have that caveat clearly spelled out, but we should pretend like we’re confident for now as the data gets processed so I don’t shoot myself in the foot later and realize it does certainly work and I need to get the data ASAP, at least this way I can work on getting it without the headaches of having to rush to make the deadline. Don’t get me wrong, this will all be a rush to the ultimate deadline (graduation), but putting off the second phase until I feel more confident will just make it worse and the risk of having the data is simply the data is no good, so no real risk at all.

But focusing on stuff that’s more of a “now” thing, I should also start structuring my dissertation. There’s a lot of writing that goes into them and while as my former PI said it best, it will be the thing you spend the most time writing that will be read the least, it’s still important and I should start writing it as soon as possible so I don’t feel rushed (more than I already do!!!!!) because I want to put out a good product.

So let’s see, one paper (at least), one dissertation, about five participants worth of data to analyze, and possibly some early Christmas data collection. Oh and let’s not forget the work at the hospital that I am doing in the background (haha, literally waiting for something to finish running as I write all this). Yeah, the short version is that while I’ve accomplished a lot there’s still a few more hills to climb before we hit the top.

Still, after wow four years (I had to double check that!) of blogging about the journey the road ahead feels relatively short compared to the path I’ve already had to climb. I mean we often say it’s a marathon not a sprint and it certainly feels that way (both physically and mentally!), but this last little bit really does feel like a sprint. Hopefully it will work out, if not there’s always a fall graduation. For those who don’t know schools often have spring and fall graduations so if I miss the spring deadline, I could finish in the summer and walk in the fall. It’s not a huge deal, but it would be nice to get it done and over with sooner rather than later. We’ll just have to see what happens.

For now I just have to focus on making it through the next thing, which for me is finishing the data analysis. The first paper will be part of the dissertation, so I will be able to get two things done at once (mostly) and that will help tremendously. While it’s not the focus, on the hospital side of things, things are getting very exciting and I wish I could talk about it, but that’s about all I can really say about that. With any luck my graduation and the paper that I’m hoping the stuff at the hospital will lead to will come out at roughly the same time, so that should be fun!

Stick around and find out what happens on the next exciting episode of Everything Everywhere All at Once wait I think that title was taken… haha.

4 responses

  1. WOW, thank you for sharing. I love the thought process. I’m curious how you self motivate. I don’t know if you ever suffered with PTSD? But I think you’ve mentioned depression so how do you motivate yourself?

    Like

    November 22, 2022 at 7:09 pm

    • Yes, PTSD, depression, generalized anxiety, basically the full spectrum of stuff you would expect a vet to have. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but (and your mileage may vary here) I tend to just rest when it’s really bad and try to be productive when it’s not as bad. If I try to force myself to do stuff when I’m depressed (or just make myself feel worse for not doing stuff) I end up feeling more tired when the symptoms aren’t as bad, so I lose a lot of time having to recover from forcing myself to attempt to do something. What’s worse is the attempt usually is just me looking at a computer screen berating myself to stop being stupid/lazy/making excuses and just do the work so nothing gets done.

      So when I don’t feel like I can’t do much, I try to just recover and find things to help deal with the depression symptoms (I say depression, but the PTSD,…, etc. all somewhat overlap). Normally that will involve reading a book or some other semi-relaxing activity. When I feel better I find that I can accomplish a lot more, so it tends to even out. Before the conference I went through almost a week of not being able to do much, but I managed to get some stuff done before I left and while going through it I was being somewhat hard on myself, I knew better than to try and force it (I did one day and regretted it).

      That’s literally all I can do about it aside from the normal medication/therapy stuff, but for me the key was that I try to structure my deadlines to have some wiggle for the need to take a bit of a break. To be clear, my deadlines are set, but I try to manage my time so that if I know it will take 2-3 days to finish a task I’ll give myself a week to make sure it gets done to be safe. That’s why I write so much about my plans for the next few tasks I need to do, because it helps me make sure that it sounds feasible. Sometimes I get the work done early, sometimes I can be off by a day or so, but mostly I hit my targets. It took like a decade for me to figure it all out and it’s not perfect, but it seems to be what works best for me.

      If you’re referring to motivation specifically, well that’s pretty straightforward, I’ve always wanted to help people and maybe it’s a bit of a coping mechanism but doing work that benefits others gives me a way to focus on someone else instead of dealing with my issues, haha! I guess a better way of saying that would be that helping others makes me feel a bit more content and gives me a chance to step outside myself even when I’m feeling particularly down about being behind in life, not good enough, or not being worthy of existing (which are reoccurring themes for me).

      A long response, but hopefully that helps clear things up. Thank you for asking and I hope you’re doing well and have a great thanksgiving!

      Liked by 1 person

      November 23, 2022 at 11:53 am

  2. Wow, you got the demo done. I actually wasn’t sure whether you would make it or not – you didn’t sound confident yourself, and I wasn’t going to contradict you on that one. But you did it! And it sounds like that was something you needed to do before the end anyway (it probably ties in to Aim 3, right?) so that’s great. Work going faster than expected is always a pleasant surprise.

    Have fun with all that. I hope you get to have a little rest over Thanksgiving though.

    Like

    November 22, 2022 at 11:32 pm

    • Yeah, I was like 98% certain it wouldn’t be done. At the conference a few days prior I literally told my nominator and the others that were coming to visit that school-PI wanted me to have a working demo, but it probably wouldn’t happen. I’m still surprised I pulled it off. That was probably the fastest I’ve ever gone from I have no idea how this thing works to making something and frankly I’m still not sure how I managed it (a lot of luck honestly). Yes, this would be Aim 3 and I hope that I can skip Aim 2 and just make a really good Aim 3 (haha), but we’ll see. It feels like TOO much work right now and the other committee members agreed that the scope of the dissertation was like 3 PhDs’ worth of work, but school-PI wants me to do it. IMO, it’s probably because I’m the only one in the lab qualified enough to do it after years of learning the neuroscience side of things and the grant has specific deadlines we need to meet, but man is it work!

      Thank you! I hope you get some rest as well. Right now my plan is to take at least a day for myself so I can get some of the work done with some added enthusiasm (hopefully). Now that I’ve started the Aim 3 stuff I may just use the momentum to try to get most of it working now so that I can finish the Aim 1 stuff and jump into Aim 2/3 without needing to do all the foundational work.

      Liked by 1 person

      November 23, 2022 at 12:00 pm

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