2022 in review
Well I’ve been absent a bit, but I’m still around I promise! I’m trying to get back into the groove. It’s a bit hard with all the stuff piling up, but this blog and the 365 days of academia project are important to me. I’ve got at least a few topics floating around in my head for posts, so it’s not a shortage of things to write, just a shortage of time to write them. Since 2022 is now officially dead and gone, it’s probably not a bad idea to discuss all the progress made towards the finish line, because graduation is coming, sooner or later!! While there are a lot of sad parts to 2022, including the pandemic, for my education and career personally it was overall a good year.
Where to even start?
Over the course of the last year I went from feeling like a total failure to accomplishing something I thought for sure would never happen. It’s hard to put into words that kind of journey because there was so much change you can’t quantify it. It’s like if a hummingbird could tell you about all the colors it sees, it would just be words and things that are forever (without serious modification anyway) locked outside of our collective experience. Maybe that’s a touch dramatic, but it feels right to me.
Let’s start with the easy to talk about stuff. I had several papers published, including “robot paper,” which I had been trying to publish since my Masters degree. I almost had a whole ass PhD before that got published, but it’s out there now and I am somewhat glad with the process because my figure making skills improved considerably so I went back and redid a bunch of them prior to publication. It’s pretty apparent which are new and which are old IMO.
The paper that caused me so many headaches, the “brain paper” also was published. That paper was a multiyear effort and was the first paper that was mine to work on for my PhD. I learned a lot about what we do in our lab from the lead up to that publication and while I had to learn all the stuff about the brain, the spinal cord, MATLAB, and neuroscience in general, the paper was a huge deal for me. I also picked up a lot of skills and now the code I used for that paper is widely used amongst the lab and is basically the standard for how we do things now. I don’t want to brag or anything, but that was pretty cool.
In total for the year I had two first author papers, two second author papers, a book chapter, and a patent (my own invention, not affiliated with work or school). A nice range of publications and while I probably should get some conference papers thrown in the mix somewhere (maybe this year), I think overall I’m happy with my progress. There was a good year or so where I had zero publications coming out, so anything more than zero is a win in my book. Somewhat of a side note, this year I already have at least two first author papers in the works and one second author paper (at least) for hospital-PI. On the school side I have one first author paper planned and maybe a conference paper, since school-PI thinks a conference paper would be good for me too. Probably for the speed of writing/submitting since I would LIKE to graduate soon. I plan on writing more about that as we progress though, so keep an eye out for that.
I successfully defended my PhD proposal (not my actual PhD sadly!) and despite months long setbacks I’ve got the data collected for 80% of my PhD. Right now I’m working on processing the data and organizing it in a way that makes sense to readers, which I’ll be working on after I finish this post in fact. I don’t want to say my “super secret technique” works for certain, but it does something and that’s pretty surprising for the moment. I’m still working on some of the first aim (there were 3), but I’ve jumped to aim 3 since that’s going to take the longest anyway. Doing it out of order isn’t the smartest idea, but aim 3 got a lot of attention the past few months thanks to the next part of this post so I want to keep that momentum up.
The most exciting news was that DARPA noticed me! At the end of 2021 I was awarded a grant, I say I was, because I wrote it and my name was actually on this one (yay), but it was school-PI who handled all the work frankly. The grant led to the school doing an interview with me about my research and apparently someone at DARPA saw it, forwarded it to a program manager (who was super awesome by the way) and nominated me. If that had been the end of the story I would’ve already been thrilled, but I was selected and I am a 2022 DARPA Riser! Not only that, but the conference has come and gone, I got to say thank you to Dr. Ling, finally, and I was selected as one of the top five for my cohort so I gave a podium presentation to everyone present (including the director of DARPA whom I had an amazing conversation with during the lunch right afterwards.
I don’t want to say the experience was life changing, because it wasn’t that exactly. I mean I hope it will be life changing, but it was more life affirming than anything else. For those who haven’t followed along for a bit or just don’t know I was very close to not being here after my second year of undergrad or so I decided dead was better. That was a few years after the conversation with Dr. Ling and the things that set me on this path, but it just wasn’t enough for me to want to keep going.
Well obviously I’m still here and most days are a struggle to want to keep it that way, but for that moment in time, when I was giving my five minute talk and going through that whole day, I knew I had made the right choice to keep going. Sometimes one day, just one day where everything falls into place just so, is enough to make you keep going for 10,000 bad days in the hopes of recapturing that. Living is still a struggle for me, but there’s a bit of hope where there wasn’t any before and for now that’s more than I could ask for.
At the beginning of 2022 I said it was going to be a wild year, and it was! I did things I never thought would happen and made a great deal of progress towards graduating. I’m 90% certain this year will be the year I graduate — unless something goes horribly, horribly wrong — so it’s just a matter of when now. This year should be just as wild as the last, if not more! It should be high-paced and with any luck full of some interesting updates, the almost certain reveal of “super secret technique,” “big idea,” and more.
This journey has been an interesting one, when I started the 365 days of academia project the original goal was just for a single year, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to do it until graduation. I’m somewhat hoping others may take on a similar project because it has been fun to see the progress over the years. It was a project born from failure, but the project itself has, in my opinion, been a great success. I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve had since I started my PhD, but I’m also anxious to finish and start the next chapter of my story.
Of course, any in review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the pandemic, which is still raging on and because we’ve decided as a planet to just politely ignore it and hope it goes away, things are taking a sad and completely preventable turn. While XBB 1.5 is still at the too early to tell what will happen stage, it’s already an alarming progression in terms of the virus. On top of that we had on average roughly 500 deaths in the US alone each day due to COVID and that’s almost certainly a serious undercount. It didn’t have to be this way, it doesn’t need to continue to be this way, but that’s not for me to decide, that’s an “us” problem and it’s something we need to solve as a group.
Still, I’m hopeful. Not just for my graduation, but for the pandemic as a whole. If we can mask up, social distance, and do our part, we can make the world a slightly less shitty place to live. In the end, maybe that’s the whole point of life.