We're a little crazy, about science!

The missing months

Well, there goes the project. Okay not really, progress doesn’t reset, it’s not all or nothing. So there’s a gap, I stepped away for a minute and boom it’s been a few months since I last wrote anything. It’s odd because it doesn’t feel that long. I almost got into the habit of telling myself that I would write about something as soon as I had something to write about. Well I’ve never been at a loss for topics, so it was more of an excuse than a reason to not blog. To be fair the time away has helped, but it also made me miss doing this. So let’s talk about the missing months, shall we?

Forgive me if I seem a bit rusty, it’s been awhile since I’ve written anything, well like this anyway!

Graduation, it’s coming. It doesn’t feel like I’m going to make it, but at the same time I’m trying to get the work done so I can be finished. It’s been a journey, five calendar years almost. When I finish (assuming I finish on time, weird how I have to qualify that), it will have been 5 years exactly, just shy of my goal to get it done to walk during the spring, but I’m okay with it. The extra time has helped keep me from completely breaking down and with the deadline to defend well in the rearview mirror, there was no way I was going to finish on my timeline realistically, but it was worth a shot.

Dissertation writing is in full swing, even though there’s still some behind the scenes things that need to happen, I’ve made time to at least start the dissertation writing. I’ve got a few pages out of ~100 or so that need to be written so not super far along, but I figure a paragraph or two at a time will get me to the end sooner rather than later and starting early(ish), as in now, will hopefully save me the stress of doing the whole thing after I finish. So if you are wondering why I haven’t had the time to dedicate to blogging, well that’s just the start of it.

My dissertation was made up of three aims, aim 1 was more feasibility than anything and if it failed my whole dissertation would be much easier to finish, but also not nearly as exciting. Aims 2 and 3 were linked, but basically the idea is to show that not only can we do the thing from aim 1, but we can use that for something more. Which is where my head has been burred at the moment, because Aim 3 specifically is a serious bit of programming, but anytime you’re doing closed-loop control using neural signals there’s a lot of work that goes into it.

Ironically if I were to show you the user interface… soooooon, it wouldn’t look too terribly impressive. And to be fair, it shouldn’t. I mean who would want to use something that is so hard to work, it would be a bad design. The stuff on the backend however, now that’s where things get tricky. I need to connect to multiple types of equipment, sync it all, collect test/train data, build a model, and do some predicting. All easier said than done sadly.

For the past several weeks (months) I’ve been banging away at writing the dozens of functions that are needed to make a project like this work, I’ve completely skipped Aim 2 to get this done and you’ll see why soon, but basically I can do aims 2 and 3 at the same time and it will make things much easier for me (between data collection and data processing that is). Okay, so that’s the short of it, but I’ve skipped the part where I explain where we are now.

I guess that’s not totally accurate, we’re working on aim 2 and 3 (well 3 right now specifically), but that leaves aim 1 all alone and barely discussed. Several years ago I had an idea, which I’ve called my super secret technique (SST) because I’m an engineer and I’m horrible at naming things. Literally I’ve talked about two ideas I’ve had one is SST the other is big idea, but it makes things easier to keep track of naming things like that, so here we are. Anyway I digress, back to SST or rather aim 1, which was to collect data using SST!

I’m happy to say it worked. Or rather it appears to work. I’ve got one paper that I’m waiting for my co-authors (surgeon-PI and school-PI) to review before we submit it. I walked into writing that paper with caution and I make it perfectly clear in the discussion, but the experiment was never going to prove SST. It just isn’t, sadly there’s no way (non-invasively anyway) to show this works conclusively and even if I did have invasive data I wouldn’t say it worked without a secondary source reproducing my findings, so a somewhat high bar to set, but one which was needed. SST is, at best controversial. I’ve been told flat out it won’t work, can’t work, and doesn’t work. But even if I wanted to step off the ledge, I don’t get a choice. And frankly if I’m being perfectly honest, you’ll never find anything if you don’t look, or to quote my favorite book,

“Yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries.”

— Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: Frankenstein

So for me it was worth the chance, even if it doesn’t work and at the end of the day I would have my degree either way, so what’s the harm of checking? Sometimes the most mysterious and wonderous things lie awaiting within our assumptions for someone to notice them. At the very least shining some light in that direction will (with luck) have other researchers doublechecking my work and either confirming my findings or disproving them, which to be fair the later would hurt, but that’s science.

There’s still a long road ahead for me and I haven’t even mentioned the hospital side of things, since you know (or don’t) that I took a job as a researcher full-time. I don’t regret it, but it’s made a lot of work for me. In fact, I’ve got two papers on the hospital side that I’m working on and two in review (technically three, but the third one wasn’t as much effort on my part since I wasn’t first or second author).

The other two papers are in progress, one is mostly written, the other the data was collected for, but I haven’t even started the analysis and that second paper, that’s where I’m really excited about because it’s something I really wanted to do and it will be pretty cool (Nature worthy, I’m hoping anyway). The first paper (the one mostly written) would’ve been done, but we decided to add in two more analyses, which required me to go back and reprocess the data, twice just to get to the point where I could run the test. It’s going to be a cool paper and I did some really interesting things, but the second paper is so far my favorite.

As for the school stuff, we’ll I’m giving an update to my committee officially this Friday. Semi-formal, nothing super serious. Just a progress update and a chance for feedback/help from my committee members. So a low key event without any serious stress. Which is good, because I have enough pressure as it is! I’m going to be doing the beta testing for my aim 3 program while I’m in the lab (which is a rare event these days unfortunately), so it will give me a chance to see how close I am to finishing it.

It’s BARELY functional now, but adding in the function for the rest of the things I have planned will go much quicker once I get one of the things done. As of now, I’m calling it 80% finished, not exactly where I need it, but enough that I can test it to make sure it talks to the equipment and collects some data. A few weeks after, with a lot of luck, I’ll collect the data for aim 2 and 3. So yeah, progress is being made, slowly. I’m already anticipating a lot of debugging when I go in, It’s going to happen, there’s zero question about that. I’m already catching and correcting errors in the code and I haven’t even had the equipment to test it yet.

So that’s the big update. I’m alive, mostly well… as well as someone like me can be anyway. And I’m looking forward to finishing. It’s been a struggle and I promise to try to pop in more regularly to give updates. I regret not having the time and/or making the time to write because I want to be able to look back at all this afterwards and remember where I was. Plus, a lot of you reached out to me to make sure I was okay and that was (somewhat) a surprise, so thank you for that. I have several updates (so, so many updates) on a lot of other topics, so who knows, maybe I’ll force myself to start writing it down again.

I’m not sure what will happen next, but I’m thankful to have so many people following along and looking forward to seeing the result with me. I hope I can share more soon. I want to write it all down, I do, it’s just such a mountain to climb right now that I feel like if I don’t focus on the things that need to get done with a singular purpose I’ll never finish. I’m told that’s normal, but it shouldn’t be. Regardless, we started this journey together, so we’ll finish together. I will update more regularly, especially as we get close to the big finale!

Oh and speaking of finishing together, should you want to attend my update and have time for it I will happily provide a zoom link. Just send me and email and I’ll make sure you get it!


4 responses

  1. It’s great to hear from you again. I’d love to hear the presentation Friday


    May 16, 2023 at 9:22 pm

    • Thank you! I sent you the link and removed your email address from your comment, just to be safe.


      May 17, 2023 at 5:14 pm

  2. Debbie

    Welcome back. You’ve been missed.


    May 17, 2023 at 11:34 am

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