We're a little crazy, about science!

365 Days of Academia – Year three

Paper juggling

With one paper officially off my plate and another in limbo (not sure what’s going on with that one!) I have two papers that need my attention and they need it NOW! Both papers need to be finished ASAP and one of them in particular needs to get done faster than that, as in today if possible. That’s going to be hard, but since I work better with a plan I figure we can get into how and why I’m forced to work on so many papers!

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The week ahead

There’s a lot happening this week, it SHOULD be the last week I’m technically jobless. Right now I’m not getting paid by anyone, not by the school, not by the hospital, basically I’m living off the last paycheck I got at the beginning of the month and the next one may not be here until close to the end of next month. If something happens and my start date gets pushed back, well that would mean that I would have no money for anything. That would be bad.

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The computer rebuild plan

The frustratingly hot brain of my computer. Currently things are not looking good, but that should change soon… ish. I haven’t removed the watercooler yet, this is a photo from last year when I had to do this once already.

Okay after yesterday’s news that my computer is once again limping along I spent the day trying to figure out what to do. After spending a ludicrous amount of time researching and finding the parts I want to replace the clogged garbage I’m currently dealing with I think I have it all figured out, but it’s not going to be an easy (or cheap) fix. The good news is this is going to be the ultimate solution, the one that will (hopefully) be the last fix until either something breaks, I rebuild the computer completely, or I graduate.

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Technical difficulties

This is my current cooling setup, which I picked because I needed a replacement ASAP and I thought this would last me until after I graduated and not less than a year.

Well if it isn’t the consequences of my own actions. Or maybe not, maybe I’m just unlucky. I am once again having desktop computer troubles. It’s the return of the heat issue, thankfully this time I caught it somewhat early (I think). Since this seems to be a reoccurring issue I think we’ll try to fix it with a slightly more permanent solution. The problem? The cost, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time, but not all is lost, at least not yet.

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The transition to clinical research

Today should be interesting… it’s my onboarding appointment, which is one of the last steps I need to complete to be hired at the hospital. There’s a lot going on in life at the moment, some of which is personal so I won’t be sharing that here, but let’s just say everything has been incredibly stressful. Oh and since I need to get the appointment done this week if I want to start on time, this was the last day I can get it done.

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On to the next paper

With one of my four papers finished and finally accepted for publication (yay!) it’s time to switch gears to getting the others done. That said, progress has been made and I’m stuck swapping between two papers at the same time since both need to be done and submitted soon. There’s some analysis that needs to happen, figures to be made, code to be written, just a lot of loose ends to tie up.

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PhD proposal prep

Well I’ve finally made it to the next milestone in my PhD. I’m now at the point where I can do my proposal defense. It shouldn’t be too bad, but there’s a lot involved between now and then that needs to happen including coming to some sort of an agreement between my two PI’s about what exactly the project will consist of. Since I had no idea what getting a PhD entailed when I started, I’m assuming at least some of you have no idea what’s going on so let’s go over how we got here and what I’m getting ready to do.

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More publishing news!

Black and white photo of the Cincinnati Old Main Library taken 1874. There is a single person for scale and the library is massive in size with several levels seen in the single photo alone. Unfortunately the library was torn down in 1955.
Black and white photo of the Cincinnati Old Main Library taken 1874. There is a single person for scale and the library is massive in size with several levels seen in the single photo alone. Unfortunately the library was torn down in 1955.
The Cincinnati Old Main Library (taken 1874). Unfortunately the library was torn down in 1955, but I absolutely love library architecture. It feels like the closest thing we will ever have to magic.

Well sometimes the good news just keeps coming. I’m slightly suspicious since this never happens, so eventually something is going to come crashing down around me and everything will slowly fall apart. Until then I guess I can enjoy this bit of good news too. This isn’t academic related exactly, but it’s still something I’m excited about. I’ve got a book chapter that I wrote about my life coming soon and I’ve got some fun updates.

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Success! Journal paper 1 of 4

Psst, hey you! I got good news! I’ve officially had my first journal paper accepted for publication! I’m literally crying I’m so happy right now. My inbox has been flooded by emails from my collaborators congratulating everyone on this. It’s been a long, hard, and often painful journey, but I’ve finally, FINALLY, gotten something finished once and for all. Since this is the end of the story, let’s tell it from the beginning, one last time, so you know how we got here.

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The week ahead

Well the next two weeks are shaping up to be interesting. I’ve got a lot of the onboarding stuff to get out of the way for my new job (yay!) and I’m still juggling two different papers basically full-time. Considering those two things are really the only stuff on my plate at the moment things feel pretty good, sort of anyway. There’s still a lot of mental health stuff going on and I’m just feeling overwhelmed with the choices I’ve made so far. So what’s the game plan for the week look like? Let’s talk about it.

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Twenty years later

I was still in high school when the towers fell. It’s weird to think that was twenty years ago, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. There’s a whole generation of young adults who were born after that event and somehow my brain doesn’t like that thought. It’s a reminder of the life I lived I guess and all the years that were shaped by that event. When the towers fell, child me — because really I was still just a kid — bought into all the propaganda and decided that I would serve my country. I obviously have mixed feelings about that choice.

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The resubmission!

Well we’ve crossed that milestone… yet again. I’ve submitted the third version of a paper I’ve been working on… for years now. Yeah, they can take a while and with COVID, things took even longer. So what happens now and what the heck is going on? Since it’s it’s already been an incredibly busy day, let’s recap the journey this paper has been on and how we got to the latest and (hopefully) last submission of my paper!

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The plastic spinal cord

Amazing spinal cord slice artwork by Greg Dunn

You can’t teach an old spinal cord new tricks, or something like that. Up until recently (like the last ten or fifteen years), we had thought that the spinal cord was a fixed thing. It was the information highway of the body and its primary role was to receive, sort, and send information from the brain to the body and vice versa. That’s (thankfully) not the case. The truth, or at least something closer to the truth, is that the spinal cord is a lot like the brain. It can learn, think, and even act independently of the brain.

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I wanted to be a scientist

What did five-year-old you want to be when you grew up? I see this question pop up on twitter every so often, or rather the question is often would five-year old you be proud of where you are now. I think it’s hard to judge your five-year-old self when you’re an adult because the world looks a whole lot less polished and magical when you’re an adult. In my experience as you transition to an adult that magic and wonder is slowly replaced with dread, anxiety, and mostly doubt. Imposter syndrome is a real thing that many people, including myself, deal with.

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The art in science

One of the easiest ways to turn even the most advanced scientific paper into something accessible is through carefully crafted figure design. Figures are a way to tell a story, but to also capture the readers imagination. The difference between a scientific figure and a drawing from a story is really just the difference in the information you are conveying. However, as is the case with most things in the world, a “good” figure is in the eye of the beholder.

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On trying something new

As a grad student the work/life balance tends to blur. I actually do most of my work on the weekends and tend to try to take time during the week for myself. This works best for me because weekends are typically when no one needs me to physically be somewhere, so I can get into the correct headspace to do some work. This weekend was a busy one, and my Co-PI had some ideas about one of the papers I’m working on that required my full attention. He also wants me to do something I’ve never done before, so let’s talk about trying something new!

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Non-invasive study of the brain

Art by the incredible Greg Dunn (I REALLY!!! wish I could afford his work!)

Non-invasive research is difficult, especially when you’re working with something as complicated as the brain. Imagine being at a pro sports game outside the stadium and trying to figure out what’s going on inside just by listening. I’m constantly in awe that we can record activity from the brain without breaking the skin, it’s like magic. However, it’s still difficult and not without controversy.

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The uncertain future

old door in middle of field, which opens to a whole different world.
old door in middle of field, which opens to a whole different world.

My Co-PI is leaving! Or maybe he’s not? But he could be?! I don’t even know. It doesn’t help that he has no idea and there’s no real deadline for him to make a choice, it’s whenever he’s ready. In fact, we currently have a line graph with his daily percentage on staying or leaving. I wish I was joking. It’s not just my future I’m worried about, there are others in the lab, most of us wouldn’t be able to make the journey to his new workspace, even if we wanted to (and trust me when I say if I could, I would).

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A small success

It was a leap of faith. There were no good choices, but it was the best of options in a string of bad options. I could either work full time in my main-PI’s lab, pulling me away from the clinical research I love, or I could take a job in my Co-PI’s lab. The catch was to take the job with my Co-PI I would have to apply, wait, and go through the onboarding process. That would mean I wouldn’t be getting paid, which would be okay for a few weeks, but longer and I could be in trouble. Nothing is finished yet, but I’ve gotten some good news.

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Minor revisions

Ah, just when I thought I didn’t have to worry about one of the multitudes of papers that I’m working on, it comes right back. This is the journal paper I wrote for one of my classes, which looks to be about ready for acceptance. There were some minor revisions that we were asked to make, but as of ten minutes or so ago I’ve addressed all of them. I think… it will probably be another round of edits with our co-authors to make sure everyone is happy with what we’ve done. Maybe? I’m not even sure at this point.

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I’m not okay, but that’s okay.

Still not doing well, but what else is new? The point of this project was to focus on the journey to my PhD. To talk about my education and to share the things I learn along the way so others can survive the journey themselves. This wasn’t a blog so much about me as it was about the things I’ve learned. Well one of the things I’ve learned is that despite my desire to remain anonymous and share purely my education progress, it is difficult, if not impossible, to seperate myself from my education. And right now I’m not okay, but that’s okay.

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Sometimes it rains

Brains are wild. I mean we have this misshapen jello blob stuck in our head and it somehow gives us the ability to be aware. We exist and think, feel, reason, all the stuff that makes us who we are. Brains are great, except when they aren’t. Depression is a horrible thing, which lives in the brain. You can’t “just be happy” anymore than someone could just be rich. Obviously when you live with chronic depression you got a dud of a brain. It may have to do with genetics, environmental factors, the way we were raised, or maybe it’s just horrible luck, but out of all the organs we can fix or replace, the brain is not one of them. You’re stuck as you and sometimes that sucks.

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A game of cat and mouse

pov: you’re trying to do some work and your cat is not happy with your progress.

Cats, you bring them into your home and suddenly you’re the guest. I can’t complain my two furry monsters always want my attention and it can’t hurt to be wanted, but it definitely and almost exclusively happens at the worst possible times ever. Namely when I’m in the middle of doing work on my computer. So I’ve gotten into the habit of taking a photo or two of them when it happens. Only on occasion, only when they are being particularly obnoxious, but after looking back I’ve got quite the collection of photos. I figure I would share the wealth.

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The voracity for exploration

Humans have set foot on the moon, multiple times in fact. We didn’t go once, we went six different times. Six times. That feels both like an incredibly large number and an incredibly tiny number all at the same time. For you and me it probably doesn’t feel like anything special, but for the people who’ve done it, they KNOW it was life altering. They told us so and it’s a shame that in my lifetime I will probably never set foot on another planet and have the chance to feel so… insignificant.

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Controlled chaos

Life has been pretty messy lately. Not just because of the pandemic, but that is definitely not helping anything right now. I’ve got papers due, I’m making a job change, and the wildest part is that my Co-PI may be leaving so I’m not even sure the job I’m changing to will still be there after the end of the year. That doesn’t include the outside factors, car issues, home issues, health issues. Those are all there too, but mostly right now I’m concerned about work related stuff and I realized that for the past few months it’s just been controlled chaos.

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COVID Vaccine: The third shot update!

It’s been over 36 hours since my third dose of COVID vaccine. For those who don’t know, I was designated as a vulnerable population and the veterans administration (VA) is apparently giving out the third dose to us now and to the general veteran population in the next month or two. Since I was one of the first getting my last two doses, I thought it would be wise to chronicle my experience.

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COVID Vaccine: The third shot!

It’s official, I got my third COVID vaccine shot. With delta ramping up and the long-term effectiveness of the vaccine being questioned there has been a push for a third shot. mRNA vaccines had the promise of being easily adaptable to new strains, it’s why we’ve been doing research on them since the mid-60’s, so it would’ve been prudent to adjust the vaccine to compensate for the new pervasive strain. Alas! It was not meant to be, at least not yet. It’s a little frustrating, but I am hopeful new variants of the vaccine will be forthcoming. So why did I get the shot?

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Education in a pandemic

Well the term is officially underway and with it comes in person classes! Because if there’s one thing a life is worth, it’s money and there’s money to be made by forcing you into the classroom. Yes the world has changed and we adapted with it, somewhat, but even with hospitals on the verge of collapse (again) we’re given the unequivocal message, “We’re going back to normal!” from schools. There’s nothing normal about it, but the economy is built on the backs of the people, so I guess, in a way, we are returning to normal.

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Multi-paper madness!

HELLLP! I’m doing way too much writing and it’s the scientific kind, which is to say soul sucking! Okay, it’s not that bad, but for the past month it’s been a mad rush to get several different papers written. Today I plan to go over all the papers I’m working on, the progress I’ve made, and why I really hope I’ll never have this happen again. Far too much writing! It has to end eventually though, right?

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The end of summer

It’s officially the start of the new school year. I’ve got a lot of anxiety headed into this year, but not for me, for everyone else. This year will be the first year that I’m completely finished with my degree requirements, now I just need to do my research so there’s no real need for me to be inside a packed classroom with others who may or may not be wearing masks or are vaccinated. So instead of being super depressing, let’s look at some of the highlights from this summer and what is just around the corner.

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Another book chapter update

I haven’t talked about it much since there’s a lot of other things going on in life at the moment, but about a year ago I said I was picked to author a book chapter about my life basically (here). I’m really excited to tell my story in a cohesive and professionally edited way. I tell my stories here for sure, but this is more polished and better worded. While my blog writings are in the style of a written stream of consciousness (basically, I hardly edit what I write) this will have had several revisions.

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A small job update

It’s not a straight line to the finish, that’s for sure.

A week ago almost exactly I did something incredibly stupid. Okay, I did it because I really want it, but there’s a chance it could blow up in my face, I’m going into research full-time to help pay for my PhD. Now, I’m not paying for my PhD, that is never a good option. Instead the hospital I will be working at will be paying for my PhD now and I will get paid better while I wrap up the last two years or so of my degree (more here).

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A new school year

Well today marks the start of year three for the 365 days of academia project! It also means I’m now a fourth year PhD candidate. Since we’re going into another year I think today I’ll revisit why I started this project in the first place and basically just give everyone a reminder about what keeps me going. That way I can talk about all the anxious feelings I have heading into the new year and how I feel like I’m nowhere near where I should be.

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