We're a little crazy, about science!

Education

Summer conference!

Add one more thing to my to-do list, but not in a bad way exactly. It’s summer time, which means it’s time for the annual summer conference we hold at work. This is an “internal” conference run by the hospital for all the students and summer interns we have. It’s fairly large and gives us all a chance to share our science and see what other labs are doing in the hospital. What’s nice is that this sometimes leads to really cool collaborations (we recently did one actually).

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The lab brain drain

Today was another proposal defense! No, not mine thankfully, but one of my labmates who’s been in the lab for some time now. As the term is coming to a close, I think a lot of us are in the proposal defense phase, which means things will be changing dramatically in a year or so for the lab. It made me realize that there was a rather large gap between those of us finishing and the new members, which means big changes once we graduate.

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The audacity of anonymity

Peer-review can be brutal. For every one positive reviewer you get one that would rather be doing something else and they WILL let you know and WILL take it out on you. Maybe it’s because I’m still getting used to the journal publication process, but behind the veil of anonymity people can be cruel. We see, and these days somewhat expect, it from public forums like facebook, twitter, or even linkedin, but maybe I’m naïve enough to have thought it wouldn’t happen in the world of peer-review. Afterall, we’re all professionals here, right?

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Success! Journal paper 3 of 4

Days turned to weeks, turned to months, turned to years. I was slowly getting to the point that I wanted to give up and I honestly didn’t think this day would ever come. Yesterday night I got the news, robot paper was accepted for publication and I literally cried. I almost have a whole ass PhD and this was my Masters work, but we can now get things ready for actually publishing the damned thing!

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Dissertation proposal prep

Well I’ve done it, sort of. I’ve submitted my revised proposal to school-PI and I’m hoping to hear back soon regarding his feedback. In the meantime I’m going to have to start working on the sides for my proposal. I think this is an important step, so today I’m going to discuss the dissertation proposal and what goes into it. Because somehow I can’t find a post where I talked about this… oops.

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Failing for success

Sometimes I get into a groove and since we’ve been talking about failure, I think it’s time I shared why failure isn’t the end of the story. Failure sucks, let’s be real for a second, it hurts, it’s not fun, and it feels like a very personal attack. Or at least that’s what it feels like to me. When someone rejects something I’ve written or proposed I feel like I’m being told I’m not good enough or that I don’t deserve to be a researcher, imposter syndrome is a bitch. But failure isn’t the end, it’s just somewhere in the middle.

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More on failure

After a rough night of sleep I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about today. Failure. Because like I mentioned yesterday, in my journey to a PhD, there was plenty of it. Part of this was due to the fact that I had no idea what the hell was going on or how to prepare for my PhD, but a big part of this was due to the fact that I held a belief that wasn’t true. I thought, because it’s what we’re told, that when applying to grad school grades aren’t the only thing that matters. And I was lied to.

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PhD topic or, don’t worry it’s only your life

We ask a lot of kids, I say kids, but I guess more accurately I mean teenagers. The pipeline (here in the US anyway) is high school then, if you’re lucky enough, college. The pipeline assumes you have a clear idea at 18 what you want to be doing until retirement, which in the US is ~65 again, if you’re lucky. While in college you get a short four years, on average, to figure it out and do the work to get the degree you desire. Then you’re forced into another choice, work or more education? I don’t know about the former, but I do know about the latter choice.

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A surprise 3D modeling project

One of the last things I modeled just for fun during my class. Since I can’t share what I’m working on today… not yet anyway (a common theme).

Since I have a policy of brutal honesty around here, I’m not going to lie, it’s been a minute since I seriously did any solid modeling work. I think the last time I tried in earnest to do any sort of solid modeling was for the class I taught… two years ago? So yeah, today will be fun, right we’re using the term fun. I’m okay with lying to myself.

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Weekend work

Weekends are historically the time where I get the bulk of the work that seems to pile up during the week done. This weekend is no different and since there’s plenty to keep me busy, I am once again distracting myself by writing. Mostly because I feel like talking about what I need to do helps me figure out the best order of things to get done. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t, but I like my little system.

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Another year of NDSEG

Yesterday was the last day to apply for the NDSEG fellowship and if the traffic to my fellowship tips post (here) is any indication about the number of people who applied, this year is going to be competitive. It’s bittersweet for me, because this is the first year I won’t be applying. Mostly because I am no longer eligible for it, but also because I literally have more funding than I know what to do with.

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The other funding options

I think I would describe my life as controlled chaos. It’s a delicate balancing act of stuff I need to do, mental health, physical health, and just my horrible luck in general. For the past few years my level of panic has been steadily increasing as the end of my funding was getting closer and closer. Try as I might, I have had no luck getting further funding for my PhD and in less than four weeks that dreaded deadline will be here. Which for those who are not students, means I will not be getting paid, my school will not be paid for, and the house of cards I’ve built will come crashing down around me. But there’s still some hope…

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When a good experiment goes bad

I love stock photos, this is just too funny to me. Plus it’s how I feel most days.

Weeks of planning. Thoughtful discussion about the variables. Finding the perfect way to set things up. We ran tests, we collected pilot data, everything was ready, or so we thought! The thing about running an experiment is that you never know what will happen, especially when it’s the first time you’re doing it. Even though we tested the equipment independently it wasn’t until we were doing the actual experiment that the problem immerged. Never fear though, the story has a happy ending.

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Learning is sneaky

Three years ago this fall I walked into my main-PI’s lab for the first time and I knew nothing about the work we did. I was a mechanical engineer and had machining, solid modeling, and control experience. None of which helped me in my new position. Learning something new is a slow process. The more you learn the more you realize you don’t know anything and it feels like three years later I’m just as clueless as I was when I first set foot into the building. Learning is sneaky that way, you don’t always realize how far you’ve come.

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Surprise teaching, seriously.

Well this is awkward. My main-PI just asked me to teach a course on MATLAB to our new summer interns. Most of them have never used MATLAB before and those that have probably know very little about it. To fix this my main-PI told me that I was going to teach a course on it. At first I thought it was one, but it turns out he want’s four classes (two hours long each) on it. I was trying to have a light summer, but that doesn’t look like it will happen.

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The hunt for funding

Funding, a running theme around here. When I started my PhD it was clunky, I had no clue what I was doing, but I new that I needed to have some money because the first rule of doing a PhD is that you DO NOT pay for your PhD. That much I knew from my Masters (which I was lucky enough to not have to pay for because my PI at the time was just starting out and had funding for me). The rest was up in the air and has been up in the air for a little bit now, so today I’ll be talking about my funding history and where I’m at now. It’s all a little up in the air at the moment, but I’m optimistic.

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How to find the right lab for your PhD

Going into a PhD program is a confusing whirlwind of stress, new experiences, and the general feeling of being lost. You do belong there… right? You know what’s harder than making the choice to get your PhD? Finding the lab you want to call home for the next five or more years. Inspired by advice I gave to one of the undergrads I’m mentoring, today we’re going to talk about how you should hunt down a lab you want to be a part of. It’s that time of the year again, but don’t worry, finding the right lab for you doesn’t need to be scary.

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The start of summer teaching

Today is the start of our labs summer classes. This marks the beginning of roughly 12 weeks worth of lectures on the stuff we do in the lab for our undergrad and high school students. It will be a chance to teach them how to use some of the techniques they will be working with during their summer with us and it will also be a good refresher for everyone in the lab, because we tend to focus on very specific analysis when we do our research it helps teaching each other some of the things we do well.

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Summer teaching

It’s that time of the year again! We’re taking on undergrad and high school students for the summer research program! An exciting chance for people to get their hands dirty and learn what it’s like to work in a lab. The best part is that most of the people attending are paid! That’s right, undergrads are paid to be there. That also means I get to put on my teacher hat, which I absolutely love. Today we’re going to talk about what I’m teaching and I’ll probably spend a bit of time talking about how much I enjoy teaching, let’s go!

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Presentation anxiety

Today is day two (of three) for the first conference of the year for me (more here). Presenting live is always a challenge and the difference between a good presentation and an okay presentation (any attempt is at least an okay attempt in my opinion) is a combination of planning, practicing, and luck. Of course there are things that can make this particularly difficult, for example one of the issues I have is aphasia, so while I can write normally (mostly), speaking can be a challenge. This is particularly apparent when I’m stressed, so presentations are a challenge.

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The first conference of the year

Today marks the start of the first conference of the year for me. This was the one that was unfortunately named far too similarly to the other conference I was awarded a slot to speak at (here). It’s three days long and is completely virtual (thankfully!) so I won’t be traveling just yet even though things are relaxing (far too early in my opinion). I figure today since I’ll be doing that we can discuss why I’m happy that we made the switch to virtual and why I am angry that it’s going to change soon.

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On the importance of milestones

We’re counting down the days and there’s still so much to do. It’s probably going to be updates from here to the finish line because let’s face it, there’s not much time for anything else! Since yesterday I talked about the importance of planning and why it’s good to lay things out, I figure today I’ll talk about the importance of milestones since I have about a dozen or so I need to hit! For the sake of time, let’s just dive right in.

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An end in sight

Hourglass on laptop counting down
Hourglass on laptop counting down

Well I had an awkward conversation with my main-PI yesterday about some of the progress I had made and while he seemed generally supportive, it unfortunately wasn’t particularly helpful. All that work I had hoped to finish over the weekend? Still going, but there’s other things going on too so we’re counting down to the end of the term now and there’s an end to a lot of this, but it’s going to be (as always) a race to finish.

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Flexible coding for data visualization

My main-PI has an odd habit of wanting us to edit things as we’re presenting them. I’ve watched this happen and had to do it myself. Suddenly you find yourself editing a paper/grant/etc. and forgetting how to spell your name because you’re so flustered. It isn’t just papers though, it’s our visualizations that we make. He will ask us to go in and change things as they are being shown. This has happened to me several times already and more often than not I’m ready for it. So today I figured I would go over some of the things I do to make sure that I don’t spend the entire time sweating over edits to my code.

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Journal club

Okay, get this I completely skipped over the fact that my Co-PI started a “journal club” for our little lab. I say little because for the longest time it was just the two of us and the research coordinator (who is amazing by the way!), but now we have not one, but two others in the lab. It’s nice not having to do a lot of extra work, but different topic for another time. We formed a journal club a short 8 weeks ago and every other week one of us sends out a research paper they find interesting about a week prior to our biweekly meetings and then that person presents on it. This week it’s my turn and of course, the universe is against me.

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On the ambiguity of email

As per the usual around here I’ve been swamped with things to do. Between classwork, experiments, data processing, and writing, its been a lot. It may sound like I’m repeating myself at this point, but stuff just keeps coming up and I prefer talking about it instead of just keeping it all bottled up. More to the point, it means I have new things to do and I like to talk them out here so I have a clear(er) path moving forward. What does this have to do with email and the title of today’s post? Well, let’s talk about that.

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Mental health and time management

I don’t make the rules. As much as I like to think I’m in charge of my body and that I can will it to do what I want, I’m more of a passenger here. Sure I can make plans, that doesn’t mean my body will agree or that my brain will let me do all the things. It’s a very tense arrangement, I have life stuff to do because I have basic human needs and my body/brain tells me exactly where I can shove all that. Somehow I’ve managed and I figure why not share how I’ve developed work arounds for some of this, maybe it will help someone else in the same boat.

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Another week in review

A week ago exactly I gave a review of the week I had and a look at the week coming up. I thought it was so much fun I’m doing it again, because that’s what passes for fun around here. Who knows maybe I’ll do this regularly! Basically a lot has happened this week and now is a good time to catch everyone up on some of the oddball things I’ve done and things I may have missed in favor of freaking out about the work I’m doing. So let’s just jump into my semi-traditional introduction, then we can look back and ahead. It’s fun for everyone!

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The homework rush

Not the most exciting of topics, especially after yesterdays news that I’m giving a presentation at the BRAIN conference, but my homework is due tomorrow. This will be the first time this term that I haven’t finished it early. Normally I will have turned it in days in advance to get it off my plate, but there’s so much going on that I’m not even certain that I will have the chance to finish it. What do I do in that situation? Well keep calm and carry on… I’m not British, but I think that’s how the phrase goes.

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The last PhD requirement

Real photo of me determining significance between two samples. It’s scarier than it looks.

We’re already at the end of the month, how the hell did that happen? It’s been close to a month and a half since the term started and it feels like it’s flying by. I realized that when I first started this project I covered a lot of the stuff I was learning at the time. In fact one of my previous class notes posts was in my top 10 highest viewed blog posts for 2020. Somewhere along the line I stopped doing that, so today we’re going to talk about what I’m taking this term, why I’m taking it, and why I’ll probably be adding a few step by step instructions for how you can do what I’m learning too in some of my upcoming posts.

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Time management as a student

AHHHHH! There’s so much going on right now my head feels like it’s going to explode. Still, I am hopeful that today is the day that I check a few of those things off my list. Let me just say, the more I have to remember the more stressed out I get, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll forget something. The solution is simple, don’t try to remember anything, but that is problematic… right?

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End of the month crunch

It’s the end of the month and that means there are a lot of loose ends I need to tie up before the new month begins. Deadlines I need to hit, plots to make, projects due, heck I even have a book chapter due. There’s just a lot going on and not a lot of time to finish it all. It seems to be a common theme that things are “due” at the end of the month for me. This month is no different, but with school having started, it gets a little more hectic than normal.

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More on grant writing

Got the first round of edits back from my Co-PI on the R21 grant I’m writing. At first they didn’t look too bad, but it turns out he reworded quite a bit. Not that big of a deal honestly, but he did suggest that it was close to perfect, so I would hate to see what “not close” looks like. Today I figure we can discuss what I have left, why there’s a rush to get all this done, and why the heck I’m doing soooooo much writing!

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The first week of classes

When you start a PhD program, or a Masters program (I have a BS and MS so I can speak to this) things aren’t as structured as they are in undergrad. Not that undergrad programs aren’t hard or not hectic, it’s just that there are scheduled times for everything so you know when and where you will have work. It’s a lot like highschool in that respect, you get homework, but there’s a clear end to it. Not so much in grad school, your homework takes a year or even years (for a PhD) to finish. Still, it’s the first week of school, so things change, if only slightly.

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First grant meeting

Time to put the fun in funding?

Well it’s been a weird couple of days and by weird I mean, WTF?! For that reason let’s shift slightly back into the school aspect of things. I had my first meeting with my Co-PI to discuss the grant writing I’m going to be doing and what we want to focus on. Turns out there’s a lot going on and not all of it had to do with the grant, but it was a good meeting and I’m excited to get started.

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