We're a little crazy, about science!

My Research

The robot resubmission

Fact: robots who don’t get published often turn to a life of crime.

Sometimes life comes at you fast, other times you’re writing a paper and four years later you’re still looking to publish it. Publishing can be like that and while I’m not the only one with this type of story, I do believe we’re finally coming to an end of the robot paper saga. I’m really hoping I don’t have a whole ass PhD before this thing gets published, that would just be awkward.

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Robot rush

Not my robot, but I figure we’re tired of seeing the same few photos of mine.

Well we’re just a few days away from robot paper deadline and there’s still some work to be done! While robot-PI is still editing the paper, I had an unfortunate realization with some of the work I had done that requires me to go in and fix a few things. So once again, I’m doing things as hard as possible.

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The week ahead

Every once and awhile I like to highlight what kind of stuff I’m working on during the week and since there are a lot of things going on and none of them would make a very “full” post on their own, I think it would be best to group it all together and look ahead because there are some very interesting things happening this week!

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The robot paper response

Yesterday due partly to the house work I was having done, I got none of the data processed I needed to do, but I had a chance to address some of the comments I got from the reviewers on “robot paper.” The response is due in just a few days and one reviewer was very thorough with their feedback, so there’s a lot to address and not a lot of time to get it done. The good news is ~94% of the comments are addressed, the only bad news is that it isn’t 100%.

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The IRB response

That was fast. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything back from the IRB so quickly, but here we are and I have a bit of work to do. Technically we didn’t get the IRB reviewed yet, it’s only been “pre-reviewed,” but pre-review helps speed things up when the IRB meet next (in about a month) to look over the application. Since we were asked to make some modifications, this should help bring our IRB application up to standard before the IRB actually review it.

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Back to back OR experiments

I’ve had one other instance where we had two OR experiments in a single day and that was exhausting. Thankfully we had a break in the middle so that I could get everything cleaned and prepped for the next time. Unfortunately I’ve just been made aware that next week we get to try things on hard mode next week.

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Back in the OR

Oh man, I haven’t been in the OR since last year! Okay we’re only a few days into the new year, but it does feel like it’s been a bit with the holidays. That’s going to change though because tomorrow is our first OR experiment of the year. And with the new year, we have some new changes to the experiment that we’ll be trying since we’ve had over a half dozen attempts to do this right with somewhat mixed success.

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Another new project!

When I think of science, for some reason exploration comes to mind. Hence the picture for today.

In the spirit of making things as hard as I possibly can for myself I’ve gotten a new project to work on from hospital-PI. This was a known thing, but it does (mildly) clash with the idea I recently had. Since I cannot share the idea I had, we can instead talk about this project a bit and why the two will be at odds. I also have a fun update on the big idea project I came up with so I’m shoehorning it in with this post since it’s semi-related.

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Return of the robot paper

Logically I knew I would get a response sooner or later, I mean you submit something to a journal and you’re going to get a response. Even if it’s just a screw you, you hack. Can you tell I’ve already had several of those? Well yesterday I finally got the email about the paper I wrote on the work I did in my Masters degree days, which feels like a very long time ago now that I’m almost done with my PhD. The news is good, but I’m going to be cautious.

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Real-time seizure state tracking

Since I shared one of the papers I was super proud of, I figure I can share the other one as well. Like the last paper (here) I’ll explain the concept and why this paper was important. I’ll also talk about why I think it was cool and where the idea came from. Mostly this post is for people who are interested in the work, but may not be familiar with the technical aspects so I’ll try to avoid technical terms or I will provide an explanation when needed.

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The first steps to my proposal

I said this year was going to be a ride and I meant it. We’re four days into the new year and I’ve just heard back from school-PI that I’m good to submit my IRB. Since that may sound like gibberish to the non-academic and because I like to make things accessible, today I’ll explain what an IRB is, why it’s important, and why having one is somewhere between a small step and a giant leap to my PhD.

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Another OR experiment

Time to dust off my scrubs, it’s back to work for me. In fact, I have been so busy with other things I don’t think I mentioned it, but today is yet another OR experiment. With how well the previous two went, I’m hopeful that this one will go well, but a somewhat alarming email from hospital-PI yesterday may throw a wrench into any plans I had.

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OR experiments, the aftermath

The good news is we have data! Lots of data, more data than you could shake a stick at, although I don’t know why you would shake a stick at anything… That’s beside the point(ed stick) though! Yesterday was not one, but two OR experiments and I have to say surgeon-PI must be in way better shape than he appears because both hospital-PI and I are exhausted!

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Interrogation of spinal networks during movement preparation using transcutaneous spinal stimulation

Rundown of the experiment (A) shows where we stimulated and what muscles we recorded from. (B) is our experimental protocol that we used. We had an auditory cue, a tactile cue (a small electrical stimulation of the foot, which causes a slight tickle) and an isometric contraction task. (C) has examples of what the evoked potentials look like and it can be hard to read at first, but the far right has a very clear example (R1 is our first stimulus and R2 is the second). I don’t go into why we used 2 pulses, but there is a reason, it’s just a bit technical so outside the scope of this general review.

That’s not the name of the paper, but that’s the general idea. We tend to take movement for granted, I mean most of the time we do it without thinking. I don’t look down as I’m typing these words, yet my fingers know what to do to make it happen. Similarly, we don’t really think about balancing ourselves when we walk, we just do it. So if I’m not consciously thinking about every step I take when I walk down the street, who, or what is keeping me going?

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The path moving forward

Pick your battles. After having a conversation with another student about their PhD plans and how soon they want to graduate, they offered that sometimes you need to pick your battles. I couldn’t agree more with that statement and when I met with school-PI a few days ago virtually to go over my big PhD plans I asked what I needed to do to finish. I needed to pick my battles.

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Double OR experiments!

It’s official, I just got not one, but two new participants for our study. This will be happening next week and the scary part is they are both on the same day, so it will be more than a full day in the OR, like 12 hours or so for the whole day. Not all of that time will be spent in the OR, thankfully. Every attempt we’ve had thus far in the OR has gotten better and better, so if the pattern holds, we should have some very good data after this next round of participants and I will have more data than I know what to do with.

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Success! Journal paper 2 of 4

Well kids, Christmas has come early! As of this morning my second of four journal papers I’ve written has been accepted for publication! Since it’s been a somewhat long and confusing road, I figure today I can remind everyone why I’m so thrilled about this paper and why this is good news for me in particular. There’s still a lot to do and more papers to publish as we go, but things are looking up!

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The fifth OR experiment

Well we did it. I finally have the first (mostly) complete dataset from a patient. Overall I think it went well and we got good data. Mistakes were made! But thankfully none of them derailed the project and overall I am happy with the outcome. Let’s get into what went wrong and what went right, because having some post surgical notes will help me next time we do our thing.

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Prepping for the experiment

Today’s the day, experiment number five. With lot of luck this will be the first full experiment we do for this protocol. It will hopefully mark a turning point for us since after four attempts we’ve yet to get a full dataset. However, I’m hopeful, but I’m also going in alone today.

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Solo OR experiment

Tomorrow will mark attempt number six to get the data we’re after from the OR. We’ve got a very unwieldy experiment to do which involves coordinating with the surgeon, but also the staff to make sure we don’t run into each other. It’s a delicate dance and if you haven’t been following along, it hasn’t been great so far.

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A not so certain future

I have a lot of health problems. If I were to dedicate a post to each we would be here awhile. They affect me in ways that I’m very aware of and sometimes I’m left to wonder if they affect me in ways I don’t always notice. Maybe my communication skills are just that awful or somehow my brain just can’t make sense of things. I feel like I’m going crazy, but it has to be me… right?

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A big idea…

You ever have an idea that you just KNEW would change the way you were doing things. Like the first person to invent a surgical robot, it was just a good idea and it completely changed the way things were done. I don’t think that this idea is going to change things that dramatically, but much like my super secret technique, I think my recent revelation is going to mean some great things for me. Lighting struck the other day and it has hospital-PI incredibly excited.

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Journal Paper three update!

Well that was fast, we got reviews back on a paper we recently submitted and they were surprisingly good for us. It’s still considered major revisions, but they gave us ten days to make the changes. Ten days as of Monday, so were about a week away from needing to resubmit. There’s some work to be done for sure, but I think we can manage.

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Fun with collaborators!

So much has been going on that I can’t even keep up with it. I was debating about what news to share, but I think we’ll talk about something I’ve had in the works for awhile now. Actually I just checked my email exchanges, this has been in the works for over a year and today we finally crossed the threshold from hypothetical to real world data collection!

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Update from the OR

I don’t share actual surgery photos online (even if I could, I don’t know that I would), but there are plenty stock photos, like this one!

No, I’m not updating this while I’m in the OR, but we had OR attempt number five as a maybe today and I have good news. We managed to get a yes at the last minute and got some interesting data. It’s all very exciting, so now I need to dig around and see what we found. For sake of remembering, let’s run through how today went!

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The last experiment

Goodbyes are hard, even if you don’t really know someone outside of work. Today we’re saying goodbye to a few of our participants as they finish one of our longer experiments. It feels like only yesterday, but it’s been several months now so it’s time to wrap things up. The good news is this will create a bit of an opening in my routine, but that’s probably going to be filled in pretty quickly.

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Mad dash to the OR

Today has been a day! The trick with doing research in the OR is that the schedule for the surgeries don’t get finalized until the day before and sometimes even then things change at the last minute. I’m not sure when the schedule was finalized or if anything changed, but this morning I got a text that threw everything out of order. The best laid plans of mice and men…

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The fourth OR experiment

It’s official! We have experiment number four coming in two days. I’m excited about another attempt to collect data and to answer about a dozen interesting questions since we just keep tacking on stuff to look at when we go in. I’m not even joking, the experiment list keeps growing because the opportunity is unique and they don’t add significant amounts of time to the main experiment we’re doing.

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The garden of forking paths

It’s called the butterfly effect and goes something like, “a butterfly can flap its wings and cause a hurricane on the other side of the world.” That’s not exactly true, like most things it’s an easy way to remember the concept. Something small can have a ripple effect that you may not be able to anticipate. In other words, chaos. The problem is chaos, the universe is not deterministic so predicting the future, even the immediate future, comes with a certain level of uncertainty. It’s only in hindsight can we trace back certain events and see the pattern and even then depending on the scale, it’s impossible to know which butterfly caused the hurricane or if the flapping of a butterfly’s wings prevented one.

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Sometimes things get cancelled

Today was a big day. We got the equipment ready, the patient consented, and everyone on the clinical side of things was on the same page we were on. Things were going well. Surprisingly well in fact, that should’ve been the first sign something was going to go wrong. This time it wasn’t our fault though! Sometimes you just can’t catch a break, so maybe next time.

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Off to the OR!

Tomorrow is the big day, our second experiment and while I’m a little nervous, I’m also excited to see what we can do. Last time around we had some issues… okay a lot of issues, but that’s because it was the first time we’ve ever tried something like this. This time around we worked with the team that will be in the OR with us so we know what they are doing and this time they know what we are doing. Basically we’re aiming for a whole lot less drama and a whole lot more useable data, meaning any usable data!

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Experiments from the OR

The last place you would expect to see me doing non-invasive research would be the operating room. Surgery, even the minor stuff, can be very invasive, but that doesn’t mean we can’t collaborate and combine our techniques. Of course this is the first time anyone in the hospital has tried to collaborate like this (that we know of anyway) so there’s bound to be some growing pains. Luckily we’re about to go into our second real attempt at this and I think we’ve worked out all the problems.

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A weekend of edits

No matter how much you stagger something, it somehow all manages to come back to you at the same time. It’s an interesting phenomenon that I’ve noticed, where suddenly everyone wants something from me all at the same time. In this case, I was hit with not one, but three paper edits that need to happen. All of the requests happened within a day of each other, so now my weekend will be spent doing my least favorite activity, editing papers.

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One presentation done!

Today was the final presentation on some research I did. The road was long and I wish I could blame it all on COVID, but there was a lot for me to learn between when we started and now. I’m happy with the outcome and I think my school-PI is happy as well. There’s still one minor milestone left and that’s the publication, but the paper is written and I’m waiting for edits from my co-authors, so the hard part is done at least.

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Winter conference season

It’s that time of the year again! Every six months or so we have an influx of conferences and what not that happens pretty routinely in winter then again in the spring. Thanks to COVID still being a thing — get vaccinated people — we’re either going fully virtual, or since one of our events this year is smaller, we’re taking precautions to keep people socially distanced and masked (since it’s a hospital organized event, we’re all already vaccinated). Tomorrow is the first event of the season and I’m giving a short (five minute) presentation on the work I did for this particular group.

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The how to of presentation design

With my three minute talk coming up (more here) I need to design my two slides and get my poster set. Since I don’t like doing more work than needed, instead of trying to figure out the order of things and blog about something else, I wanted to go over how I would be presenting my science, both for the talk and my poster. Ideally this would help others, but mostly it’s for me since I could use the format in the future. I would copy from my previous talks, but I like to mix it up a little and this isn’t quite as formal as some of the other talks I’ve had to give.

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The surgical scramble!

Today was an… interesting day. Saturday I mentioned that today I would be in the OR again, it feels like I’ve been living there for a bit now and I have to say I’m enjoying it, but things were a little more hectic than I had originally anticipated. I had arranged for everything to be ready well before the surgery took place, but as it turns out that wasn’t what happened and I was left to scramble in order to get everything working.

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Award interview and project update

Yesterday was the big interview between my school-PI, surgeon-PI, and myself. It was significantly longer than I expected it to be, but it was also strangely focused on me. That was completely unexpected, so I felt a little awkward, but I did it and we’re all very excited to start my project. I have some thoughts about the interview, but I also realized I haven’t really spoke about my “super secret” technique in a while so some of the newer followers may not even know what I’m talking about (don’t worry, it’s a super secret).

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Another award?!

Yet again I’ve managed to slip through the cracks, or maybe the standards were just that low. Whatever the reason, I’ve been selected to share my science in the form of a podium presentation. Yep I was awarded a spot to present my work at an upcoming event I’m required to attend (luckily it’s a masked event, because we’re all medical professionals) so I get to give a supposedly “fun” elevator pitch of my work. Just a few weeks away, I have to figure out what I want to say and how I want to share it. The issue isn’t so much that I’m speaking in front of a group (that isn’t on my computer), the challenge is the state of the project.

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An interesting experiment, maybe

I was debating about sharing this since I’m not sure if it will happen or not. More importantly, like all the experiments and stuff I do around here (or at least it feels that way) I can’t talk about it in detail. Instead I can talk about why I’m excited about it in particular and why it may not even happen. Which, considering I’m still trying to recover from surgery, may not be a bad thing!

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The award announcement

Well it’s official, my project got funded. It’s a little hollow since we knew ahead of time that it was going to be awarded, but now that it’s official we can make a big deal about it. By we I mean my school-PI and our collaborator, who I guess is technically my latest Co-PI, so now I have three PI’s and you thought my life was complicated enough already, didn’t you?

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The two year countdown

Yesterday was exhausting! In the end though I had a meeting with my school-PI (I think that’s as good a nickname as any) and we discussed what my timeline is and when I see myself graduating. A lot of what we discussed revolved around the funding we just got and the fact that I’ve just taken a new job doing research full-time in a clinical (see: hospital) setting. The talk went well, he’s been supportive of the fact that I took this job and even though it’s caused some friction between school-PI and hospital-PI (formerly main-PI and Co-PI respectively) things are settling down some and I’m hoping to find some minor and probably temporary stability in life.

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Some good news… for once.

As anyone who’s followed along knows, this time of the year is horrible for me. Between depression, external factors, and now a death of someone who worked with us from COVID, it’s been fairly hellish. It has felt like anything that could go wrong, would go wrong and frankly it’s not just exhausting it’s also had a numbing effect. However, today I got some good news.

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Third paper updates

Yes, we’re switching focus from my mental health to other things today. Mostly because I feel like I’m just repeating myself in different ways, so instead we can talk about the forward progress I’ve made in my writings. This will be journal paper number three and if my Co-PI is right, we’ll be submitting it early next week!

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Second paper submission

Well this is an unexpected post, but here we are. I’ve officially submitted my second paper, but it’s not the paper I was expecting, it was one that I thought was going to be a while. Instead I got an email from my former PI letting me know it was ready to submit and to go ahead and do it, thus as of yesterday afternoon, paper number two is now in review.

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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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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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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 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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