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Posts tagged “academia

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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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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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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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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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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Analysis fails

I’m an idiot. So for the past few weeks I’ve been working with our super fun new dataset! Like a big kid, I did the statistics, made the checks to ensure that the assumptions held, then got my result. Everything was going well until I realized there was a typo (here) in my code. Well it turns out that wasn’t my only problem, but everything should be fixed now… should.

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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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The promise of tomorrow

We’ve reached the end of the 365 days of academia project, year two! Last year I wrote in depth about my past and in particular my suicide attempt (here). At the time it felt like a good way to wrap up an entire year of basically pouring my heart and soul into this blog. Writing every day for a full year, I didn’t think I would do it and now I’ve done it two years in a row (minus when I was trying not to freeze to death!). Since last year we looked back, today we’ll talk about why I’m alive. The short answer is in the title of this post, the promise of tomorrow, but I think I can explain better.

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A look back

What a journey, two years ago exactly I decided to start what I called the 365 days of academia project. It was an ambitious goal to blog, every. single. day. for a full year. Then in what felt like no time at all the year was over. Having a daily chronicle of my thoughts and knowledge is just as much for me as it is for all of you. It’s nice building a little archive of my journey and tomorrow will be the official end of year two. A year feels like a lot of time, until you hit the end of it. Like they say, the hardest part of any journey is the first step. Well, we made it to the end of yet another chapter, so let’s talk about it.

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The stress of change

When I think of change, I think of fall. Maybe it’s an apt time for a change in my life then.

I’m used to things changing. In fact, when things are static it’s actually slightly scary because I never had a stable life growing up. Things were always in flux, from what state I lived in to what school I went to, every few years it was time for a huge change. But things are different now and I prefer consistency, I try to live a structured life. Even if the only reason I do is to keep things simple because I feel like I’m constantly rushing around trying to get stuff done for my degree.

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A leap of faith

Well I did something today that I will not be able to undo. Since I have a policy of honesty with this blog, I will admit that I’m scared. I don’t like taking risks, but I didn’t have a choice so now I’m going through the grieving process wondering if I’ve made the right call and how quickly I will end up regretting it. I had a choice, I made a choice, and now we wait. It’s a leap of faith, one I’m not sure I am ready to take.

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The R21 Result

Well I’ve been meaning to write this for a bit now, but the R21 I helped write back at the beginning of the year was not funded. It was a longshot and my Co-PI who helped write and submit the proposal was not surprised as to the result. Worse, it was not discussed. Since I’ve spent the past year learning the hard way how grant writing works, I figure today I can pass on that knowledge and we can who knows, maybe it will help others who are grant writing.

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Countdown to the grant submission

We’re just days away from the deadline for the grant I’m writing. We’ve got an awesome team of people that have agreed to be a part of this project and the funding will go towards the big idea I had several years back (what I’m calling my “super secret technique”) so I’m excited! My main-PI thinks the proposal has a good chance of being funded and I trust his judgement since he’s been doing this for a long time. So today I figure I can brag about the team and what will happen in the next few days.

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An unfortunate typoo

Yes, the title was on purpose. No, I’m not thrilled at the moment. Sometimes you just need things to go smoothly, but life has other plans and yesterday I hit one hell of a stumbling block. The good news is I’ve caught it, but the bad news is there is now about 104833423x more work for me to do to fix the issue. No matter how careful you are, something is always going to get missed, yesterday was just a reminder that you can miss things even when you’re paying close attention. I may go as far as to say, especially when you’re paying close attention.

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Why is it always a rush?

Well my latest grant is due at the end of the week, so I am now just a few short days away from the deadline and rushing to meet it. There has been plenty of time between when the proposal for funding went out and now, so why does it always feel like things are last minute? It probably has to do with the iterative approach to writing and the edits that go on forever. Since I need a break from scientific writing I figure now would be a good time to talk about the process and why a far off deadline is never enough.

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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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Yet another grant…

The search for funding continues! We’re less than a week away before I need to submit my latest attempt at securing funding for my PhD to the end of my degree. Right now we’re running out of time and in just a few weeks I could be without pay, without tuition reimbursement, and basically on the verge of being homeless again… my how the tides turn. Not to fear though, I’m not doing this alone and I have options. Today we’re going to talk about the grant I’m writing, why it won’t help my current situation, and why I’m still going to do it.

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The final day of summer internship

Today marks the last day of the summer internship for our early career undergrad researchers. On paper, it’s been a long, sometimes bumpy road that wasn’t always the easiest thing to work through. In reality, it was all too short and it feels like we just got to know our interns and now it’s time to say goodbye. Through the experience I’ve got to watch the intern I was mentoring grow as a person, and grow more confident in herself. It’s been a privilege that I got to be a part of this.

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A small celebration

Salted caramel apple empanadas covered in cinnamon and brown sugar, the result of my labor of love (and frustration)

It’s my Co-PI’s birthday and to celebrate I’ve been busy. The rest of the lab took care of getting a cake and hanging the decorations. Since I split my time between two labs at the moment, I wasn’t around to help and I felt slightly guilty about it. I like my Co-PI and even though he’s (probably) leaving soon I at least wanted to do something nice for him. So in spite of all the work I had to do I got to baking.

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A surprising request

Basically the same face I made when he asked…

Well yesterday was unexpected. I got a phone call from someone I wasn’t expecting to ever hear from again. My former classmate who I wrote the journal paper we just finished reviewing and resubmitting. It was unexpected because after we submitted it the first time he sort of dropped off from contact (despite the back and fourths with the other people on the paper). He was asking for a reference for a research position and I said I would do it, but I was a little surprised given our history.

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So you want to email a PI

It’s that time of the year again, people are gearing up to apply for graduate school and with it a flurry of things to get done. Graduate school isn’t for everyone, but if you’re planning on making the jump, now is the time to lock in the schools you want to attend. More important than the school is the lab you want to work, you have looked into the labs at your dream school… right? Finding a good PI (primary investigator or the boss of the lab) is, in my opinion, even more important than getting into that dream school of yours. So buckle up and we’re going to talk about how we find the perfect lab.

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The end of summer internship

Well today wasn’t the official day, but we had our first presentations for the summer internship program. Friday will be the last day for the interns and we will bid them farewell and good luck with whatever they do in life. The presentations today were meant to be fun and just a way to celebrate everything the interns learned while they were with us. We got to see work done in all the labs and the experiences were varied, so that made for an interesting time. Basically summer is near the end and it’s a little hard to process to be honest.

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The hunt for knowledge

Sometimes science is like digital archeology. Thanks to the internet I have the sum of our collective knowledge at the tips of my fingers. I just need to ask the right question and I can find the answer. Unfortunately, the right question isn’t always the question you come up with. The right question may not be worded the exact way you think it should. The right question may not even be the right question at all, it’s just the first in a long list of questions you need to work through. In a digital world, we’re still stuck looking for ways to get the answers to questions the system may not understand. I’m on a hunt and so far I’ve been fairly lucky.

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The complexity of biology

Why couldn’t things be simple? Maybe you would take a measurement and have the correct value every time. Or you would perform an experiment and get the same result no matter what. The human body is an amazing feat of engineering by evolution. It’s layer upon layer of stuff that all work together to do the thing that needs to happen. The fact that it works at all is amazing, it’s like throwing a bunch of computers into a room, shaking it, and out comes a fully working robot that’s more advanced than anything you’ve seen.

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The big presentation

It has been a day friends. Yesterday I got an email from my main-PI asking me about a funding proposal I’ve been working on and when I responded I asked if we were having our lab meeting this week since the last two have been cancelled. He said yes and he mentioned that today would be the day I presented the work I’ve been doing with my project. Thankfully I was ready for it, but it was pretty stressful and there are some changes that need to be made. Overall the lab seemed pretty impressed by the presentation and the work I’ve been doing.

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The long goodbye

It’s not official, but it kind of is… my Co-PI and I will be parting ways unfortunately. On one hand I’m happy for him, he’s found a better opportunity to help him grow and progress his career. We don’t do research for the money, but we do it for the adventure. We do it for the help we can give people. We do it for the discoveries and friends we make along the way. He has a chance to grow and it looks like he’s taking it. We worked together for over two years now and I didn’t expect it to be coming to a close anytime soon, but plans change and I need to change with it.

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Intro to MATLAB – Part 5

Well we’re doing it. We’re adding to the MATLAB course I taught. Today we’re going to dive into functions, more importantly why you may want to write your own function, when you probably don’t need to, and how to tell the difference. This of course was inspired by the stuff I had to do the other day and when I realized I should just stuff everything into a function, life became a lot less complicated. Don’t worry, functions are your friends!

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The value of planning your code

It’s no secret I need to write code, a lot of code. A mind numbingly large amount of code. Researching in a brain-machine interface lab is more about programming than it is about scifi brain hacking or anything the latest techno-thriller movies would have you believe. Anyone can do it, but it takes a certain amount of practice and a whole heck of a lot of time. Over time your skills develop and things get to be easier, but it’s not a linear progression (is anything really?) so things can be frustrating. These days planning saves me tons of time and effort, so today I want to pass that bit of knowledge on to you.

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Programming overreach

This is what happens when I try to get fancy with the work I’m doing. I end up attempting to do things that aren’t done easily or if they are done easily, I figure out the hardest way possible for me to get them done. A week or so ago (here) I was excited because I came up with a super cool way to do something and I thought that the hardest part was behind me. Oh how wrong I was… but I’m close to figuring this out, I just need to do a lot of work to dig out of this hole I threw myself into. This is why you should never do anything fancy!

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Sometimes the progress is slow

Today has been incredibly busy, but incredibly frustrating. So far next to nothing has been accomplished towards the work I have to do, but I did help a few people out and we discovered some interesting issues with some software the lab uses. Okay not issues exactly, it just doesn’t work the way we thought it did. In any case, there has been a lot of running around and doing things, just nothing productive for myself. Some days are like that though, hopefully I will have better luck tomorrow or maybe even later tonight.

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More competing projects

Were does the time go?! I have no time left to get my projects done and yet there’s still a lot that needs to happen. Today is one of my semi-famous lists of stuff I need to get done in an outrageously short amount of time. Didn’t we just do this a month or so ago? I think so, but here we are counting down yet again to the newest set of deadlines and as with all my deadlines they clumped together and fall at what amounts to the same time. Don’t believe me? Well let’s take a closer look.

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An uncertain future…

Surreal door made from a question mark.
Surreal door made from a question mark.

My funding is about to run out. There I’ve said it. The problem is I cannot afford to live without the funding I get from school. If I don’t find someway to gap the issue I could quickly find myself homeless, or worse. I’m trying not to panic, but it is just a little scary to be getting so close to this invisible end. Both my two PI’s have offered workarounds, which may or may not happen. There are some good options, but those may be off the table. It’s complicated, so let’s just lay it all out.

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Midway through summer

Well in about a month and a half we’re going back to school! Wait… oh no. Okay the good news is I’ve accomplished a lot this summer! The bad news is I had no time for myself yet. That will change though, I plan on taking a few weeks for myself right before classes start back up again and since we’re at about the half way mark, I figured today we can look at what I’ve done and what I plan on doing. Today is where I force myself to take a damned break… eventually.

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