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Posts tagged “academia

The road forward

Well, it’s been a journey. As I keep mentioning, it’s not over yet, but I can’t help but look back at some of the first few years of posts where I felt lost and/or hopeless. Things have a tendency to work out and I knew it then just like I know it now, but I won’t lie and say it’s been easy. Between now and graduation there is still significant work to be done, but now that I’ve crossed the last week off my list it feels slightly more manageable. I still feel a bit like I lost something, even after gaining a whole lot, but I think that comes with any long-term accomplishment and I should probably brace myself for the feeling to hit again when I finally get my degree. Hopefully, it still feels like something that may not happen for whatever reason.

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Once in a lifetime

We often call opportunities that are huge and potentially life changing, once in a lifetime. While I agree with the spirit I’m hopeful that events like that occur at least a handful of times in a lifetime. That’s mostly because in hindsight we can always have done “better” whatever that looks like. I know I always have the nagging feeling that I could’ve done better no matter how well I do or how perfect things turn out, there’s always a flaw when you look close enough. Maybe I should just be kinder to myself, hell I think that advice applies to most/all of us. But at the end of the day, do we ever really go into these things giving it less than our all? Tomorrow is my once in a lifetime, but it may not be the last one.

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You don’t know me, but…

Have you ever had someone change your life? I mean really made a difference. Maybe it’s as simple as a musician who put to words what you’re feeling, or maybe something more dramatic like saving you from a burning building. I can’t say I’ve been pulled from a burning building or had anything nearly that dramatic happen to me, but I have had my fair share of life changing events occur. The thing is, if you’re not physically being saved then it doesn’t always feel like the person did anything meaningful. I’m sure there exists more than one musician who put just the right words together for a person to feel seen and completely altered the course of their live because of it.

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The second conference prep

It’s conference season. When I say season I mean season, how many conferences can be crammed into the span of two months? I’m not sure, but I do know that just for my field specifically there are three going on in the next seven days and while I do wish I could attend all three, for the sake of my sanity, health, and the safety of the time-space continuum I’m limiting the number of things I am doing. Conference season, on one hand I missed it. For the past two years COVID has basically eliminated all the major conferences in my field. Unfortunately for me, COVID is still a thing, sooooo we’re playing it safe with the good ol’ N95. That said, let’s dive into what the next week will look like and the prep I’m doing for conference number two.

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Fabric conference posters!

It’s here!!!!! My poster is finally here and let me just say it looks great! I’m thrilled with how it came out and the last post on the topic (here) discussed why using a fabric company over a school based company was a great idea, mostly because of the level of expected quality so I won’t be talking about that today. Instead I think I’ll cover why I’m so thrilled, but also how I managed to get it printed, because that’s a story. Although, the linked how-to guide in the previous post on the matter does a great job, I figured I could pass along some other advice. Namely, what to do now that I need to cut it to size…!!!

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For the future

Well it appears we’re talking about future me again I guess with all the stuff going on it’s hard not to. There’s a whole lot of things changing and like it or not, you can’t just jump into the future without plan. Okay, you can, but speaking from experience, I don’t advise it. Sure it may end well, but why risk it? So instead I need to figure out what the next few years looks like. I tend to do this every so often, but with graduation (hopefully) coming, I want to make sure that I make the best choices I can. Basically I need future me not to be pissed off at past me… present me? It’s confusing, but whatever let’s not think about it too much.

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The final week

It’s officially prep time, well it’s always prep time, but in this case I have two conferences back to back next week, so there’s some work to be done. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but what else is new? While everyone is different, since there’s so much going on, I thought it would be great to take the time to discuss how exactly I am getting ready for these events and talk a bit about the stuff that will come afterwards. The next week will be a major one for me, in my opinion anyway, so I want to give myself the best chance at a good outcome.

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So you want to print a conference poster

Well with the DARPA conference coming, I need to print the poster. Easier said than done unfortunately. Sure, with the advent of giant printers, you can get it done in minutes, but there’s a line involved and because it’s conference season and because I want to try something fancy, the line is fairly long. Weeks long, but the conference is in less than two weeks and I only recently finished my poster. Now I SHOULD have taken care of this at the beginning of the week, but again we have an oops because I did not. Moral of the story, if you want to stop reading, don’t be me. Now, since I’m doing something fancy, let’s talk about why and how!

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Postdoc interviews

Well oru lab is hiring! I wanted to start like that so no one got excited thinking I was doing a postdoc interview, I have a postdoc lined up thankfully. But because it’s hiring, we’ve been interviewing potential postdocs to fill the role. Our lab does things slightly differently (from what I’ve seen anyway) and we interview the candidate as a group, separately, and we get the chance to share a meal with them and hear about them in a not super stressful environment. It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun. I’m exhausted and I wasn’t even the one being interviewed! So if you haven’t been a postdoc before (and why would you, you’d have to be crazy to get a PhD… oh right), there’s a process to it.

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Digging out

Ever feel buried under your work? Like you’ll never see the light of day? It’s odd to think that there are other countries who do it differently, but here in the states, we tend to do that a lot. Or at least that’s what I’m told, I try not to overload myself, but lately it seems there’s no way to avoid it. The problem stems from me, not the stuff around me though. I didn’t have to do so much and I certainly didn’t have to want to do it so quickly, but I have the strong sense that I need to in some ways, because I feel like I’m just plain late. I know it’s just a me thing, but I’m behind some cosmic deadline, or at least that’s the way it feels. And for the past few weeks there was an avalanche of work that I didn’t see coming, then again you never do.

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The second crunch

It’s that time again, crunch time! I think it may be easier to just blog about days that aren’t crunch time honestly, because at this point you could call me captain crunch (legally obligated to ask you not to do that). Grad school can be painful, but we’re close to the end and that may be the biggest problem. There’s just too much to do in the timeframe I want to do it all in. A lot of this cannot be automated, so late nights and long days are abundant. But tomorrow is the second finish line and depending on what I can get done today, we will at least cross it with a modicum of grace. Well except for the surprise demo that is.

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The second deadline

Well we’re roughly 36 hours away from the second deadline of the month. There’s still two more deadlines I need to hit to survive the month, but so far we’re on a shaky, but manageable track to make it to deadline number two. Four deadlines in one month! It’s a lot, but I guess it is the spooky season. I just didn’t realize I would be dealing with man-made horrors beyond my comprehension. Seriously though with the second deadline so close, I am just a bit stressed at the moment.

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The taboo of failure

We celebrate a lot of exciting things. You get into your dream school? Let’s party! Getting married? Time to celebrate! Win the big game? Well you get the point. As a culture, here in the US anyway, we celebrate victories and make fun of people who try to include the people who lose. If you’ve never seen the “participation trophy” discourse then it’s probably better to live in ignorance, trust me on that. In short, we celebrate the winners because they accomplished something and if you failed then clearly you did not.

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Finding answers

Okay, today is basically the final day I have to get the answers I want. While I’ll have time to work on this during the week (with a little luck that is) I don’t want to rely on that. Instead today I’m going to make the push to find out if my “super secret technique” (SST) actually works. I have the data, I have most of the code written, and I have some new equipment to help me out (after putting that mechanical engineering degree to good use and reinforcing my desk a bit). So the rest is me and how much I can do.

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The dissertation foundation work

Everything needs to have a good foundation, from homes to education, if the foundation is awful, it’s all going to collapse on itself. Science is no different. Especially when we’re working with data that you can’t make sense of at a glance. Without the proper checks, you can rapidly set yourself up for failure. So today is all about building that foundation. And with DARPA and my next presentation coming up, we need to at least get the foundation done.

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Time for an upgrade

Okay, it’s not the best of times, but it’s not the worst of times either. Wait, I didn’t do that intentionally, but it works. Maybe I should’ve titled the post a tale of two monitors! It’s back to crunch time though meaning late nights from here to the end of the month, well at least until the end of the DARPA deadline. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’ve got a new toy to help me make it through. Well a new monitor to be exact. Sometimes you just have to buy yourself something nice.

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The dissertation update

It’s been a busy few days, but progress has been made and that’s all that matters right now. I knew what I was getting myself into when I started this whole thing and it’s only going to be for a little bit longer (if all goes well) so I don’t mind it so much. Right now it’s more about the timing of everything. With DARPA deadlines fast approaching I want to be certain that I can get at least something done to show at the conference, as usual, even if it’s that what I’m proposing doesn’t work.

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Dissertation late nights

It’s another long day, but progress is progress. I want to graduate on time and I’m going to give it my best shot in making it happen. My dissertation is complicated and my proposal was a lot of work, more work than I wanted, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do in order to graduate. Since collecting all the data for aim 1 is finished, the rest, at this stage anyway, is up to me. It’s another late night, but the end is so very, very close!

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Forward progress

I don’t want to say I’ve learned a lot in the last few years, but I have to say, I’ve learned a lot in the last few years. Sometimes you don’t realize the progress you make until you find yourself in a situation that would’ve been overwhelming or even impossible before and you are (not so) suddenly able to handle it without too much of a problem. Take for instance my dissertation work. When we last discussed (yesterday) I wanted to process ALL THE DATA!!!! But realistically I thought I would get a handful of datasets done, 3 to 5 maximum. Well…

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The work continues

Yesterday I mentioned all the work that was ahead for me. And work there is! While I have one dataset done (mostly) I need to process the rest of the data (ideally) to make my deadlines. Not all the data needs to be processed, but most of it would be nice, all of it would be great, and right now I have exactly no data processed so I am not exactly sure how much I’ll be able to finish today. Sometimes that’s just how these things go though.

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The next dissertation steps

Well it’s the weekend! Which means work, because of course it does. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m doing both work-work (as in working in a hospital) and PhD work (school), I would have my weekends (mostly) free for myself, but since I want to graduate soon, there’s a lot that needs to happen. Order of operations matter and today I’m going to talk about my plan to get the first phase of my dissertation data finalized. And it needs to happen quickly!

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Presentation 1 of 3

Well today was the first of three presentations and it’s been an incredibly busy 24 hours, the crunch time of crunch time. I was stuck late last night working away at this making sure it was ready for the big day and while there was some minor errors on one of my slides, the presentation went off without too much of a hitch and everyone was pretty impressed, at least that’s what I’ve been told. As for me, I need a vacation.

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The curious case of something, or nothing?

Still from Pokémon Detective Pikachu

It was such an obvious gap that I didn’t understand why it was there. Four years ago, almost exactly, I realized that when it came to the research our lab was doing, brain-machine interfaces mostly, that gap existed, I was confused. Surely I was mistaken, but in-depth searching turned up nothing. Coming in I thought the field was mature, everything that could be discovered was and now it was a slow slog of incremental improvements. Yet there it was staring me in the face like a red car in a black car lot. And thus super secret technique (SST) was born.

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The pressure is on!

astronaut lost in space

Okay we’re just days away from the first major deadline I have and wouldn’t you know it, nothing is getting done. Thankfully that’s about to change, I mean it’s only been two days since the last major step in data processing, so it’s not like I’m being lazy about it! There’s just other work to do, but I’ve managed to find time between now and then to make sure I can get at least a portion of this work done.

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Crunch time

Well it’s been a busy few days and we’ve got deadlines, so things are going to have to happen and quick! Meaning it’s officially crunch time because there’s not a lot of it between now and Friday, when I’m scheduled to present some of the stuff I’ve been working on. Over the weekend my goal was to get at least one of the datasets processed and have a rough idea what’s going on. It was the main reason yesterday’s post was a short paragraph and nothing more. Sometimes things don’t quite go to plan.

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The race against time

Well tonight’s post is coming ultra late. Mostly because I’m busy working on the data and am hoping to see some sort of result soon (if I’m lucky). There’s still a lot of work to do and I was hoping to get a proper post in today, but alas it was not in the cards. That said, it’s back to work I go, maybe I’ll get a glimpse of something good tonight, or maybe it will all be for naught, but hey at least I’m trying.


No time like tomorrow

astronaut relaxing in space

I’m not a procrastinator at all. In fact to prove it, I’ll list all the reasons why I don’t procrastinate, tomorrow. But seriously, sometimes putting things off until tomorrow is the best kind of care and time management. In the magical world of tomorrow you’ll feel fully awake, well rested, and the best you’ve ever felt. Of course, that’s just a fantasy, but even then sometimes self care is the best thing you can do for yourself. Which is why I’ve decided to put off the work I wanted to get done today for the magic world of tomorrow.

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A long conclusion

We did it, another “long experiment” in the books. Total time? Twelve hours. Twelve, non-stop. Okay there was exactly one bathroom break, one coffee drank and one protein bar eaten, but I kid you not, that was all there was time for. When I say long experiment, I mean LOOOOOONG experiment. 98% of that is standing, well moving around doing things, so let’s say “not seated” since that’s more accurate. So, was it worth it? Well now, that’s the real question isn’t it?

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The last day of prep

Well I’m not pulling an all nighter today so that’s good news. Two weeks ago we had our first “long experiment,” now we’re going into the second one. Long experiment because it will take all day and I mean all day. We start at 7am and I’ll be lucky if we finish at 7pm, that kind of long. Since long experiment is, well long, I’ve been working on lots of different ways to optimize the experiment. That won’t make it shorter, but I’m hoping it will be less stressful.

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When the assumptions fail

We make simplifying assumptions all the time. Assume the cow is a sphere. Assume a frictionless surface. Assume no air resistance. If you’ve ever taken a physics course, you’ve run into these at least once. Simplifying assumptions work because they get us an answer that is close enough to the “true” answer that we don’t need to do all the extra work of finding a more complex high accuracy solution. We like assumptions because they make our lives easier! But what happens when your simplifying assumptions turn out to be incorrect?

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The next countdown

Well the next long experiment is slowly coming and by slowly I mean AHHHHHHH!!! It’s only a few days away!!!!!! What are we going to do, someone panic and use more exclamation points!!!!!!! Seriously though, we’re counting down to the next long experiment and hospital-PI is already quizzing me to make sure we’re ready. This needs to go off without a hitch, but as we know the best way to ruin a plan is to try and execute it. Well there’s no substitute for practice… I guess?

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Return to the OR

Our OR’s aren’t this futuristic… yet.

It’s been a minute since I’ve had an OR experiment. To be fair there’s a lot going on and with the stuff we’ve been doing there hasn’t been time. But there’s also the participant factor. People need to agree to be part of the study and even before then we need to make sure they are a good fit, so there’s a lot of factors for why we haven’t done one for some time. In any case that is quickly about to change!

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The long week ahead

It’s going to be a looooong week. Mostly because we have what I’m calling “long experiments” coming up this week. Which of course has a lot of work attached to them. When I say long, I mean all day, all day experiments are intense and there’s still work to be done. So this week is mostly going to be focusing on the remaining work I have. But it wouldn’t be a long week if there wasn’t other stuff coming, meaning we have experiments, classes, and a whole lot of other stuff to look forward to in the week ahead.

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The slow progress

It’s been a very long day, but somehow not a lot got done. Ever have one of those days? The kind where you’re working from sunup to sundown and somehow nothing got accomplished. I guess there was forward progress, but it feels too slow and right now, I really can’t afford to go slow. If I’m lucky, tomorrow will be better, if not, well then I’m not sure.

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The long preparations

As promised, I’m already preparing for the next “long” experiment. This one will be just as long as the previous, if not longer, so we need to be using our time the best way possible. Ideally we’ll be getting all the data, all of it! But to do that we’re going to need a lot of work between now and then. Part of that will be working out some new code to automate a lot of the stuff we’re trying to do, but some of it will involve making things, because of course it will.

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Another big iteration

Well I’ve barely got the second generation of my “big idea” done, in fact it’s not even completely finished yet, but I’ve already got plans for another iteration. There are several parts involved in making this happen and there are always ways to improve upon the design and create something better. So, with the first round done and tested and the second being completed, I’m already thinking about what to do next. Would it be too much to say it’s going to be… big?

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Dissertation data update 2

Yep, we’re still being lazy and just numbering the updates. Maybe I’ll come up with fancy titles, but for now, this works. Plus this makes it easier for me to search back later. So now that I’ve justified my laziness, let’s talk about where we are. We are here. Okay, seriously, currently I’m still in the pre-processing phase, but there’s good reasons for that. Today I may actually finish pre-processing and I’m hopeful I can hammer out at least a rough idea of what we have… maybe.

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Long experiment aftermath

Well yesterday happened and I can feel it. Everything hurts at the moment, but I knew I was going to be sore today so there is absolutely nothing serious planned today besides maybe cooking something for dinner, maybe. Leftovers are a way of life in research, leftovers and protein bars. I wish I were joking, both hospital-PI and I brought protein bars as a “lunch” yesterday, which may or may not have been eaten as we ran from one part of the hospital to the next.

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The looooong experiment

Ever have one of those nights where you KNOW that tomorrow you have a huge thing going on and for whatever reason, you just CANNOT sleep to save your life? Maybe it was because every few minutes I was reminded of something I needed to do prior to the experiment, or maybe it was just because there was already so many things left undone. Whatever the reason, what should’ve been a day for me to get a full night’s rest turned into what amounts to a power nap.

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The day before tomorrow

It’s basically the big day at this point and I still have a bit of work ahead of me before the official kick off. We have a very strict schedule and I need to make sure that things go smoothly, or as smoothly as possible. I’m not going to lie, we’re already off to a bad start. It’s going to be rocky and we have a whole 12 hours or so for the electrical gremlins to get into the equipment. The pressure is on!

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Experimental prep: part 2

I feel like a broken record at this point, buuuuut… it’s been one hell of a day. It’s been non-stop go, go, go and there’s still one day between now and the big event. There’s still a lot of work to be done and I’m not sure how long it will take, but I have a feeling tomorrow will be a very long day. In fact, these next few weeks will be some of the hardest in recent memory and that’s saying something.

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Experimental prep: part 1

Okay there’s a few days between now and the incredibly complex and labor intensive experiments we have coming up on Friday, so there’s a high chance that this will be a multi-part discussion, hence the title of the post for the day. We’re rapidly approaching the big day and there’s so much work that needs to happen I’m starting to get a little nervous that I have enough time to do it all. To add to the chaos, there are other experiments happening, that require equipment that we’ll be using for Friday, so there’s no way to setup early.

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Dissertation data update 1

I’m being lazy so we’re just going to number my updates with regards to the dissertation data I collected, because I’m tired and I can’t honestly think of a better way to do it at the moment. This is subject to change if I come up with a more creative way. So a while back I collected a bunch of data, then this weekend I had my first chance to teach the people who assisted the first steps to processing it. It turns out there’s a long way to go with them.

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Dissertation data processing

Today is the day! Well one of many days… wait let’s start over. Today we are processing data for my dissertation and by we I mean myself and two people who have been helping me in the school lab. They will be learning how to process the data, but I’ll be processing all my data solo. It’s my dissertation after all and the old saying, “if you want something done right…” applies here. I can’t afford to trust that they will do it correctly because they’ve never done it, but they are going to learn how today!

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A completed part!

Ideas are perfect, but the first time you realize that idea it’s often a mess. It’s still an amazing thing that didn’t exist, but it’s never as perfect as in your imagination. You have all the parts, everything fits just the way you want, and it works exactly how you expect it to work, until it becomes a reality. Then it just becomes painful.

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Build, then rebuild

Any good idea really begins life as an okay idea. No matter how brilliant the idea, it’s not fully formed, so it’s imperfect. It’s that imperfect nature that makes it seem perfect. You don’t have to look close at the details. It’s what comes later, the taking a blob of an idea and shaping it into something physical, something real, that the idea goes from being okay to being great. Any realized idea in my opinion is a great idea, because you put the work into making it exist and that alone is worth something.

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Adventures in equipment modding

I have it! I finally (as of yesterday) got all the parts needed to build the stuff I wanted to finish for the studies we have coming up. This will be months of thinking through how to improve our setup and improve the noise rejection capabilities of the equipment. A LOT of planning went into the design and now that I have all the parts for assembly it’s time to earn my keep. But it’s not all smooth sailing.

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The week ahead

It’s been busy around here. Between data collections, experiments, papers, and making things, I don’t know how I manage to find time to sleep. This week promises to be slightly slower than the few previous, but that can always change and it looks like it may be changing as I’m writing this. Because of course it is, so let’s just dive in and talk about what’s coming before it all changes around again.

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A few new skills

Not working on anything serious today. Nope, not doing it. I took yesterday for myself and I’m taking today for myself. So instead of working on something strictly productive, I’m going to spend some of the day, maybe just a few hours, looking over some of the skills I’ve been meaning to pick up that I haven’t had time to learn/read about. Will this help my work? Yeah, of course, but it’s also something fun I wanted to learn. I’m a sucker for learning something new and that’s exactly what the plan is for the day.

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Dissertation – The first aim

Okay, with my data firmly in hand (so to speak), I’m ready to start tackling my first aim. Despite having all my data collected however, I’m incredibly behind schedule, by about four months if I check my handy proposed timeline. So it’s a race to catch up if I want to graduate on time and oh do I want to graduate on time! Then there’s the other issue, I have the DARPA Risers conference coming so it would be nice to show something new, that’s only a few months away so the race is on…

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