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Posts tagged “dissertation

Limitations and the consequences

Well hello there. It’s been a hot minute as the kids say (they say that, right?), but I’m feeling somewhat better these days. I’ve written several “first” posts now or at least parts to them and I’m hoping that this will be the one I finally commit to and hit the publish button on. If you’re reading this and are not me, then it’s a good indication I made it that far, how about that? So let’s get the obvious out of the way and catch up on the past few weeks because there’s a lot to catch up on and I’m not abandoning the 365 days of academia project, so no worries on that front! I mean after starting year four, I might as well see it to the end!

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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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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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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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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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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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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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Success! 10 of 10 dissertation experiments

It has been a struggle and I really, really don’t want to ever have to do something like that again, but after a few short weeks (well what feels like short), I now have 10 out of 10 of the datasets needed for my first aim. Will there be an aim 2 data collection? Maybe, if what I’m proposing turns out to actually work. In any case, this is now done and I can focus on the next step.

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Success! 8 of 10 dissertation experiments

Well today was the day that would never end. I only had one experiment today, but it took the whole day. To be fair, we didn’t start until the afternoon, but it was well into the evening when we wrapped up and that was exhausting. Since it’s been such a long day, I’ll recap how things went. For everyone who’s interested, but also for myself since I hope this will help with my dissertation writing sooner or later.

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The last participants

Well I had other topics in mind for the day, but I’m so excited that I wanted to make a little post about it. I’ve finally confirmed the last three participants for my dissertation project. I have 7 out of 10 datasets collected and needed three more for this first aim. For the past few days I was nervous that I wasn’t going to get it done this week. Sometimes that happens, things don’t work out how you plan, but that isn’t the case! I’ve confirmed all three participants for my project.

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The helping hands

So granted it’s my blog, my journey, and basically all about me, so maybe I think too highly of myself. I’m trying to not read too much into the implications and what that says about me, but I’ve always thought of the blog as more of a tracker for myself than anyone else. Not that I’m not happy to have the company! Today though, I thought it would be nice to talk about why it takes a village to make a dissertation, despite what it may sound like sometimes.

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Success! 7 of 10 dissertation experiments

One more time. Well technically it’s two days, but whatever. Today marks the completion of 7 of the 10 dissertation experiments I need to get done! Wow, things are moving quick, but maybe not quick enough considering I still need, you know, process the data and make sense of it all. But that’s tomorrow’s problem and I don’t have to worry about that today. Let’s talk a bit about how today went though!

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The halfway point

It’s official! As of today I have 5 of 10 datasets collected for my dissertation. There’s still a lot of work going forward for sure, this is just the first step, but it’s a big one. Between the last two days I’ve performed three experiments and I’ve found a few other people to help with the next round. If all goes well, I’ll have all the data for the first aim collected in the next few weeks. So what now?

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The long road to the end of my dissertation

Sometimes you’re so focused on something that when you take a second and look up you realize it’s almost the end of the year and you’re wondering how the hell that happened. It feels like just yesterday summer had started, we had our interns at the hospital and I had just defended my dissertation proposal. Now we’re roughly 8 months to the dissertation defense deadline and there’s work to be done. But there may be more, depending on how things go.

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Success! 2 of 10 dissertation experiments

Well today went better than yesterday and yesterday went pretty good to being with, so I’ll take it. All in all there were some things that I needed to iron out and a few things I still need to figure out, but it was successful and that’s all that matters. Since yesterday I already went over the rough outline of how it went and doing that again would be redundant even for me, I figure we can talk about how even the best laid plans can change once you start experimenting.

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Success! 1 of 10 dissertation experiments

What a day… I’m so exhausted. It’s been such an overwhelming amount of work, but it’s over and that’s one of the ten experiments I need (for the first phase of my dissertation anyway) done. The data collection went smooth, I love the new equipment, and I only ran into what appears to be one problem with the recording, but I’m hoping it wasn’t a real issue. So quick recap of how it went and then I get to remind everyone, and myself, that I get to enjoy doing it all again tomorrow!

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Experimental preparations

Finally. I’ve got not one, but two dissertation experiments lined up one for tomorrow and one on saturday. It’s going to be a busy few days and there’s a lot of prep that needs to happen today and ostensibly tomorrow before and after the first experiment. Since I am in the habit of sharing my process, I figured it would be a good idea to talk about how we set up for experiments. I’ve spoken often about how long it takes, but I can’t find a recent example of going over what that actually entails. This will be… interesting.

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A successful first test

Sometimes you have to work weekends, especially if you end up working full-time. But sometimes you have to do what you need to do if you want to graduate on time. Hint, I really want to graduate on time, but then again time is relative. Grad school is time intensive and as I’ve talked about in the past, you have to do the work when you find the time and energy. Yesterday, I made time to test some new equipment and it went well!

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A small step towards graduation

Well the hurry up and wait phase is over. As of today I now have the equipment I need for my dissertation experiments so it should be full speed ahead with data collection. Now I could do data collection and analysis simultaneously, but I don’t think I want to do that since I’m in a hurry and I’ll explain why in a minute, but now that I have equipment we’ve made a small step toward finishing this project. There are some things still lingering, but I think we’re on the right track forward. The only question is, can I get it done in time to graduate in the spring?

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A wait off

See what I did there, again? Yesterday I lamented that I was waiting, and waiting, and waiting, but Godot never seemed to show up. Wait wrong story. But seriously, I have been waiting months for equipment so I could start my dissertation data collection. THE final thing. I can’t begin to put into words how frustrating this whole process is, I’m ready to do something, like now! I want to do it, the will is there, but the equipment isn’t. So what to do, but wait and wait some more, unless…

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The wait of it all

See what I did there? As we are now at the end of the month, I’m starting to stress, yet again, about my dissertation experiments. Because life isn’t stressful enough after the past few days, my brain has decided to focus on yet another thing outside my control. But as with everything my brain does, writing it out helps, which is why we’re going to talk about what I have left to get my degree and how I’m anxious to get started.

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The long wait

Soooo… my dissertation. Haven’t really talked about that in a bit. Yeah, things are off to a rocky start. In the spirit of being transparent and sharing all the struggles, I figure today we can discuss where I am in the process. That includes the hold ups, the let downs, and why I’m officially just a bit nervous that I’ll actually be able to meet my goal of graduating in the spring. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but at least it’s temporary, he says as if he actually believed it.

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A dissertation dilemma

Okay, since I’m still waiting on my new and fancy toys to arrive for my dissertation I’ve been debating about going through the whole thing once again using the equipment I already have access to. Since there’s a limited amount of time I may just have to power through and go ahead with data collection using the old equipment, but it’s still anyone’s guess if I’ll do that because frankly I’m not sure it will be worth it. Since it’s up in the air, I figure I can write out my thought process and hopefully figure it out one way or the other.

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Challenges in data collection

It had to come sooner or later, I needed to finally take a look at some of the data I collected for my dissertation. The problems were many and the biggest issue is that I’ve never worked with the software we used to collect the data, so there were issues… lots of issues. So today let’s recap the problems I’ve faced and hopefully I the next time around this won’t be so damned painful.

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New equipment

Things are looking up! After last weeks attempt at collecting data for my PhD, I realized how important it would be for the new equipment I requested to be ordered and in my hands the next time I’m collecting data. Unfortunately there’s a process to getting new equipment and despite having funding for my project, there is no direct way to spend the money. Instead there is a winding path you need to follow in order to get equipment in a research lab.

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The first time is always the hardest

If something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Especially when it’s the first time. I’ve got my first dataset for my PhD dissertation, but it was a battle of wills and the technology made sure to let me know, it’s in charge here. But at the end of the day, I got what I wanted, so it’s a win, even if it’s a bit of a loss too. Frankly, I’m so exhausted right now so forgive me if this post is all over the place, well more than usual.

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Experiment prep

Tomorrow is my first experiment! To get ready I have a few loose ends to tie up before the big day. Mostly I just need to write everything out, make a list of items I need to set up, organize a few things, the stuff no one thinks about when they head off to an experiment. Tomorrow is going to be bumpy, but the first time always is, so best to be prepared.

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The first dissertation experiment

One of my favorite photos I took years ago of my labmate gelling a participant for an experiment. The syringe holds a conductive gel, the needle is blunt tip so it doesn’t hurt or puncture the skin. The gel bridges the air gap between the scalp and cap because hair gets in the way.

It had to happen eventually! But not today, this Friday however will mark the first of several experiments I will be undertaking in the (currently) slow march to my PhD. In an effort to help people understand that experiments aren’t just something that happens at the scheduled time, let’s take a look behind the scenes at what I need to do between now and Friday to get ready. It’s going to be a looong week.

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3 aims, 2 experiments, 1 year

It’s now official, I have a rough timeline for everything I want to do and I’ve got the greenlight from my committee that the work I propose to do will be enough to earn my PhD. I’ve spent the past day trying to plan out the rough outline of what the next year will look like in context with all the other work I will be doing and it will be busy!

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The last project

Today was my proposal defense day and I would like to say it went well. I would like to. Kidding, I think things went okay. I’ll leave that to the handful of people who read my blog regularly to judge. My committee members all thought the work was interesting and my plan of attack was good, so now the real work begins. It’s the last project before I get my PhD.

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The main event

Well tomorrow is D-day, proposal defense day that is. Technically there will be one more defense day after that, my actual PhD defense. The difference being, when that’s all done I’ll have a piece of paper to show for my efforts. That won’t come until next year… hopefully. But in the meantime, tomorrow is the (other) big day and I’m getting just a touch nervous! After all, it’s only the next year or so of my life I’m laying out for my committee members, what could go wrong?

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Seven days…

Okay, I’m not going to do a countdown to my proposal defense, as much as I really want to do it. But since we’re a week away from the big day, I wanted to give an update on the plan and maybe recap a little about where I am. Yes, it feels like a theme, but with such a large milestone coming up, it’s basically all I’m focused on for the moment!

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The first practice

My dissertation proposal date is fast approaching and I just barely set it! There’s still some work to be done, but today was the first practice presentation in anticipation of the big day. I’m happy to say it went better than expected, but there are a few things I need to change. Since, as usual, we can’t talk about the details of the proposal itself, I can talk about the changes. As an added bonus that’s a broadly applicable thing to talk about, so it may not just benefit me.

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The proposal defense date

Single business person untangling giant rope

Okay not going to lie I had a minor freakout the past few days. One of my committee members wasn’t responding to my emails so I could not schedule my proposal defense. Last night out of the blue, reality smacked me in the face and it occurred to me that next week was the first week I was trying to schedule and time was running out. People are busy and I didn’t want any of the PI’s to have a conflict. But it all worked out…

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