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Posts tagged “grad school

Dear data gods

We have offered our typical sacrifice of blood, sweat, and some might even say excessive amounts of tears. Yet clearly we have offended you and we are not sure how or why. We ask that you forgive our ignorance and help us understand how we can fix this. We are humbled and sorry, we should not seek higher truths, yet we must continue.

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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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Another year of NDSEG

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

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Presentations in a pandemic

Today was the first in person presentation I’ve done in years. Literally years thanks to the pandemic. I’ve been avoiding large gatherings and will continue to do so, but this was a special case since it was a hospital event. We’re all vaccinated, masks were required, and we were distanced in a well ventilated area, so it was the first time I’ve really felt comfortable attending an event like that. Before we get into the talk, let me just say it feels weird wearing dress clothes for the first time in years. I don’t know that I mind the sweatpants lifestyle so much (okay I definitely don’t mind it), but it was fun to mix it up a bit and shave, which I also stopped doing since the pandemic because, why not?

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The road to nowhere

Get it in writing. It was the advice I gave hospital-PI when he told me he got an offer from another hospital. Get it in writing. It was a phrase drilled into me by the military where less than honest recruiters would promise one thing, but deliver something else. I learned early on that your word is worthless, opinions change, memories fade, and you’re left with people who are upset because neither no one thought to write it down so everyone would be on the same page. Some lessons are learned the hard way I guess.

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The confusing road to my dissertation

I’m very lost at the moment about what the next step would be in my degree. I mean I know what the next step is, my dissertation proposal, the problem is that there’s now a rather large wrench thrown into the mix and I’m not sure what to do. Honestly it would be so much easier to just give up on my degree and go work like I’m doing now, it really would, but after three full years in the program and a decade of schooling to get to that point, I don’t want to stop short. Which means once again I’m faced with an impossible choice and no matter what I decide I feel like someone is going to get hurt.

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Dissertation crossroads

It had to happen sooner or later, I have too many PI’s, and it was bound to cause some chaos in my life. The short version, in case you don’t want the longer one, is that I need to decide if my dissertation project is really the way I want to go about my degree. I have some options for what I want to do for my dissertation and my hospital-PI has offered several alternatives to the original path I was planning. It’s a tempting offer too, I just don’t know which one would be the better option or if there really is a choice here since I’ve technically already committed to the other project.

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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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It took multiple days to write a single paragraph and other odd, but true tales

Maybe I’m just weird. Okay, I’m definitely weird, but that’s not the point. It’s been three full years since I started my PhD and I’m still pretty self-conscious about idiosyncrasies, or at least the ones I’m aware of. Some of them aren’t a big issue, some of them may just be preferences, some of them just could be from the way I was raised. Whatever the reason, I thought it would be fun, or at least funny, to share some of the weird things I’ve 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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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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I’m not okay, but that’s okay.

Still not doing well, but what else is new? The point of this project was to focus on the journey to my PhD. To talk about my education and to share the things I learn along the way so others can survive the journey themselves. This wasn’t a blog so much about me as it was about the things I’ve learned. Well one of the things I’ve learned is that despite my desire to remain anonymous and share purely my education progress, it is difficult, if not impossible, to seperate myself from my education. And right now I’m not okay, but that’s okay.

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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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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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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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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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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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Initial results!

Okay I’m excited! I had a project my Co-PI offered me for the summer that I really, REALLY wanted to do (this one). We’ve been slowly collecting data and haven’t had a chance to do a detailed analysis of the result yet. It looked like we had something cool, but we weren’t sure what it was. Our data had a lot of noise in it (which is a given when working with EEG) and we needed to clean it to give us a better “view” of what was going on, so yesterday I sat down to do just that…

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Finishing a project… maybe

Today is the day! Well, maybe today is the day, I’m hopeful though so let’s go with that. Today is the day I finish the analysis of the data I collected a while back for the experiment I wasn’t super thrilled about doing. The one I got an award for doing, funny enough (more). This project was a huge headache from the start, but I’m finally about to do the last bit of the work on the analysis and then all I have to do is write the paper. So let’s talk about what’s going on.

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Experimental limits

Well this is turning into a drama, but we keep having issues with the experiment. There are once again changes that need to be made, we’re four out of ten planned experiments into the project and while we’ve done the first four the same way, we keep trying to adjust our testing to a slightly different version of the protocol and it’s running into… issues to say the least. There are some things we just can’t accomplish using our testing paradigm and we have to accept that, but we still try to push those limits, even if it hurts.

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Changing the experiment

For the past few days I’ve talked about the importance of experimental design. Well sometimes midway through you realize a better way to do things. That was yesterday when I realized the thing we were looking for in our experiment could be found a better way. I’m not thrilled about this, but sometimes it needs to happen and I think we will have a better chance of finding what we’re after if we do it this way.

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The connections we make

Networking. It’s all we ever hear about. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Maybe it’s not even so much about who you know, but how you approach people. I know if it were not for the people I’ve reached out to, I would not be where I am today. In fact, I can think of at least a handful of people whom I’ve reached out to only to have them change the course of my life for the better. Yesterday I got the chance to do the same for someone else.

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When you need to say no

Awhile back I wrote a post called “When you don’t want to say no” about some cool experiments that I was going to do and how the heck could I say no to cool experiments?! Well today is the other side of the coin. Sometimes you need to say no. You may not want to say no. You may not feel comfortable saying no. Nevertheless, you need to say no. Today is that story, the story of how I said no.

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Experiment result preview

This summer I am performing an experiment that could change our understanding of what a certain type of stimulation is doing. It’s all incredibly exciting (as always when I’m in my Co-PI’s lab) and I get to be the first author on the result. If we can show that this thing we are looking for is true then it will be a big shift in our understanding, but more importantly it will open the door to new types of non-invasive treatments. While I cannot talk about the details (as always) I can share that I’m excited about what may be coming.

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When a good experiment goes bad

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

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

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Learning is sneaky

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

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Competing projects

With summer upon us I still have a few things to wrap up, but I am hoping that by the end of the month I should be able to take a breather for a few weeks/month we’ll have to wait to find out. The issue now is that my main-PI and my Co-PI both have projects for me to do and both of those projects are incredibly time consuming. Oh and they both want them done at roughly the same time. Sounds fun, right?

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Pre-class disaster

What’s the rule? If something can go wrong, it will? I’m fairly sure that applies in this case. I am just hours away from teaching my first class of four and nothing seems to be going right. So I need to step away before I throw something (okay not really, but I wish I could). It’s frustrating and part of the issue is that this was thrown together so quickly without any sort of prep beforehand. So what’s the backup plan, well that’s the topic of the day.

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Surprise class prep time

Between the bout of depression and the fact that I have some weird thing going on that bloodwork apparently cant figure out I have accomplished roughly zero of the prep I need for my surprise class (more here). So how do I come up with four classes worth of material in just a few hours… magic! I wish, but really I think the best thing for me to do is come up with an outline and then just focus on the first lecture (of four). Since I try to write daily, I figure we can go through my thought process together!

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The best laid plans…

The full quote is “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” and is from a poem, but also inspired the book title, “Of mice and men”

Well this week has been a serious rollercoaster of emotion. There have been incredibly high highs and extremely low lows. It’s so bad I’m not even sure what’s going on at the moment and it’s throwing my entire life into chaos. I wish I were exaggerating, but unfortunately I am not. So what has me so out of sorts? My academic plans are entirely up in the air now. For the next few months (up to 6 months) I will have to sit and wait to figure out what I can do about it. Let’s just start at the beginning.

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First class of the summer

I’m teaching again! Okay, I didn’t exactly stop, I mentor and do other things, but tomorrow is the first class of the summer that I’m teaching. Which means today I need to finish the slides I’m using, review the materials, and get everything ready so everything will go smoothly. There’s a lot of moving parts that have to happen and while I’m not particularly new to this, it will be the first time teaching the topic. What topic is that? Well…

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The hunt for funding

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

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On having two PI’s

My two PI’s, a comedy/drama TV show I want to make one day which just happens to be based on my life. Yep, for those who are unaware I have a dual appointment in a hospital where I do a lot of my research. It’s amazing and it really makes me excited to focus more on the clinical side of things, but it means that I have not just one, but two PI’s and that isn’t a bad thing! It’s just a bit of work and can feel like being caught in the middle.

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How to find the right lab for your PhD

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

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Summer teaching

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

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So I shot myself in the foot

Ever say something dumb and immediately regret it? Yeah I made a huge mistake and ended up giving myself a ton of work for no reason. Well there was a reason, it just wasn’t needed. I don’t know why I do this to myself, but the good news is I got the work done. Okay, fine I’ll explain, it’s not a long story, but it is a funny one (at least now that the work is finished). It’s also a good reminder to never do that one again.

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Data mysteries

Data processing, it’s mind numbing sometimes. I guess it depends on the dataset you’re working on, but in this case it’s just a formatting thing. Literally copy, paste, rearrange, things like that. The issue is the volume of data you’re working with. The whole thing can take hours just to get done properly, but with any luck you’ll only have to do it the once. Most of the time I’m not that lucky, the last dataset I worked with for my Co-PI I reformatted five or six different times. While that isn’t the topic of the day, it’s a good way to start the conversation of the day.

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Journal paper update

With all the things going on I never got the chance to talk about some non-class news. The downside is it’s not good news, but on the scale of horrible things to happen recently it’s not that bad. Back in February I submitted a paper for journal publication and we got rejected. Not great news, but the reviewers were not super critical and with some minor changes we should be able to resubmit it. I figure today we can go over the stuff that needs to happen now since I’m the first author.

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The end of the term

Time to catch up on my reading… eventually.

It looks like I survived. Another term down and one step closer to the finish line. It’s not quite the clean victory I was hoping for, but after yesterday I now no longer have any class requirements for my PhD. The only requirements I have now are with my dissertation, so now I can focus on that work exclusively. I’m not going to lie it feels pretty good. Since the end of the term isn’t as clean cut as I was hoping for. I figured today we can look at the leftovers from the past week of panic. We might as well after the week I had!

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Major milestone 3 (of 3)

I’m exhausted. Let’s just get that out of the way. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much work to get done in my life. No, scratch that I know I’ve never had this much work to do in such little time in my life. My eyes feel like they are about to bleed and I’m afraid if I turn my head to the side my brain will leak out my ears. The end of the term is usually an academic marathon, but this is ridiculous. It’s just been deadlines left and right. Anyway today is the end of the next set of major milestones, it’s not the victory I was hoping for, but I’m hoping rest will not be too far behind.

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Time for the big finish

Well call me a wizard because not only did I somehow manage to get everything done yesterday that NEEDED to happen, I also somehow managed to make more work for myself. Yeah, the universe hates it when I’m productive apparently. I’m tipping the balance and that’s never a good thing. But seriously, I now have more work to do and a lot of it is due tomorrow. Don’t worry, I’ll explain. Later I’ll probably cry about it too. (not serious) (super serious)

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One major milestone down

Yesterday was sort of a cliffhanger. Everything was due, not a lot was fully complete and I had not one, but two things that my main-PI needed to urgently respond to and he was MIA. I swear you couldn’t write something with more drama if you tried (at least for a PhD candidate). Never fear today I’m taking a brief respite from the work I need to get done today to share what happened yesterday. As the usual this week, it was a wild ride all the way to the end.

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Major milestone 1 (of 3)

The good news, like it or not today I will have less work to do! The bad news is that I’m sort of up against the wire here. As promised, it’s all deadlines all the time for the next week. While this may not be the most useful or exciting read, it certainly is going to be a dramatic finish (see: train wreak). Today for simplicity since there’s so much to do and literally only days to do it, let’s go over what I have to do today and exactly where I am in all of that work. Spoiler, it’s not looking pretty.

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The first major deadline

Well tomorrow is the deadline for several of the things I’m working on, including but not limited to things I still need to get done today! Fun times for sure (not really). As promised yesterday we’re pretty much just watching the super slow train wreck that is occurring. To be fair it’s either going to be an extremely close call or a complete disaster, but that’s just how these things go sometimes. Let’s dive into what’s due tomorrow and where I am exactly in the process.

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On the importance of milestones

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

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The thing about deadlines

Man pressed against glass in office. The entire office is full of papers pressing against him. He's drowning in work.

It’s no secret I’m running around trying to finish everything I need to do lately. Deadlines for just about everything all fall within a few days of each other. I literally have a about a dozen things all due next week plus or minus two days. I’ve been trying to remain calm and remind myself that I’ve been in this situation before and it always works out in the end. That doesn’t stop me from stressing out and yesterday I got an email that could derail a lot of the planning I’ve been doing to make certain that all the work gets taken care of. Yep, I got another job to do.

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An end in sight

Hourglass on laptop counting down
Hourglass on laptop counting down

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

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On the ambiguity of email

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

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