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Posts tagged “grad school

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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Everything went better than expected!

So yesterday I had my hands full with a bunch of work to do, no motivation what so ever to do it, and a deadline that was today. I didn’t want to burn myself out, especially since I still have a homework assignment due this weekend and yet another round of tasks set out before me, this time before the next week so that’s… umm terrifying. Let’s just dive into what happened today during my meeting.

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A week in review

I figure it’s a good time for the recap of the week. I mean there was a lot going on and while I want to spend some more time on my “in statistics” series, I also really need a break. So instead of spending a lot of time making sure the information I’m presenting is accurate, concise(ish), and (with luck) well thought out, I figure it would be easier to talk about the things I’ve had to do this week and the things I get to look forward to! Joy, welcome to life as a PhD candidate.

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Clinical research in a pandemic

Male and female characters scientists or lab attendants working in science laboratory using microscope, lab glassware, vector flat illustration. Scientific research, experiment, science and education.

One of the more interesting things about the pandemic is that everything at the university level shut down. They still send out emails suggesting that everyone wants to go back to in person classes, but they haven’t followed through with that threat. Human participant research has been halted and even though we’re probably going back to “normal” in the fall, right now nothing is happening. That’s at the university level though, clinical research is a different story.

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Caution: under pressure

For a third week in a row I’ve been instructed by my main-PI to give our lab virtual presentations on the work I’ve been doing. It’s been a point of stress now for almost a full month and doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon. After every meeting I get a list of things I need to do before the following meeting and this time was no different, so today I guess we’re going to take a look at what exactly is next on my to-do list.

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NDSEG fellowship result

Applying for a fellowship is sort of like creating a time capsule. The lag between when you submit it and when you hear anything back can be 6 or more months, long enough that you’ve completely forgotten that you applied. Or at the very least it isn’t at the forefront of your brain anymore. I’ve kept an eye on my application sporadically, I know people who check weekly and I’m sure there are plenty who don’t check at all until the results are sent out. It’s a slow motion car crash, you hope for the best, but it’s no longer in your control.

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Freedom of speech

I didn’t expect to have to talk this out, but here we are. Freedom of speech applies to the government, not private entities such as (but not limited to) twitter, facebook, schools, work, and basically any private place you congregate. Freedom of speech also does not mean freedom from consequences of that speech, you can’t talk about blowing up a school for example without consequences, even if it was a “joke.” More importantly, the government already ruled that certain hate speech isn’t protected. Why is this important? Well it’s a good reminder for the internet in general, but this time it’s a little closer to home reminder, namely the lab I work in.

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The juggling act

The middle colorful plot, it’s called a spectrogram and if you notice the colorbar to the right has values ranging up to 25,000, that’s not right…

Blogging and coding and writing, oh my! There’s a lot to get done, seems like a running theme around here doesn’t it? If it were possible to clear some of it off my plate it wouldn’t be so bad, but the sad truth is deadlines seem to like to group together and there are quite a few coming up. Most of them are for my class so I can’t really miss those even if I wanted to. My research deadlines I can’t really miss either, not without some consequences anyway. So we’re back to juggling everything, but as we’ve seen in the past, I’m pretty good at this.

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Twice the work, half the… fun?

I work with… Braiiiiins!! Well yesterday I touched on an experiment I did waaaay back in October-ish of last year! With the way things are going it feels like five years not 5 months, but what can you do? My main-PI has started to not so gently or subtly push me to process the data to his satisfaction and start working on the publication of the results. There’s been a lot going on that has pulled me away from the project, from the end of December to the middle of February I was working on grants, but now there isn’t a whole lot stopping me from working on this project almost exclusively… if you don’t include the other grant I’m writing and the fellowship I’m supposed to apply for.

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A PhD proposal defense

Not mine, at least not yet. A colleague of mine is defending his PhD proposal today and while I was going to wait until I did mine to go over the details about how that works and why we do it, I figured today was as good a time as any to do it. Besides I probably (definitely) repeat myself a lot around here, but that’s the catch with blogging daily. So let’s get into what a proposal defense is and why it’s important, shall we?

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First project deadline!

I didn’t have anything particularly lined up for today to add to the “in statistics” posts I’ve been doing, so today I thought it may be better to outline what I’m doing in the statistics course I’m taking. At the very least it may help me get it done, because as usual around here, the project is due… today. Yep, it’s yet another mad dash to the finish. Will I make it? Will I ever figure out what statistics is? Will I learn to stop asking questions in this format? Find out all this and more!

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The road to a PhD program

In hindsight this post should’ve happened a long time ago, like year one and day one of my 365 days of academia project. Things have… evolved in ways I didn’t understand when I started this, originally the project was simply going to be a notebook for my classes, then it turned into my journey as a whole, and even what I do in my spare time. Like anything we create it took on a life of its own and I’m reminded I should touch on the process to getting accepted into a PhD program.

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A clear path!

The easy path to getting your PhD…

That was quick! I have an update regarding yesterday’s funding debacle already… it’s good news, but that’s all the hint you’re getting for now! Things are happening fast and frankly they need to I only have a few more days to finish the grant before its due for internal review and I don’t know how my Co-PI is feeling right now, but I’m stressed out!

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Trouble on the horizon

I did not see this one coming… or maybe I did and just wanted to pretend it wasn’t going to be an issue. There’s been a difference of opinion to put it lightly. I received an email this morning from my main-PI asking if we could meet to discuss my funding options and he also casually mentioned that the R21 might not get submitted.

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End of the month crunch

It’s the end of the month and that means there are a lot of loose ends I need to tie up before the new month begins. Deadlines I need to hit, plots to make, projects due, heck I even have a book chapter due. There’s just a lot going on and not a lot of time to finish it all. It seems to be a common theme that things are “due” at the end of the month for me. This month is no different, but with school having started, it gets a little more hectic than normal.

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Experiment Results

It’s been a crazy week, more so than usual! The R21 grant I’m writing is due to my Co-PI today, it’s our self imposed deadline. It’s not THE deadline, but it might as well be in my mind. I’ve processed most of the data from the experiments and yesterday I said we would talk about the result from finding an error in my code. Well let’s talk about it!

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To code is divine, to err is human

Yesterday we had a problem. My data was not playing nice. It decided that I didn’t really have what I thought I should be seeing and that left me… anxious to say the least. Since this is all so new, one misstep could ruin everything. To make things worse, there was one of three choices and none of them were good news.

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The last experiment!

Today’s the day! It’s the last experiment for our R21 grant, we had our first set of experiments last week and today we’re completing the final experiment today. Hopefully we’ll have some good results for our grant, I got done processing some data last night and if I didn’t make an error the results were slightly underwhelming, but we’ll have to see I guess. There’s still a lot of things I need to check so I’m not too worried, okay slightly (very) worried…

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Overloading in education

Get your PhD they said! It will be worth it they said. You’ll have a good time they said! They certainly say a lot don’t they? Well I say things shouldn’t be so freaking hard. I get that getting your PhD requires work and frankly, it should require work, I mean it’s a freaking PhD! That said, it shouldn’t be a four to six year gauntlet of torture to see how many times you break down mentally and physically. It doesn’t build character, or better PhD’s, but it is the system we work in.

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Make a SciComm video, the hardest way possible!

Writing, and filming, and edits… OH MY! I’ve done it, I’ve committed to making this science communication video (SciComm for short, if anyone was wondering about the title). Yesterday I went into the lab to do some filming and realized that I was about to make a great video, or at least I like to think so. But more importantly I was going to do it the hardest and most convoluted way possible. Why? Well, why the heck not?

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Experiments update!

Yes the data always look like a bunch of random squiggles, that’s why it takes forever to make sense of it.

Well a lot has happened this week, maybe not the most interesting of things for my readers, but this week has definitely kept me on my toes. Today we’re going to have to talk in circles because I can’t give away my “super secret” technique I’m researching, but I also have news about that technique. It’s all very hush, hush, top secret, would have to kill you if I told you type stuff for now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about how the experiments I’m doing went!

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The first week of classes

When you start a PhD program, or a Masters program (I have a BS and MS so I can speak to this) things aren’t as structured as they are in undergrad. Not that undergrad programs aren’t hard or not hectic, it’s just that there are scheduled times for everything so you know when and where you will have work. It’s a lot like highschool in that respect, you get homework, but there’s a clear end to it. Not so much in grad school, your homework takes a year or even years (for a PhD) to finish. Still, it’s the first week of school, so things change, if only slightly.

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I’m going into surgery… sort of!

Okay well this came out of left field, or rather happened faster than I thought it would. My Co-PI and I had discussed just last week seeing some of how the more clinical stuff gets done in terms of electrophysiology and invasive monitoring. He suggested I shadow some of the doctors while they are performing surgery to see how they do the things they do and now I’m about to get the chance to do just that. Yeah, that’s a lot of doing.

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A day of meetings and emails

Okay, my inbox isn’t that bad, but if I didn’t keep up with it, it could easily get there.

It’s a new day with a new and long list of things I need to get done. I’ve already got a ton of bad news about my car issues and the rather large bill that is coming with that, but I’ve also got meeting after meeting scheduled for today on top of a long, long list of emails that need responses from me. Basically today is going to be exhausting and all I will have done is sit in front of a computer, how the hell does that even work?!

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And it’s back to work I go

Today is my last day off. Not quite a day off either, more of a day to get ready. While classes haven’t officially started for me, it’s time to get some work done. So in the spirit of chronicling my life as a PhD candidate, I figure today we can take a look at my todo list and you’ll see why today isn’t a day off. Hint, there’s a lot of prep going into this next week.

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First grant meeting

Time to put the fun in funding?

Well it’s been a weird couple of days and by weird I mean, WTF?! For that reason let’s shift slightly back into the school aspect of things. I had my first meeting with my Co-PI to discuss the grant writing I’m going to be doing and what we want to focus on. Turns out there’s a lot going on and not all of it had to do with the grant, but it was a good meeting and I’m excited to get started.

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New year, new grant

It’s all connected somehow… I just know it.

Nope, still on vacation… I tell myself as I make arrangements to meet with my Co-PI. This is important though and unlike some of the other projects it has a firm deadline. That’s right, I’m writing a grant. No this isn’t an update to the last one I wrote, this is a whole new one. How did I end up in this position? Who knows, but I’ve been trying to figure it out since it happened. Let’s discuss, shall we?

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A meeting with my PI

It’s a treacherous path, but one I need to take

Well I may have overestimated how fast I could get the data processed from yesterday. I have it basically done, but I was up until almost 2am getting it to that point and I didn’t have the energy to start the analysis so that’s going to happen today. Instead of sharing my excitement for a second day in a row I thought I would share some news. I got an email back from my PI and tomorrow we are meeting.

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