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Posts tagged “graduate school

Practice makes… less terrible?

I wouldn’t say practice makes perfect, because unless I’m recording something it’s not going to be perfect and even when I record talks/presentations it takes hours longer than anticipated, multiple tries, only comes out somewhat decent, and are not easy to do in general. So I’m opting to think that practice makes presenting slightly less terrible. I enjoy giving talks and sharing science, which is why I’m here writing frankly. But it’s not all off the cuff.

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Dissertation proposal prep

Well I’ve done it, sort of. I’ve submitted my revised proposal to school-PI and I’m hoping to hear back soon regarding his feedback. In the meantime I’m going to have to start working on the sides for my proposal. I think this is an important step, so today I’m going to discuss the dissertation proposal and what goes into it. Because somehow I can’t find a post where I talked about this… oops.

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A busy weekend ahead

This feels a lot like my workstation… Art by: Erlson Neba

As per usual it feels like there’s a lot going on and I’m getting nowhere. It’s an interesting feeling, but I’m sure we’ve all been there. Since there’s a lot of things, I’m once again grouping them into a single post so I have something of substance instead of several very short posts over the span of the next couple of days. What’s going on this weekend you may ask, well just the (hopefully) final version of my dissertation proposal, some data analysis for an experiment we’ve been working on, and a bunch of prep work for all the things happening next week.

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The transition to grad school

It’s that time of the year again for anyone who’s applied to grad school. This is roughly the time people get acceptance letters, or if you’re like me a pile of rejection letters, but look at me now MIT! Can you tell I’m bitter? Any sort of life transition is hard, be it high school to college, college to work, or even sleep to awake (or is that just me?), transition can feel downright scary. Well the person I’m mentoring “Kay” is about to take that jump and I can’t lie, I’m super excited for her.

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PhD topic or, don’t worry it’s only your life

We ask a lot of kids, I say kids, but I guess more accurately I mean teenagers. The pipeline (here in the US anyway) is high school then, if you’re lucky enough, college. The pipeline assumes you have a clear idea at 18 what you want to be doing until retirement, which in the US is ~65 again, if you’re lucky. While in college you get a short four years, on average, to figure it out and do the work to get the degree you desire. Then you’re forced into another choice, work or more education? I don’t know about the former, but I do know about the latter choice.

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Weekend work

Weekends are historically the time where I get the bulk of the work that seems to pile up during the week done. This weekend is no different and since there’s plenty to keep me busy, I am once again distracting myself by writing. Mostly because I feel like talking about what I need to do helps me figure out the best order of things to get done. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t, but I like my little system.

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The IRB response

That was fast. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything back from the IRB so quickly, but here we are and I have a bit of work to do. Technically we didn’t get the IRB reviewed yet, it’s only been “pre-reviewed,” but pre-review helps speed things up when the IRB meet next (in about a month) to look over the application. Since we were asked to make some modifications, this should help bring our IRB application up to standard before the IRB actually review it.

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The dissertation proposal timeline

Now we wait… There’s a lot of things up in the air at the moment, but right now school-PI is reviewing my proposed plan for my dissertation and the timeline I gave to get it all done. There’s a lot of “ifs” involved with this and I’m not sure what constitutes as “enough” for a PhD. Thankfully I know the funding I was awarded is more than I need to do so I have an extreme upper limit to the work (or what I hope is an extreme upper limit).

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Breadth of knowledge, or the things they don’t teach you

As of yesterday I’ve started turning my latest idea into a reality. While I was working I realized that I have a large skillset and most of it wasn’t obtained through the traditional school route, but almost all of it has helped me become a better student and researcher. While there are plenty of things I wish the school required for a researcher, for those of you starting out it’s not too late to think about what seemingly disconnected fields may help you do your science better.

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Prepping for the experiment

Today’s the day, experiment number five. With lot of luck this will be the first full experiment we do for this protocol. It will hopefully mark a turning point for us since after four attempts we’ve yet to get a full dataset. However, I’m hopeful, but I’m also going in alone today.

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Solo OR experiment

Tomorrow will mark attempt number six to get the data we’re after from the OR. We’ve got a very unwieldy experiment to do which involves coordinating with the surgeon, but also the staff to make sure we don’t run into each other. It’s a delicate dance and if you haven’t been following along, it hasn’t been great so far.

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The tough conversations

One of the things I left (intentionally) off my to-do list for the week post was the talk with school-PI about hospital-PI. The plan is to arrange the meeting sometime either this week or next depending on school-PI’s availability to have the talk. I’m not thrilled about it and I don’t know how this will turn out, but it has to happen and it has to happen soon.

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The week ahead

Semi-regularly I like to look forward at the things I want to accomplish in the next week. Having a good plan going forward helps me focus on the things that need to get done and the literal act of checking things off my list is literally the only thing that keeps me going some days. As usual I’m juggling a lot, but thanks to my 365 days of academia project, I’ve realized this, which means we can adapt… hopefully.

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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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DIY Research

When I say arts and crafts projects, I really do mean there is art involved.

Working in a big fancy hospital research lab means I get access to all sorts of very expensive, very cool equipment that I wouldn’t be able to use normally. Things that I take great pains not to break because, well… it’s not cheap. If we need something, we order it and the process is surprisingly fast considering the amount of paperwork that goes into placing an order. However, on occasion there are no ready pieces of equipment that I can just use for an experiment or we don’t know that the big expensive piece of equipment that we’re looking at is the thing we actually need. So what other options do we have? Spoiler, it’s arts and crafts time.

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Experiments from the OR

The last place you would expect to see me doing non-invasive research would be the operating room. Surgery, even the minor stuff, can be very invasive, but that doesn’t mean we can’t collaborate and combine our techniques. Of course this is the first time anyone in the hospital has tried to collaborate like this (that we know of anyway) so there’s bound to be some growing pains. Luckily we’re about to go into our second real attempt at this and I think we’ve worked out all the problems.

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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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Winter conference season

It’s that time of the year again! Every six months or so we have an influx of conferences and what not that happens pretty routinely in winter then again in the spring. Thanks to COVID still being a thing — get vaccinated people — we’re either going fully virtual, or since one of our events this year is smaller, we’re taking precautions to keep people socially distanced and masked (since it’s a hospital organized event, we’re all already vaccinated). Tomorrow is the first event of the season and I’m giving a short (five minute) presentation on the work I did for this particular group.

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Award interview and project update

Yesterday was the big interview between my school-PI, surgeon-PI, and myself. It was significantly longer than I expected it to be, but it was also strangely focused on me. That was completely unexpected, so I felt a little awkward, but I did it and we’re all very excited to start my project. I have some thoughts about the interview, but I also realized I haven’t really spoke about my “super secret” technique in a while so some of the newer followers may not even know what I’m talking about (don’t worry, it’s a super secret).

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An interesting experiment, maybe

I was debating about sharing this since I’m not sure if it will happen or not. More importantly, like all the experiments and stuff I do around here (or at least it feels that way) I can’t talk about it in detail. Instead I can talk about why I’m excited about it in particular and why it may not even happen. Which, considering I’m still trying to recover from surgery, may not be a bad thing!

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The award announcement

Well it’s official, my project got funded. It’s a little hollow since we knew ahead of time that it was going to be awarded, but now that it’s official we can make a big deal about it. By we I mean my school-PI and our collaborator, who I guess is technically my latest Co-PI, so now I have three PI’s and you thought my life was complicated enough already, didn’t you?

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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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Some good news… for once.

As anyone who’s followed along knows, this time of the year is horrible for me. Between depression, external factors, and now a death of someone who worked with us from COVID, it’s been fairly hellish. It has felt like anything that could go wrong, would go wrong and frankly it’s not just exhausting it’s also had a numbing effect. However, today I got some good news.

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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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Technical difficulties

This is my current cooling setup, which I picked because I needed a replacement ASAP and I thought this would last me until after I graduated and not less than a year.

Well if it isn’t the consequences of my own actions. Or maybe not, maybe I’m just unlucky. I am once again having desktop computer troubles. It’s the return of the heat issue, thankfully this time I caught it somewhat early (I think). Since this seems to be a reoccurring issue I think we’ll try to fix it with a slightly more permanent solution. The problem? The cost, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time, but not all is lost, at least not yet.

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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 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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Non-invasive study of the brain

Art by the incredible Greg Dunn (I REALLY!!! wish I could afford his work!)

Non-invasive research is difficult, especially when you’re working with something as complicated as the brain. Imagine being at a pro sports game outside the stadium and trying to figure out what’s going on inside just by listening. I’m constantly in awe that we can record activity from the brain without breaking the skin, it’s like magic. However, it’s still difficult and not without controversy.

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The 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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A surprising request

Basically the same face I made when he asked…

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

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So you want to email a PI

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

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A five dimensional pain

This is what it’s like working in higher dimensions. Oh is it moving? It shouldn’t be, this is a still image. Welcome to the mountain of madness!

We’re back and this time working in five dimensions! But wait, we’re not done, we’re going higher and I’m not thrilled about this at all. Working in higher dimensions is a pain especially when we’re stuck in a three dimensional world. So what am I doing in a five dimensional space? Well besides pulling my hair out, I’ve been trying to do some not so basic math to find some significance, in life, but mostly in my data.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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