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Posts tagged “graduate school

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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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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Another approaching deadline!

Well it’s going to be down to the wire this week. It’s good to know we’re keeping the theme, if you’ve been following along for awhile you already know it’s always down to the wire. This week is particularly challenging because I have competing interests for the time I have. There’s only 24 hours in a day, so there’s only so much work that can get done. I would prefer to not do it at the last minute, but here we are… again.

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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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The p-value in statistics

We’ve been dancing around the p-value for some time and gave it a good definition early on. The p-value is simply the probability that you’ve made a type one error, the lower the p-value the less chance you have of making a type one error, but you increase your probability that you’ll make a type two error (errors in statistics for more). However, just like with the mean, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the p-value so let’s go!

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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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The mean in statistics

Yeah it seems simple, I mean (no pun intended) the mean is just the average! Yet as with so many different things in statistics there’s more to the mean than meets the eye! We’re going to go into why the mean is important, why it’s our best guess, why it may not always be your best option, and why we work so hard to find the mean sometimes! It seems simple, but I promise today we’re answering a lot of the big “why’s” in statistics, so let’s go!

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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 central limit theorem in statistics

Today we’re gonna push it to the limit! The central limit theorem that is. It’s a cornerstone in statistics and the short and dry version is that it lets us turn any distribution we have into a normal distribution. If it wasn’t for the central limit theorem statistics would hurt far worse than it does now (speaking as someone taking a stats class now). For the longer version we need to discuss why a normal distribution is needed, why we prefer to work with them!

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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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