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Posts tagged “learning

A belated thank you

As of yesterday I now know the schedule for the DARPA Risers 2022 conference. Or rather just the conference part itself, the website makes no mention of the Risers program specifically, again adding to the mystery. If the confirmation email I got was any indication, the information will be forthcoming in the next few weeks. So I now know who will be speaking at the event and I’ve discovered the universe isn’t without its own sense of humor.

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The next big experiment

Well things are moving fast around here, like I predicted they would this year. Of course, things are currently going better than I had hoped, but that could change. Last week was a busy one and next week will be no different, but next week is a particularly big week, because I’m going to be doing another experiment for a somewhat different project. Yep, another “big idea” experiment is coming.

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The last paper response

Well it’s been a few weeks since I got the response back for “last paper” since I have roughly three weeks left to finalize all the edits they requested, this weekend I plan on tackling most/all of it so that we can get the ball rolling with my collaborators so I can (hopefully) get the response back to the editors before the deadline they set. Because there is a deadline and I do not want to be late, mostly because it will make more work for me if I am.

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The first time is always the hardest

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

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Experiment prep

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

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When DARPA calls

Fifteen years. It’s been roughly fifteen years since I started this journey and the dream was always the same. We all have stupid dreams as a kid, we want to be astronauts and sports stars, but the odds aren’t in our favor. We’re told to be realistic. Sorry kid, your dreams are too big. You need to shrink yourself to fit into the tiny box we as a society provide you. I was never good at following instructions, so maybe that’s why the past fifteen years have been a special kind of hell, but today, today made it all worth it.

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The first dissertation experiment

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

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

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Another deadline rush

Why is it always a rush?! I wish I had answers, maybe as scientists we just like to procrastinate, but whatever the reason, we have a huge deadline just five days away and it feels almost insurmountable. As hospital-PI puts it, I have 12 hour nights I can get it done, he’s kidding… I hope. It’s time to break out the hard stuff, caffeine that is, and get ready for the week ahead.

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The lab brain drain

Today was another proposal defense! No, not mine thankfully, but one of my labmates who’s been in the lab for some time now. As the term is coming to a close, I think a lot of us are in the proposal defense phase, which means things will be changing dramatically in a year or so for the lab. It made me realize that there was a rather large gap between those of us finishing and the new members, which means big changes once we graduate.

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The cost of research

I’m not sure why, but lately I’ve been tasked with gathering quotes for new equipment. It’s not even just with the hospital side of things either, the school side has suddenly asked me for quotes as well. I understand the logic of having gather the quotes like this, after all it’s a huge time sink, but I’ve learned a lot over the past month or so from dealing with all this and that is research isn’t cheap.

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Weekend outreach

A few of the exoskeletons we have in the lab

It’s been a super busy week, but we’re not done yet. That’s right, my inability to say no to things has come back to haunt me! It’s not that bad though, two 15-minute talks to two different groups and that’s the extent of it. So you know not too bad, but I do enjoy doing some science outreach when I have the chance anyway, so not totally a bad deal.

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The last project

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

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The main event

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

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The return of big idea

I had hoped to discuss robot paper today, but something more exciting has happened so today we’re talking about the “big idea’ I had a while back. It feels like it’s been forever since I had the idea, but things were moving slowly lately so we’ve had to wait. I’m happy to say the wait is finally over! If all goes well, by the end of the week I’ll have the first dataset from big idea and I am very excited!

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The audacity of anonymity

Peer-review can be brutal. For every one positive reviewer you get one that would rather be doing something else and they WILL let you know and WILL take it out on you. Maybe it’s because I’m still getting used to the journal publication process, but behind the veil of anonymity people can be cruel. We see, and these days somewhat expect, it from public forums like facebook, twitter, or even linkedin, but maybe I’m naïve enough to have thought it wouldn’t happen in the world of peer-review. Afterall, we’re all professionals here, right?

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Seven days…

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

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The OR waltz

It’s back to the OR I go! Which means exhausting times ahead, but also very exciting times. It’s been months since our last OR experiment and things have been shelved, literally, equipment has been packed away because we weren’t using it. So it’s time to once again to shake out the equipment and do our familiar dance with the clinical staff.

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The first practice

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

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The proposal defense date

Single business person untangling giant rope

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

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New and old projects

It’s finally my chance to put my own spin on the stuff coming out of the hospital lab and I’m incredibly excited about what is coming. Unfortunately I can’t talk about it! However, I’m hopeful that this year will be an excellent year for me with regards to the research I’m doing. Things are slowly falling into place and while we’re still at the beginning, things are looking bright.

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Slides, robots, and figures. Oh no!

I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate this into robot paper (not serious… semi serious)

Since there’s a mile long list of things I need to get done this weekend, let’s just grab the top three time consuming things and cram them together into one post! When I took on the full-time job while (hopefully) wrapping up my PhD, I didn’t expect for things to be so… busy? Okay, things are always busy, that’s a theme of any PhD journey, but it does feel a bit excessive lately!

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The big rush

A while ago I had an idea, a “big idea,” but the second I had that idea the clock was ticking. Because ideas are not that unique. There is a gap in research and we try to fill that gap when we see it. I noticed a gap and because I noticed it, there’s no reason others won’t notice it as well. Now we’re in an unseen race to publish and there’s still some speed bumps in the way that are causing some issues. I’m hopeful we can get there first, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we had competition.

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The other presentation

With just a few days to work on the project, I was asked to present the data we’ve recently finished collecting at work. The presentation will happen Monday, as in three days away Monday. So between now and then, I need to process the data, make some figures (so many figures), and generally draw some sort of conclusions based on the work.

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The finalized proposal

Well today was kind of a big step, I’ve finalized my proposal, got school-PI’s approval to send it out, and now I’m just waiting for a few people to select their availability so we can schedule the actual defense. I’m just a touch nervous! I still need to modify my slides and of course practice, but we’re now roughly two weeks away from the actual proposal defense!!!

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Figure rush

Always with the figure making! Why do we need to make a figure, damn it I’m an engineer not an artist! Yet I’m in a tight spot for the moment because I need to start creating about half a dozen figures showcasing the stuff that we’re doing at work. Oh and I need to make at least one more for the dissertation proposal, not including any additional figures for my slides. It’s going to be a rush job for sure.

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The proposal edits

We’re just a few short days away from the two week mark to dissertation proposal defense day, maybe, I’m still waiting for responses from three committee members, two of which I speak with on a regular basis, so I’m not too worried about them, one has been ignoring everyone’s emails, so I am slightly anxious to hear back about that one. Since the time is rapidly approaching I need to have both my written proposal and slides figured out, like now.

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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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An ominous meeting

Yesterday after my post I got a phone call (not a text) from surgeon-PI. We discussed his role in my dissertation and the funding we were awarded for my project. There have been some lingering questions about the involvement of the hospital and whether it will be necessary to have a second IRB agreement for my degree. Who knew my decision to take the job at the hospital would make life so difficult?

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Dissertation proposal progress!

After yesterday I wasn’t expecting to write this so soon, but here we are. I’m scheduling my proposal defense. Seriously, I got the email late last night from school-PI and while the proposal still needs some work, it’s close enough that he feels confident in starting the scheduling process now, meaning full speed ahead for me. Honestly I’m a little in shock because things seemed to be moving so slowly that I thought for sure I would be in purgatory for another few weeks minimum, but apparently not!

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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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Committing to the story

For the past few days I’ve been talking about telling a story with your data. Because at the end of the day as a researcher that’s what we do. We do an experiment and, assuming it goes well, we have a story to tell about the result we found and what it means to the people reading the paper. Ideally any good story will have great visuals to add to the story and to help the reader. Which is where I’m still stuck…

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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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Data visualization dilemma

Data visualization is an important topic to think about. How do you best convey what the data are telling you? It’s something I struggle with because I take it so seriously. Most things can be done simply, the old standby the line graph, box plot, or even scatter plot all work well enough, but more often than not, you want to tell a story and sometimes the obvious plot isn’t the best choice.

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Intellectually curious

I don’t recall what sparked the memory, but I was reminded today of an email I got from school-PI complimenting my new job. He said I was intellectually curious and that struck me as a touch odd because I assume we all are in our own ways. It’s not that I’m not appreciative of the complement, because I am, it’s just that I never understood how we can live in a world full of mysteries and not want to at least glimpse behind the curtain.

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The dreaded dissertation timeline

Things are slowly moving forward. I’ve got an IRB approval, I’ve got a proposal mostly written, and I’ve passed along the needed equipment list to school-PI for purchase. Once I finish my proposal modifications, I should be ready to start scheduling my proposal defense. At which point, I should have the greenlight to collect my data and, in a perfect world, graduate soon! But…

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Robots, dissertations, and disappointments

If today wasn’t a whirlwind of emotions I don’t know what was. There were ups, there were downs, there were robots. I think it’s safe to sum up today with the quote, “the best laid plans of mice and men…” which as you may have guessed, didn’t go the way I had expected. It’s not all bad news, but it’s not all good either. Let’s just quit being cryptic and dive into the events of the day.

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On the shoulders of giants

Tomorrow I’m doing something for the first time, ever. I got an email yesterday with the good news and while we don’t have all the equipment we need for the project, we can still get some good data and an early look at what the data will look like. I’m so excited I’m shaking, I barely slept last night, and my mind is swimming with the possibilities. This is what it’s like doing research on the edge.

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The value of clean data

Actual EEG data I’ve collected, this is “raw” or untouched data.

In my line of research we have fancy algorithms to remove outside contamination to the data we collect. The problem with collecting electrophysiological data (electrical recordings from a person) is there is so much damned noise everywhere. The problem is magnified when you collect data that have a low signal to noise ratio (meaning lots of noise, not a lot of signal). Signal in this case is the thing we’re interested in measuring and while we have dozens of algorithms to filter (remove) the noise, there’s still no substitute for data that was well collected.

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The first one

Ever look up an answer in the back of the book? The problem with research is there’s no back of the book, but typically when you do an experiment you can at least glance at research surrounding your work and make sure you’re not going completely off the rails. Because I like to make my life unbelievably difficult, and because I don’t like taking small steps forward, I’m going to (hopefully) be the first to do a few things this year. But it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.

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The PhD dissertation proposal

Spinal column shown through a semi-transparent person
Spinal column shown through a semi-transparent person

Well we’ve finally arrived, for real this time, to my proposal timeframe. There are a lot of things that need to happen between now and when I defend my proposal, but thankfully most of those things are started or almost finished. The one thing that isn’t started… well that would be my actual proposal. Be not afraid! I’m going to have the draft done today, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

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PhD Committee struggles

Silhouette row of businessmen sitting in meeting room
Silhouette row of businessmen sitting in meeting room
Hopefully your committee won’t look this creepy.

I formed my PhD committee! Then it fell apart… Then I fixed the problem!! But really I didn’t… A PhD committee is a big deal and you can spend a lot of time trying to find the right professors only to find out that they don’t have the time. In my case, I got lucky and formed my committee without too much headache. Then one person left and the whole thing fell apart. So what goes into a committee anyway and why do you need one?

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A (not so) small celebration of… me

a gold star
a gold star

I can write small novels on the accomplishments of others and praise the work they do, because the work they do is worth praise. I think I come off overly flattering, but I mean every word of it because people deserve to be celebrated. Well sadly, I lack that ability for myself, but I’m pushing through the skin crawling feeling that I should delete this and write something else to celebrate a victory, or at least an acknowledgement of a win. So today we’re talking about my least favorite subject, me.

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Back in the OR!

Well we finally got approval to head back to the OR. We were having some issues with our sample size, as in we hit the max for our protocol, but after a little bit of work we’re going back! The good news is that this doesn’t just affect the project I’m working on, this means I can move forward with the other project I’ve been dying to start.

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The final push of “last paper”

Amid all the chaos that the lab visitor we had yesterday caused I wouldn’t blame the causal reader if you thought that the robot project was my only focus. Hospital-PI summed it up best when he said we’re all working on roughly four projects at any given time and I responded with, “you guys are only working on four?” Don’t get me wrong, I like it this way.

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Visitor to the lab

Today was the day! Luckily I somehow managed to get the robot assembled and working properly… mostly. I’ll get to that. We got to showcase some of the stuff we did in the lab, I got to explain “big idea” to yet another person who may be interested in helping fund the project (since technically I’m running on a budget of funding scraps), and overall I think it was well received.

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Robot troubles…

Sixty or so hours later and I somehow finished the robot assembly. It’s been a week and a half of 12 or more hour days to get it done and I’m exhausted. Still nothing feels better than when you finish, flip the switch and everything goes exactly how you hoped. Unfortunately I’m not quite at that stage… maybe?

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Inter-lab rivalry

Still from Science Kombat, because sometimes Newton just needs a good smackdown.

There’s nothing wrong with a little competition. In the field of research you’re either the first or your a footnote, so we rush to be the first when we know that other labs are on the other labs are not far behind. Our lab knew it was coming, there was already rumblings of something big coming from another lab, but when it finally came, we were both surprised, but not exactly shocked. It’s a pretty impressive paper.

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Measure once, cut a dozen times

Okay that isn’t really what happened, it was more measure once, realize the piece is directional, measure a second time, realize that the direction doesn’t matter, and after about three times finally making the cut. Then freaking out because you’ve now marked the piece three different times, but you cut the right mark… right?

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Return of the “technique”

splatter color brain
splatter color brain

With all the excitement around here with the progress made towards making “big idea” a reality, you may think that I’ve forgotten about other projects and things I’m working on. That isn’t the case and I have other exciting updates regarding something I’ve been calling my “super secret technique” not the most descriptive name, but that’s sort of the point. It’s not “big idea,” but is sure isn’t a tiny idea either.

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The big pitch

Today was the day we pitched a proposal to two of the doctors that can help make my “big idea” a reality. It did not go anything like I planned, some of what happened was funny, some of it was horrific, but mostly it went how it needed to go. Things never go as you plan them, but this was just completely off the rails.

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