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Posts tagged “neuroengineering

Old student, new tricks

With a little luck, I’m a year away from graduating. It’s been one hell of a journey and I really hope I hit this goal. Still, I keep thinking what’s next and the truth is the future looks a lot like the present. It’s not just because I’m now working at a research hospital, that helps, but what I mean is that the difference between being a student and being a researcher isn’t all that different. You have to learn new skills.

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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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Real-time seizure state tracking

Since I shared one of the papers I was super proud of, I figure I can share the other one as well. Like the last paper (here) I’ll explain the concept and why this paper was important. I’ll also talk about why I think it was cool and where the idea came from. Mostly this post is for people who are interested in the work, but may not be familiar with the technical aspects so I’ll try to avoid technical terms or I will provide an explanation when needed.

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OR experiments, the aftermath

The good news is we have data! Lots of data, more data than you could shake a stick at, although I don’t know why you would shake a stick at anything… That’s beside the point(ed stick) though! Yesterday was not one, but two OR experiments and I have to say surgeon-PI must be in way better shape than he appears because both hospital-PI and I are exhausted!

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Fun with collaborators!

So much has been going on that I can’t even keep up with it. I was debating about what news to share, but I think we’ll talk about something I’ve had in the works for awhile now. Actually I just checked my email exchanges, this has been in the works for over a year and today we finally crossed the threshold from hypothetical to real world data collection!

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Another OR experiment… maybe

I got a random email yesterday from hospital-PI that I didn’t understand and I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on, but it looks like experiment number five may be happening as early as Monday! It will be an early morning and a long day, but it will be worth it, assuming it happens. Like everything in my life at the moment, we’re not 100% sure that we will be able to attend.

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The BIG result

Art by: Rebecca Wright

Today I had my meeting with school-PI and I have to say it went both better and worse than I was hoping for. The good news is I’m still a member of his lab and he seemed surprisingly okay with me switching projects for my dissertation, not that the project would change much, just the funding source. Of course that doesn’t mean it was all sunshine and rainbows, because that would be too easy.

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The BIG meeting

I am a simple man. I keep my life as simple as possible because some days I can barely get out of bed. Breakfast and lunch have been the same things for years and I’m okay with that, in fact dare I say, I look forward to it? I keep my hair cut short so I don’t have to even think about it and besides the things I need like money to live, I don’t go out of my way to complicate things. Aside from my education and the things related, I have very little that I NEED to do, so I can focus on surviving the day. It’s a good system.

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The last experiment

Goodbyes are hard, even if you don’t really know someone outside of work. Today we’re saying goodbye to a few of our participants as they finish one of our longer experiments. It feels like only yesterday, but it’s been several months now so it’s time to wrap things up. The good news is this will create a bit of an opening in my routine, but that’s probably going to be filled in pretty quickly.

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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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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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Smile for the camera

Today is photo day! What is photo day you may ask? Well it’s the day we take pictures. Okay, probably a little brief, today is the day that we’re meeting with the lab and school public relations team to release a joint statement about our new award. It’s the first award for our new collaborator (surgical-PI, who I still need to find a better pseudonym for) since he just started his new lab at the hospital at the beginning of the year. While it’s not a major award (dollar amount), we tend to celebrate these things anyway, so we’re taking pictures together, surgical-PI is getting a tour of the school lab, and we’re going to get interviewed about the details of the project.

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Outreach while recovering (or why I should stop volunteering for stuff)

Basically what I look like at the moment… you know, give or take.

I got bullied into it. Okay, maybe I felt guilty. I don’t know! Whatever the reason a few weeks ago my school-PI emailed several of us asking if we would be willing to do a virtual outreach event today. Somehow, despite just having surgery, I am the one doing it. Since this blog is just as much for me as it is for all of you, this is a cautionary tail and a reminder to myself to just say no sometimes.

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Third paper updates

Yes, we’re switching focus from my mental health to other things today. Mostly because I feel like I’m just repeating myself in different ways, so instead we can talk about the forward progress I’ve made in my writings. This will be journal paper number three and if my Co-PI is right, we’ll be submitting it early next week!

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The week ahead

There’s a lot happening this week, it SHOULD be the last week I’m technically jobless. Right now I’m not getting paid by anyone, not by the school, not by the hospital, basically I’m living off the last paycheck I got at the beginning of the month and the next one may not be here until close to the end of next month. If something happens and my start date gets pushed back, well that would mean that I would have no money for anything. That would be bad.

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The transition to clinical research

Today should be interesting… it’s my onboarding appointment, which is one of the last steps I need to complete to be hired at the hospital. There’s a lot going on in life at the moment, some of which is personal so I won’t be sharing that here, but let’s just say everything has been incredibly stressful. Oh and since I need to get the appointment done this week if I want to start on time, this was the last day I can get it done.

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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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Success! Journal paper 1 of 4

Psst, hey you! I got good news! I’ve officially had my first journal paper accepted for publication! I’m literally crying I’m so happy right now. My inbox has been flooded by emails from my collaborators congratulating everyone on this. It’s been a long, hard, and often painful journey, but I’ve finally, FINALLY, gotten something finished once and for all. Since this is the end of the story, let’s tell it from the beginning, one last time, so you know how we got here.

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The plastic spinal cord

Amazing spinal cord slice artwork by Greg Dunn

You can’t teach an old spinal cord new tricks, or something like that. Up until recently (like the last ten or fifteen years), we had thought that the spinal cord was a fixed thing. It was the information highway of the body and its primary role was to receive, sort, and send information from the brain to the body and vice versa. That’s (thankfully) not the case. The truth, or at least something closer to the truth, is that the spinal cord is a lot like the brain. It can learn, think, and even act independently of the brain.

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The art in science

One of the easiest ways to turn even the most advanced scientific paper into something accessible is through carefully crafted figure design. Figures are a way to tell a story, but to also capture the readers imagination. The difference between a scientific figure and a drawing from a story is really just the difference in the information you are conveying. However, as is the case with most things in the world, a “good” figure is in the eye of the beholder.

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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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Controlled chaos

Life has been pretty messy lately. Not just because of the pandemic, but that is definitely not helping anything right now. I’ve got papers due, I’m making a job change, and the wildest part is that my Co-PI may be leaving so I’m not even sure the job I’m changing to will still be there after the end of the year. That doesn’t include the outside factors, car issues, home issues, health issues. Those are all there too, but mostly right now I’m concerned about work related stuff and I realized that for the past few months it’s just been controlled chaos.

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An unfortunate typoo

Yes, the title was on purpose. No, I’m not thrilled at the moment. Sometimes you just need things to go smoothly, but life has other plans and yesterday I hit one hell of a stumbling block. The good news is I’ve caught it, but the bad news is there is now about 104833423x more work for me to do to fix the issue. No matter how careful you are, something is always going to get missed, yesterday was just a reminder that you can miss things even when you’re paying close attention. I may go as far as to say, especially when you’re paying close attention.

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The hunt for knowledge

Sometimes science is like digital archeology. Thanks to the internet I have the sum of our collective knowledge at the tips of my fingers. I just need to ask the right question and I can find the answer. Unfortunately, the right question isn’t always the question you come up with. The right question may not be worded the exact way you think it should. The right question may not even be the right question at all, it’s just the first in a long list of questions you need to work through. In a digital world, we’re still stuck looking for ways to get the answers to questions the system may not understand. I’m on a hunt and so far I’ve been fairly lucky.

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The complexity of biology

Why couldn’t things be simple? Maybe you would take a measurement and have the correct value every time. Or you would perform an experiment and get the same result no matter what. The human body is an amazing feat of engineering by evolution. It’s layer upon layer of stuff that all work together to do the thing that needs to happen. The fact that it works at all is amazing, it’s like throwing a bunch of computers into a room, shaking it, and out comes a fully working robot that’s more advanced than anything you’ve seen.

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The big presentation

It has been a day friends. Yesterday I got an email from my main-PI asking me about a funding proposal I’ve been working on and when I responded I asked if we were having our lab meeting this week since the last two have been cancelled. He said yes and he mentioned that today would be the day I presented the work I’ve been doing with my project. Thankfully I was ready for it, but it was pretty stressful and there are some changes that need to be made. Overall the lab seemed pretty impressed by the presentation and the work I’ve been doing.

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The value of planning your code

It’s no secret I need to write code, a lot of code. A mind numbingly large amount of code. Researching in a brain-machine interface lab is more about programming than it is about scifi brain hacking or anything the latest techno-thriller movies would have you believe. Anyone can do it, but it takes a certain amount of practice and a whole heck of a lot of time. Over time your skills develop and things get to be easier, but it’s not a linear progression (is anything really?) so things can be frustrating. These days planning saves me tons of time and effort, so today I want to pass that bit of knowledge on to you.

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Sometimes the progress is slow

Today has been incredibly busy, but incredibly frustrating. So far next to nothing has been accomplished towards the work I have to do, but I did help a few people out and we discovered some interesting issues with some software the lab uses. Okay not issues exactly, it just doesn’t work the way we thought it did. In any case, there has been a lot of running around and doing things, just nothing productive for myself. Some days are like that though, hopefully I will have better luck tomorrow or maybe even later tonight.

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More competing projects

Were does the time go?! I have no time left to get my projects done and yet there’s still a lot that needs to happen. Today is one of my semi-famous lists of stuff I need to get done in an outrageously short amount of time. Didn’t we just do this a month or so ago? I think so, but here we are counting down yet again to the newest set of deadlines and as with all my deadlines they clumped together and fall at what amounts to the same time. Don’t believe me? Well let’s take a closer look.

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A unique figure design

Over the past few weeks I’ve been hard a work making a new visualization for some of the data I’d recently processed. This again is for the project I won an award for (here), and while I’m not trying to brag, I’m super proud of how it came together. It was the first time I tried to do something like this and not only did my main-PI give me his approval it sounds like a lot of people from the lab were impressed with this as well. Unfortunately, I can’t quite give away what I did or how I did it, but I can share some of this.

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Initial results!

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

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Conferences in a pandemic

I’m vaccinated, I got vaccinated back before most of the public could because I work and do research at a hospital. Because I work with a vulnerable population, some of whom cannot be vaccinated, I still take the pandemic very seriously. I wear my mask like I wear any other piece of clothing and the hospital understands this risk because unlike schools and other places in the area, masks are still mandatory. It’s not just a vaccination issue, it’s that vaccines are 100% effective and not everyone can be vaccinated or has access to get vaccinated. So when my favorite conference came around, I was torn about attending… was.

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Working in higher dimensions

Imagine if you will, only being able to move along a straight line. You’re now in one dimensional space. But wait! What if we are allowed, quite literally, to take a left. You are now allowed to move along a square space, this is two dimensional space. We can do better, though. You suddenly can move up and down, traveling in an area that’s the shape of a cube! You’re now in 3D space. Then suddenly you disappear from view, but where did you go? Welcome to the fourth dimension, you can’t see it, you can’t imagine it, but we can do math here and above!

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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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Changing the experiment

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

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Technical problems

While people worried about the robot apocalypse, I’m not. If I need to randomly turn my router off and back on again for it to work properly I doubt Skynet will somehow gain sentience and take over the world without someone needing to go in and reboot it from time to time. Technology is an imperfect thing, like biology, but we expect technology to be better than us at what we need it to do. Today we spent almost an hour doing a little dance with the technology in the lab trying to get all the pieces to play nicely. The robot apocalypse will be short lived.

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The connections we make

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

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Two wild days!

If you’re reading this then it’s too late for me. Or rather it’s too early for me since I need to be up super early tomorrow, which is today (when you are reading this). Confused? Well it’s supposed to be a daily blog of my progress, but I’m cheating and writing today’s post last night. That’s because really, if you’re reading this I’m in an experiment. No, it doesn’t matter when you read this as long as it’s the day I posted because I’m definitely in an experiment. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

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Experiment result preview

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

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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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On designing experiments

After meeting with my Co-PI and discussing the super cool experiment he wants me to do (here) it sounds like I’m in control here. Scary thought, right? This is that whole working WITH my Co-PI and not FOR my Co-PI, he trusts me to make good choices. I mean either way he’s going to need to sign off on it when I finish the design, but it’s kind of interesting to be the one who gets the say in how we do this.

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Surprise teaching, seriously.

Well this is awkward. My main-PI just asked me to teach a course on MATLAB to our new summer interns. Most of them have never used MATLAB before and those that have probably know very little about it. To fix this my main-PI told me that I was going to teach a course on it. At first I thought it was one, but it turns out he want’s four classes (two hours long each) on it. I was trying to have a light summer, but that doesn’t look like it will happen.

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Journal papers update!

Not a typo, journal papers as in multiple. This year I’m planning on submitting three different journal papers. I’ve already submitted two and got feedback on them, so technically resubmit those. The third is still a work in progress and to be honest, there could be a fourth that I submit this year as well. Basically there’s a lot going on and it’s all pretty mindboggling that I can’t seem to get any of this off my plate. It’s a process for sure, but even though I’m still hard at work, there’s been some progress.

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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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Journal problems

I feel like I’m playing the how many journal papers can I have in review at once game and I hate it. Since there’s so much going on I think it would be a good idea to discuss a little bit on what I have up in the air at the moment, why I’m so freaking annoyed about the situation, and what comes next. Most of this is just me being frustrated and venting about the process, but what the hell, sometimes it’s okay to complain. I think that’s pretty much what grad school is anyway, getting better at complaining.

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Surprise summer project!

I’m super excited! My Co-PI sent me an email late yesterday asking me if I had time to help with an experiment. I absolutely love my Co-PI’s lab and all the stuff they do (throw back to this post), so of course I wanted a project! Well I read over the proposal and what he wanted me to do and let’s just say that I am in for a fun summer. I cannot wait to get started, since I can’t go over the details about what I’ll be doing, I think I’ll talk about the consequences.

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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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A data detective

You did a cool experiment, you have some interesting data, and you found something unexpected! Great, but what does it mean? Sometimes the answer isn’t as straightforward as you may hope. That’s the problem for the day, I found something in my data that makes no sense and the worst part is I have no idea what it means. It’s definitely something, so now I need to go through the steps of making sense of it. That’s the problem with doing something new, you have no frame of reference for the result.

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The first in-person meeting

Well today we met as a lab for the first time since the pandemic hit in person. I wasn’t a fan, still am not a fan, but didn’t get a choice in the matter so I went. Thankfully everyone was masked and agreed that it was probably for the best since in my case specifically, I work with a very vulnerable population. It was nice to see everyone, but it was mostly a waste of time, mostly.

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Meetings and more meetings

Today was going to be about my meeting yesterday with my Co-PI, buuuut it turns out that I have even more news than that! How did that happen? Well I got an email from my main-PI asking me about my plans for the summer, when I wanted to finish the long, horrible, project I’ve been trying to work through, and more importantly, my funding situation. After some emailing back and forth things are looking dare I say good?

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