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Posts tagged “neuroscience

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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Programming overreach

This is what happens when I try to get fancy with the work I’m doing. I end up attempting to do things that aren’t done easily or if they are done easily, I figure out the hardest way possible for me to get them done. A week or so ago (here) I was excited because I came up with a super cool way to do something and I thought that the hardest part was behind me. Oh how wrong I was… but I’m close to figuring this out, I just need to do a lot of work to dig out of this hole I threw myself into. This is why you should never do anything fancy!

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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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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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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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We meet again, figure 1

If you’re new around here, I’m working on a handful of papers all at the same time. Five in total, all first author journal papers. For those not in academia, that’s a lot. I don’t know how this happened or why it happened, but here we are. Two of them are basically finished, two are just starting, and one will (hopefully) be started soon. Which brings me to the topic of the day, figure 1. Figure 1 is arguably one of the most important figures in the type of work I do, so let’s dive into why and what I’m trying to accomplish.

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Sometimes you’re too close to the problem

I’ve had a breakthrough! I’ve been working for months on a problem and I probably could’ve come up with the solution sooner if I hadn’t been trying to force it. Maybe I’m weird, but I find the easiest way to come up with a solution to a problem is to just walk away from it. I don’t always do it, but I always end up regretting that I didn’t just step away from the thing long enough to get the full picture.

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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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The week ahead

For a few weeks I was trying something new and doing a “week in review” well this week is exciting for a lot of reasons so I wanted to look at the week ahead! As usual I cannot give details about what is going to happen or why, but at least I can share my excitement and maybe one day soon I’ll be able to share what we did and point back to this post. So instead of looking back, today we’re looking forward. It’s going to be busy, but hey what else is new?

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When a good experiment goes bad

I love stock photos, this is just too funny to me. Plus it’s how I feel most days.

Weeks of planning. Thoughtful discussion about the variables. Finding the perfect way to set things up. We ran tests, we collected pilot data, everything was ready, or so we thought! The thing about running an experiment is that you never know what will happen, especially when it’s the first time you’re doing it. Even though we tested the equipment independently it wasn’t until we were doing the actual experiment that the problem immerged. Never fear though, the story has a happy ending.

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Start of summer experiments

Well today is the day! I’m just hours away from collecting my first dataset for my summer project. I’m excited, it’s a cool project and I get to be first author on the paper. The topic is impressive to me so I think it will be a good way to get my name out there in the field since this will be my first paper in my Co-PI’s lab (well first, first author paper). It’s a lot of responsibility and of course I don’t have any time to prep. The first experiment is always the hardest…

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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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The start of a busy week

Splitting your time between two labs should be pretty straightforward, on one hand my two PI’s have come to an agreement about how my time should be split and in a 40 hour work week, each should get roughly 20 hours of my time dedicated to the things they are working on. Easy, except it isn’t. Both are used to 40 hours to their lab and I’m not complaining, I enjoy being wanted, but as my Co-PI pointed out I have a lot going on and I need a break. Literally he told me to take a break, it’s bad enough that my Co-PI is telling me to go home.

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My talk is today and you’re all invited!

Okay so I wanted to update everyone on how my first lecture went yesterday since I only had a few short days to throw everything together and it was a mad panic to the end. Unfortunately we cannot go into detail today! That’s because today is my “I’m giving a talk” talk (which I wrote about here). It’s free to watch, my talk is roughly four minutes long and is a nice little rundown of some of the work I do. So today I figure I will go into a bit of detail and should you be so inclined to attend you’ll get the chance to chat with me in person about my work! Yep, I’m breaking anonymity yet again, but it’s for a good reason.

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Depression, a tale of hunger

Let’s pretend you have a pet that is constantly hungry. You can’t leave the house, you can’t sleep, you can’t even take a shower because anytime you want to do something for yourself this monster of a pet just won’t allow it to happen. It’s hungry. It wants to be fed and it wants to be fed NOW. Oh you’re exhausted, feed it. You want to do something for yourself? Too bad, feed it. It’s all consuming, it never sleeps, it never is satisfied, and you cannot get rid of it. Chronic depression is the pet you never asked for that demands your attention all day, every day.

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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 importance of boundaries

Often times I hear stories about people who feel powerless doing a PhD and I can understand why. You’re given a position with some freedom, certainly more than you had as an undergraduate, but at the same time you have no real power. You’re an adult who is starting a career, but you have very little say in that career. The system is designed in such a way that you need to trust that your PI will take your feelings into consideration, but that doesn’t mean that they have to, are incentivized to, or frankly that they even will.

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Surgical shadow update!

Well I finished my surgical shadow today. Frankly I’m exhausted, maybe I was just too excited, but I got roughly zero sleep last night. That said, it went better than the last shadow where I had just gotten my second dose of vaccine the day before. Now that was not my idea of a fun time! So per the usual I cannot go into the details, but I can talk vaguely about what happened and what’s next.

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Another surgical shadow

Just FYI, I didn’t take this and I’m pretty sure it’s just a stock photo, but it works for the post. I wouldn’t want to cause any privacy issues.

Well it’s officially on the books! Monday (super early) morning I will be shadowing my second surgery. For those new around here this was the first. It was an awesome experience and I’m excited to do it again. Today we’ll talk about why I, as someone who does non-invasive research, is even attending surgeries and what I get out of them. There is an actual practical reason to attend, but it’s also just super interesting!

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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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Intro to ICA

Independent component analysis, probably not something you hear about all that often unless you’re in a field that uses it. If you’ve found this via google or the such, then you’re probably looking for an explanation on what the heck ICA is and how to use it. Fear not, today we’re going over the why of ICA, why it works, why we use it, and why it isn’t the perfect tool we wish it was. Hint, the reason it isn’t perfect is because of math, stupid math. Quick note, I’ll be focusing on EEG uses for ICA, but there are tons of other applications and this knowledge will still apply to them as well.

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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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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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The start of summer teaching

Today is the start of our labs summer classes. This marks the beginning of roughly 12 weeks worth of lectures on the stuff we do in the lab for our undergrad and high school students. It will be a chance to teach them how to use some of the techniques they will be working with during their summer with us and it will also be a good refresher for everyone in the lab, because we tend to focus on very specific analysis when we do our research it helps teaching each other some of the things we do well.

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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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So I shot myself in the foot

Ever say something dumb and immediately regret it? Yeah I made a huge mistake and ended up giving myself a ton of work for no reason. Well there was a reason, it just wasn’t needed. I don’t know why I do this to myself, but the good news is I got the work done. Okay, fine I’ll explain, it’s not a long story, but it is a funny one (at least now that the work is finished). It’s also a good reminder to never do that one again.

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Data mysteries

Data processing, it’s mind numbing sometimes. I guess it depends on the dataset you’re working on, but in this case it’s just a formatting thing. Literally copy, paste, rearrange, things like that. The issue is the volume of data you’re working with. The whole thing can take hours just to get done properly, but with any luck you’ll only have to do it the once. Most of the time I’m not that lucky, the last dataset I worked with for my Co-PI I reformatted five or six different times. While that isn’t the topic of the day, it’s a good way to start the conversation of the day.

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Learning can be painful

Well today was the final lab meeting of the term. While the weekly meetings will (probably) be continuing, it’s still a big deal and could (hopefully) mean the end of my six weeks or so of torment. Normally I give it a few days before I talk about just how badly the meeting went, but this time was different and I’m thankful for it. The difference? My main-PI was out for medical reasons, so we got to talk about the project a little more freely.

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Flexible coding for data visualization

My main-PI has an odd habit of wanting us to edit things as we’re presenting them. I’ve watched this happen and had to do it myself. Suddenly you find yourself editing a paper/grant/etc. and forgetting how to spell your name because you’re so flustered. It isn’t just papers though, it’s our visualizations that we make. He will ask us to go in and change things as they are being shown. This has happened to me several times already and more often than not I’m ready for it. So today I figured I would go over some of the things I do to make sure that I don’t spend the entire time sweating over edits to my code.

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Apparently I’m close?!

We’re talking about it again, the fact that every week for the past 5 weeks now I’ve been given tasks to do and then presenting on them the following week. It’s been… hard. However, my main-PI gave me hope that the end of all this is close, at least that’s the hope. He said I was close, so today we’re going to talk (as usual vaguely) about what I have left to do before this weeks meeting and why I cannot wait to be done with this.

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When you don’t want to say no

In undergrad I had a discussion with my advisor, or rather he was more of a mentor, he wasn’t technically an advisor. It went something like this, I don’t know what to do next because it all seems so interesting. He argued that it was a good problem to have and while I have generally narrowed down my focus (I am doing a PhD after all), I still have an issue with focusing my excitement. It’s like being at Disneyland and trying to force yourself to go on just a single ride your entire trip. I don’t wanna, I want all the knowledge!

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On the prefrontal cortex and abuse

Adulthood is often thought of as the point where you’re done developing. Most states for example don’t allow anyone under 21 to drink because that was where we drew the line, but we allow people as young as 18 (here in the US) to join the military, vote, etc. You may think that this would be roughly where we stop developing and that would explain the somewhat artificial line we’ve drawn. The truth is much stranger than that and when it comes to the brain you don’t develop evenly.

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Journal club

Okay, get this I completely skipped over the fact that my Co-PI started a “journal club” for our little lab. I say little because for the longest time it was just the two of us and the research coordinator (who is amazing by the way!), but now we have not one, but two others in the lab. It’s nice not having to do a lot of extra work, but different topic for another time. We formed a journal club a short 8 weeks ago and every other week one of us sends out a research paper they find interesting about a week prior to our biweekly meetings and then that person presents on it. This week it’s my turn and of course, the universe is against me.

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I’m giving a talk!

Well I slipped through the cracks yet again! It hurts me to admit that I’ve probably earned this one. The 7th annual BRAIN initiative investigators meeting is coming (in June) and I was selected for a Trainee Highlight Award. Is it a big deal? Probably not, but I’ll take a win when I can get it. Today we’re going to dive into what exactly this means for me and why even little victories should be celebrated. Is it a little victory? I mean they did pick me, so what does that say about them?

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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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The long data processing road

Okay I’m taking another break from the “in statistics” posts, at least for today since the next topic is going to be a long multi-day post worth of stuff and I need an easier post for today. I have way too much stuff going on at the moment to organize a long post! In any case, I figure I could give an update to the data I’ve been working with and how that whole mess is going. It’s mind numbing and exhausting work, but not in the way you would think.

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