We're a little crazy, about science!

Posts tagged “neuroscience

Dear data gods

We have offered our typical sacrifice of blood, sweat, and some might even say excessive amounts of tears. Yet clearly we have offended you and we are not sure how or why. We ask that you forgive our ignorance and help us understand how we can fix this. We are humbled and sorry, we should not seek higher truths, yet we must continue.

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Mad dash to the OR

Today has been a day! The trick with doing research in the OR is that the schedule for the surgeries don’t get finalized until the day before and sometimes even then things change at the last minute. I’m not sure when the schedule was finalized or if anything changed, but this morning I got a text that threw everything out of order. The best laid plans of mice and men…

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The fourth OR experiment

It’s official! We have experiment number four coming in two days. I’m excited about another attempt to collect data and to answer about a dozen interesting questions since we just keep tacking on stuff to look at when we go in. I’m not even joking, the experiment list keeps growing because the opportunity is unique and they don’t add significant amounts of time to the main experiment we’re doing.

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Sometimes things get cancelled

Today was a big day. We got the equipment ready, the patient consented, and everyone on the clinical side of things was on the same page we were on. Things were going well. Surprisingly well in fact, that should’ve been the first sign something was going to go wrong. This time it wasn’t our fault though! Sometimes you just can’t catch a break, so maybe next time.

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Off to the OR!

Tomorrow is the big day, our second experiment and while I’m a little nervous, I’m also excited to see what we can do. Last time around we had some issues… okay a lot of issues, but that’s because it was the first time we’ve ever tried something like this. This time around we worked with the team that will be in the OR with us so we know what they are doing and this time they know what we are doing. Basically we’re aiming for a whole lot less drama and a whole lot more useable data, meaning any usable data!

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DIY Research

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

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

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Experiments from the OR

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

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Presentations in a pandemic

Today was the first in person presentation I’ve done in years. Literally years thanks to the pandemic. I’ve been avoiding large gatherings and will continue to do so, but this was a special case since it was a hospital event. We’re all vaccinated, masks were required, and we were distanced in a well ventilated area, so it was the first time I’ve really felt comfortable attending an event like that. Before we get into the talk, let me just say it feels weird wearing dress clothes for the first time in years. I don’t know that I mind the sweatpants lifestyle so much (okay I definitely don’t mind it), but it was fun to mix it up a bit and shave, which I also stopped doing since the pandemic because, why not?

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The road to nowhere

Get it in writing. It was the advice I gave hospital-PI when he told me he got an offer from another hospital. Get it in writing. It was a phrase drilled into me by the military where less than honest recruiters would promise one thing, but deliver something else. I learned early on that your word is worthless, opinions change, memories fade, and you’re left with people who are upset because neither no one thought to write it down so everyone would be on the same page. Some lessons are learned the hard way I guess.

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Journal paper number three is submitted!

Finally checking a few things off my list, now this will probably come back to me for edits in the next few weeks/months, but paper number three has been submitted for review! As with the last few papers, I think we can go through the process of how we got to this point and I can explain what happens now for those who’ve never submitted a journal paper before. I’m really excited, so let’s talk about the long road leading to this point.

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Dissertation crossroads

It had to happen sooner or later, I have too many PI’s, and it was bound to cause some chaos in my life. The short version, in case you don’t want the longer one, is that I need to decide if my dissertation project is really the way I want to go about my degree. I have some options for what I want to do for my dissertation and my hospital-PI has offered several alternatives to the original path I was planning. It’s a tempting offer too, I just don’t know which one would be the better option or if there really is a choice here since I’ve technically already committed to the other project.

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One presentation done!

Today was the final presentation on some research I did. The road was long and I wish I could blame it all on COVID, but there was a lot for me to learn between when we started and now. I’m happy with the outcome and I think my school-PI is happy as well. There’s still one minor milestone left and that’s the publication, but the paper is written and I’m waiting for edits from my co-authors, so the hard part is done at least.

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Winter conference season

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

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The how to of presentation design

With my three minute talk coming up (more here) I need to design my two slides and get my poster set. Since I don’t like doing more work than needed, instead of trying to figure out the order of things and blog about something else, I wanted to go over how I would be presenting my science, both for the talk and my poster. Ideally this would help others, but mostly it’s for me since I could use the format in the future. I would copy from my previous talks, but I like to mix it up a little and this isn’t quite as formal as some of the other talks I’ve had to give.

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The surgical scramble!

Today was an… interesting day. Saturday I mentioned that today I would be in the OR again, it feels like I’ve been living there for a bit now and I have to say I’m enjoying it, but things were a little more hectic than I had originally anticipated. I had arranged for everything to be ready well before the surgery took place, but as it turns out that wasn’t what happened and I was left to scramble in order to get everything working.

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Papers, experiments, and the week ahead

It’s going to be a busy week and the weekend has only just started. While I plan on taking some time to myself this weekend, I am going to be prepping for the week ahead today since tomorrow is halloween. There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening this week, so today I want to round up all the odds and ends to give you an idea of what the week will look like, but also to help me organize my thoughts as I get ready.

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Award interview and project update

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

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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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Another award?!

Yet again I’ve managed to slip through the cracks, or maybe the standards were just that low. Whatever the reason, I’ve been selected to share my science in the form of a podium presentation. Yep I was awarded a spot to present my work at an upcoming event I’m required to attend (luckily it’s a masked event, because we’re all medical professionals) so I get to give a supposedly “fun” elevator pitch of my work. Just a few weeks away, I have to figure out what I want to say and how I want to share it. The issue isn’t so much that I’m speaking in front of a group (that isn’t on my computer), the challenge is the state of the project.

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An interesting experiment, maybe

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

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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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Zombies in nature!!

It’s my favorite post of the year!!! Every year I update and post my favorite Halloween Lunatic Labs tradition! Ironically with everything going on this year (surgery and what not) I almost forgot to post it! In any case, today we bring you the science fact behind the undead. Zombies, those brain loving little things are everywhere. Sure, we are all familiar with the classic  zombie, but did you know that we aren’t the only zombie lovers out there? It turns out that nature has its own special types of zombies, but this isn’t a science fiction movie, this is science fact! Sometimes fact can be scarier than fiction. Let’s talk zombies.

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The award announcement

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

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Planning my dissertation

The word of the day is apocalypse, since that’s pretty much what I feel like is happening lately.

It will still be awhile before I can graduate. I’ve got roughly two years left (more if I’m unlucky, so definitely more) before I’m done and today I’ll be meeting with my school PI, previously my main-PI, but now that I’m working for my Co-PI I need to come up with new titles, to discuss my life’s work. Or at least my PhD life’s work, since this is a conversation overdue, but now needs to happen because of some good news we recently got.

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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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Yet more papers!!

Well if it isn’t the week of every single thing that needs to be written needs to be done today, I don’t know what week it is. For those keeping score, I’ve successfully had one paper accepted for publication, had a random update and submitted a second paper for publication, and now I’m working on two other papers while I’m waiting to hear back about a third. What a week.

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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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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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I wanted to be a scientist

What did five-year-old you want to be when you grew up? I see this question pop up on twitter every so often, or rather the question is often would five-year old you be proud of where you are now. I think it’s hard to judge your five-year-old self when you’re an adult because the world looks a whole lot less polished and magical when you’re an adult. In my experience as you transition to an adult that magic and wonder is slowly replaced with dread, anxiety, and mostly doubt. Imposter syndrome is a real thing that many people, including myself, deal with.

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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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On trying something new

As a grad student the work/life balance tends to blur. I actually do most of my work on the weekends and tend to try to take time during the week for myself. This works best for me because weekends are typically when no one needs me to physically be somewhere, so I can get into the correct headspace to do some work. This weekend was a busy one, and my Co-PI had some ideas about one of the papers I’m working on that required my full attention. He also wants me to do something I’ve never done before, so let’s talk about trying something new!

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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 uncertain future

old door in middle of field, which opens to a whole different world.
old door in middle of field, which opens to a whole different world.

My Co-PI is leaving! Or maybe he’s not? But he could be?! I don’t even know. It doesn’t help that he has no idea and there’s no real deadline for him to make a choice, it’s whenever he’s ready. In fact, we currently have a line graph with his daily percentage on staying or leaving. I wish I was joking. It’s not just my future I’m worried about, there are others in the lab, most of us wouldn’t be able to make the journey to his new workspace, even if we wanted to (and trust me when I say if I could, I would).

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A small success

It was a leap of faith. There were no good choices, but it was the best of options in a string of bad options. I could either work full time in my main-PI’s lab, pulling me away from the clinical research I love, or I could take a job in my Co-PI’s lab. The catch was to take the job with my Co-PI I would have to apply, wait, and go through the onboarding process. That would mean I wouldn’t be getting paid, which would be okay for a few weeks, but longer and I could be in trouble. Nothing is finished yet, but I’ve gotten some good news.

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Minor revisions

Ah, just when I thought I didn’t have to worry about one of the multitudes of papers that I’m working on, it comes right back. This is the journal paper I wrote for one of my classes, which looks to be about ready for acceptance. There were some minor revisions that we were asked to make, but as of ten minutes or so ago I’ve addressed all of them. I think… it will probably be another round of edits with our co-authors to make sure everyone is happy with what we’ve done. Maybe? I’m not even sure at this point.

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Sometimes it rains

Brains are wild. I mean we have this misshapen jello blob stuck in our head and it somehow gives us the ability to be aware. We exist and think, feel, reason, all the stuff that makes us who we are. Brains are great, except when they aren’t. Depression is a horrible thing, which lives in the brain. You can’t “just be happy” anymore than someone could just be rich. Obviously when you live with chronic depression you got a dud of a brain. It may have to do with genetics, environmental factors, the way we were raised, or maybe it’s just horrible luck, but out of all the organs we can fix or replace, the brain is not one of them. You’re stuck as you and sometimes that sucks.

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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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Multi-paper madness!

HELLLP! I’m doing way too much writing and it’s the scientific kind, which is to say soul sucking! Okay, it’s not that bad, but for the past month it’s been a mad rush to get several different papers written. Today I plan to go over all the papers I’m working on, the progress I’ve made, and why I really hope I’ll never have this happen again. Far too much writing! It has to end eventually though, right?

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The R21 Result

Well I’ve been meaning to write this for a bit now, but the R21 I helped write back at the beginning of the year was not funded. It was a longshot and my Co-PI who helped write and submit the proposal was not surprised as to the result. Worse, it was not discussed. Since I’ve spent the past year learning the hard way how grant writing works, I figure today I can pass on that knowledge and we can who knows, maybe it will help others who are grant writing.

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Countdown to the grant submission

We’re just days away from the deadline for the grant I’m writing. We’ve got an awesome team of people that have agreed to be a part of this project and the funding will go towards the big idea I had several years back (what I’m calling my “super secret technique”) so I’m excited! My main-PI thinks the proposal has a good chance of being funded and I trust his judgement since he’s been doing this for a long time. So today I figure I can brag about the team and what will happen in the next few days.

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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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Why is it always a rush?

Well my latest grant is due at the end of the week, so I am now just a few short days away from the deadline and rushing to meet it. There has been plenty of time between when the proposal for funding went out and now, so why does it always feel like things are last minute? It probably has to do with the iterative approach to writing and the edits that go on forever. Since I need a break from scientific writing I figure now would be a good time to talk about the process and why a far off deadline is never enough.

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The final day of summer internship

Today marks the last day of the summer internship for our early career undergrad researchers. On paper, it’s been a long, sometimes bumpy road that wasn’t always the easiest thing to work through. In reality, it was all too short and it feels like we just got to know our interns and now it’s time to say goodbye. Through the experience I’ve got to watch the intern I was mentoring grow as a person, and grow more confident in herself. It’s been a privilege that I got to be a part of this.

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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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Juggling papers

It finally happened, it’s the big deadline, or at least most of the stuff I have due is due pretty much right now. I’ve been working on three different papers, and now I have a fourth added to the mix that I sort of forgot about until my Co-PI asked me to review the work we did in that paper, so yeah a lot going on at the moment and it’s all basically writing. So of course I’m working hard on writing… this. The truth is I need a break so I figure blogging would be a good distraction while still feeling like I’ve accomplished something. It beats doom scrolling twitter until the entire day has passed me by.

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Nothing like the first time

There’s nothing like your first time. The first time you accomplish something is new and exciting. Feelings that are hard to capture a second time, much less repeatedly. It’s a magical experience, especially when the first time is good and can be a powerful memory to hold on to no matter how badly things go. When it comes to presentations, in my opinion, everytime is the first time and that can be a point of nervous energy for a lot of people. Next week is presentation time for the summer interns, for their the first time, ever.

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