We're a little crazy, about science!

Posts tagged “PhD

More experiments!

*Cue mad scientist laugh* It’s alive!!! ALLLLIIIIVVVEEE!! No, I’m not reanimating corpses, I just work with human participants so if they weren’t alive it would be awkward. I mean really, really awkward. Thankfully since they are non-invasive experiments the risk of serious injury is almost zero. All this build up to say I’ve got some new experiments starting today, as in MY experiments! *Cue second mad scientist laugh*

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The first week of classes

When you start a PhD program, or a Masters program (I have a BS and MS so I can speak to this) things aren’t as structured as they are in undergrad. Not that undergrad programs aren’t hard or not hectic, it’s just that there are scheduled times for everything so you know when and where you will have work. It’s a lot like highschool in that respect, you get homework, but there’s a clear end to it. Not so much in grad school, your homework takes a year or even years (for a PhD) to finish. Still, it’s the first week of school, so things change, if only slightly.

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My first surgical shadow

With all the COVID excitement going on around here, I haven’t had the chance to share my experience about one of the coolest things I’ve had the chance to do thus far in my career! Since starting my PhD I feel like I’ve had all sorts of interesting experiences and while they haven’t helped me publish anything, I’ve learned a lot. Making a jump across fields like I did (design engineering to neural engineering) has had a steep learning curve from the start, but almost three years in and I’m feeling good about the decision.

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I’m going into surgery… sort of!

Okay well this came out of left field, or rather happened faster than I thought it would. My Co-PI and I had discussed just last week seeing some of how the more clinical stuff gets done in terms of electrophysiology and invasive monitoring. He suggested I shadow some of the doctors while they are performing surgery to see how they do the things they do and now I’m about to get the chance to do just that. Yeah, that’s a lot of doing.

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A day of meetings and emails

Okay, my inbox isn’t that bad, but if I didn’t keep up with it, it could easily get there.

It’s a new day with a new and long list of things I need to get done. I’ve already got a ton of bad news about my car issues and the rather large bill that is coming with that, but I’ve also got meeting after meeting scheduled for today on top of a long, long list of emails that need responses from me. Basically today is going to be exhausting and all I will have done is sit in front of a computer, how the hell does that even work?!

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And it’s back to work I go

Today is my last day off. Not quite a day off either, more of a day to get ready. While classes haven’t officially started for me, it’s time to get some work done. So in the spirit of chronicling my life as a PhD candidate, I figure today we can take a look at my todo list and you’ll see why today isn’t a day off. Hint, there’s a lot of prep going into this next week.

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First grant meeting

Time to put the fun in funding?

Well it’s been a weird couple of days and by weird I mean, WTF?! For that reason let’s shift slightly back into the school aspect of things. I had my first meeting with my Co-PI to discuss the grant writing I’m going to be doing and what we want to focus on. Turns out there’s a lot going on and not all of it had to do with the grant, but it was a good meeting and I’m excited to get started.

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New year, new grant

It’s all connected somehow… I just know it.

Nope, still on vacation… I tell myself as I make arrangements to meet with my Co-PI. This is important though and unlike some of the other projects it has a firm deadline. That’s right, I’m writing a grant. No this isn’t an update to the last one I wrote, this is a whole new one. How did I end up in this position? Who knows, but I’ve been trying to figure it out since it happened. Let’s discuss, shall we?

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How do I relax?

Yes, once again I am trying to force myself to do nothing useful. Or rather to do useful things for myself instead of for others. My mental health has run ragged since the pandemic hit and it only got worse as the year progressed. Since winter time is particularly difficult for me to deal, I plan on some decompression time. I’ve talked about it before, but what’s the point of blogging daily if I can’t talk about it again?

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A look forward

It’s a new year, a new chapter, and it’s time to set some new goals. What kinds of craziness will I accomplish this year? Well I have a few ideas. No pressure or anything, I don’t want to force myself to fit things into the year just because I planned for it. Instead I like to set goals so I can check things off a list (I do love my lists). So even if that list rolls into the next year, it’s not the end of the world. Just a helpful hint for those of us who are chronically anxious!

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A year in review

So long 2020, while the calendar is a human construct, I hope that the significance means something for mankind as a whole. Who knows maybe we will finally take the pandemic seriously, or global warming, maybe even gun violence. Yeah, I don’t think so either, but one can hope. In lieu of stating my hopes for humanity, let’s just take a quick look back at the year I’ve had and what this new year holds. This is my year in review.

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I’m getting my COVID vaccine today!

Today is the day! About a week ago I got an email letting me know that I could be vaccinated. While I’m a researcher in a hospital, my work involves a high risk population (people with spinal cord injury) so I’m front facing with patients on a regular basis. I’m also disabled which may have factored into my group placement. Whatever the case, I got a spot in line and now it’s my turn. My Co-PI who’s lab I work out of already got his, but he was in a higher group than I was. As usual I have some thoughts on all this…

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Time off!

Today was the last experiment that I’ll be doing for the next couple of weeks and since classes are over it’s time to kick my feet up and relax. Okay, not really. There are still some odds and ends that I will probably be working on while I’m “taking a break,” but overall I’m excited to not have things I NEED to do. I’ll probably be doing some house stuff too, but hey at least its a change.

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The perils of publishing

So you want to publish some science. I don’t blame you, as a scientist we’re driven by the “publish or perish” mindset. The further along you get the more you’re stuck having weird nightmares about h-index and impact factor. Or maybe that’s just me, who knows? In any case, any publication is a labor of love, one that typically turns into a labor of spite. Because publishing isn’t easy, or maybe that’s just me.

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Outreach

I just finished with my Skype a Scientist session! You can do it too if you want, just sign up. I had a lot of fun and while today was going to be on a slightly more depressing topic, I figure we can talk about how it went instead. I love doing outreach, it’s probably one of my favorite things about being a scientist and I got to show a whole bunch of interesting things I get to do as a scientist. This was an interesting group, so that’s also a good reason to talk about it.

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More data surprises!

Data’s the gift that keeps on giving. Okay not really, but I wish it were!

Well I’ve finished with the new dataset I collected for my PhD project, it was a fast analysis so there is still a lot more I can do with it, but I’ve finished at least the initial processing and plotting. Overall it’s good news so now I’m just waiting to hear back from my Co-PI to confirm my findings or more than likely temper my excitement.

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On the importance of vaccines

Once upon a time polio was more feared than the atomic bomb. Thanks to the vaccine we’ve practically (not completely mind you!) eliminated polio from the planet. We successfully eliminated smallpox, the only existing strains live in special labs now. Vaccines are a triumph of science and are so successful that people have forgotten they are necessary for a reason. In short, vaccine fear is a byproduct of vaccine success.

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Please, stay home for the holidays!

Don’t do it. Seriously, why are we having this discussion right now? It makes no sense, there is a pandemic going on and if you live specifically in the US (which I do) you’re going to need to stay home. Sure the holidays can be an important time of year for families, but do we really need a holiday to celebrate with our family? Why not wait until this is over? More importantly is it worth putting all of them, yourself, and the people you come in contact with at risk?

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The art of doing nothing!

That’s right kids, it’s time to let my hair down and relax! Time to change out of my fancy sweatpants into the causal ones. We’re going all out and I’m moving from the computer next to the couch to the dammmmn couch! I’m going from bare foot to bare foot, I’m talking comfy shirt to pajama shirt, the whole works! Okay so maybe the comfy lifestyle in a pandemic makes taking a break a little less obvious, but it’s still worth it!

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And finally something good…

I don’t know why my mind went with hidden treasure, but that’s what we’re going with today.

It was bound to happen eventually, some good news for today! I had a meeting with my Co-PI and we went over the latest findings in the dataset I’m processing for my “super secret” technique and I have to say it went much better than was expected! He’s excited, I’m excited, we’re excited. The issue is we don’t know what any of it means, but I think that’s why it’s so exciting!!!!

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Outreach in a pandemic

I’ve been matched! No, not with a dating service, with an outreach program called Skype a Scientist. If you are a scientist (any type will do) you can get involved too! I’ve talked about some of my outreach activities in the past, but heck let’s run through why I think outreach is so awesome and how the pandemic has actually made it easier to do!

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A change in my timing

The meeting with my PI is done and it’s not all bad news. It went better than expected in some aspects and not so great in others. That’s how these things work out, it’s not a linear progression, it’s a lot of going back and forth and sometimes side to side too. Thankfully we met before I made any firm plans! Anywho, let’s just dive in and talk about what happened.

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More data, more problems

Maybe the title should be no data, no cry. Anyway here we are another day and there’s a lot going on, but I finally did it! I got some results from my new dataset that I hadn’t had a chance to process yet. And would you believe (despite the title) that I found something!? Yep, which is great news… except there’s more I need to do! My Co-PI who likes to temper my excitement when I come to him with results has reminded me that I should wait to celebrate until the rest of the data are analyzed.

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A meeting with my PI

It’s a treacherous path, but one I need to take

Well I may have overestimated how fast I could get the data processed from yesterday. I have it basically done, but I was up until almost 2am getting it to that point and I didn’t have the energy to start the analysis so that’s going to happen today. Instead of sharing my excitement for a second day in a row I thought I would share some news. I got an email back from my PI and tomorrow we are meeting.

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An early present

Since my deadline has come and gone I can look around for a moment, but more importantly I don’t feel the pressure to hyperfocus on a single project. So today instead of working on that dataset I’m switching to a dataset I need to get done before my PhD proposal defense. It’s data that will (assuming I find something) further help make my case for studying my new “super secret” technique for the next 2-3 years depending on how long everything takes.

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A mental health day

Today the fatigue of the past few weeks has finally caught up to me. With the adrenaline rush that came to a head from the presentation I did yesterday wearing off, I feel exhausted. So today I am taking some time to recharge and rethink what the next few months will look like. This is me taking a mental health day, but let’s talk about the events leading up to today and what the plan is, at least for today.

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How to fail giving a presentation

Today is the big day! The day where I showcase the stuff I’ve done. It’s a bit anticlimactic to be honest because I haven’t had time to do a full analysis, just a very general overview. It was COVID you see, we shut down for a few months there so I didn’t get any data collected. When we finally got started again I had weeks to do the analysis, not months. Needless to say it’s not good.

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In need of a break

Well that’s the post. Okay fine I’ll elaborate. It’s been a busy couple of weeks, if I’m honest it’s been a busy couple of months! Between all the writing, data collection, surgery, data analysis, code writing, etc, I haven’t had a chance to breathe! Maybe that’s why I feel dead, I haven’t had a moment to collect my thoughts.

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The coding hole

Help, I’ve fallen into a coding hole and I can’t get out! Okay, to be fair I actually DID get out, but at the time it felt like there was no hope and I would be trapped banging my head against a wall trying to figure out what I was doing. Today I figure we can discuss how I code and what my idea of a coding hole is, it will be a fun break for me.

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The science behind an MRI

Today I had an MRI, don’t worry it was for research purposes. It wasn’t a short MRI either, I was in the bore for almost two hours. Yep, stuck in a tube with nothing but my thoughts, some music, and the sounds of the MRI machine doing its thing. I figure we can discuss what an MRI is, why I had one, and why I don’t mind that it took so long. I may even show off some of the scans, but not today I don’t have them yet.

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The art of coding

Well I did it. I got all the code written for the next two (of three) steps for processing my data. I can’t do the third until the second step is done for at least one dataset, but I’m almost there and the last bit of code is to visualize the data, which is substantially easier. So let’s talk about what I did and why I won’t have to do it again now.

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(Un)motivated

My deadline is fast approaching and I still have a lot of work to do. I’m also struggling with feeling super unmotivated. Normally when this hits I take a day or two to relax and then I’m ready to go. Unfortunately with my deadline approaching I need to use a different technique to get through what I need without driving myself crazy(er).

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A look ahead

Okay the next month or so is going to be busy. Complete and utter chaos levels of things to get done. So today instead of complaining about the data I have to process (since I already did that yesterday!) I figure we can look forward. I have some exciting things happening so might as well give you all a sneak peek at upcoming events.

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Back to EEG processing…

It’s the day after thanksgiving and I made my annual I don’t want to have to cook for the next week or two spread of tasty foods. I don’t do the traditional Thanksgiving foods though, I prefer Mexican dishes (since I’m Mexican). Namely I make a huge batch of tamales, since they are a bit of work I tend to make a comically large amount, think 100 or more. So while I have food to last, I need to get back to my main focus and that’s work!

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How can we record from the brain non-invasively?

Still my favorite photo, which I took showing the EEG setup process we use these days!

We can read your mind! Okay, not quite, we can read the electrical activity going on in the brain and we can do this non-invasively. That’s right, you can do it from your own home if you wanted (here). It’s easy and since you don’t have to break the skin, it’s about as safe as can be. The real question here is why does this even work? For that we need to talk a bit on biology so let’s do this!

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EEG Cleaning: ICA and Dipoles

This is (a very, very, small portion) of the data I’m working with for this post!

Let it be known that I’m a person of my word and today we’re going to give a rather broad overview of ICA and dipoles. Don’t know what those words mean? Well start here and that will give you a high level view of the entire process. Today we’re going to do a slightly deeper dive into what the heck a dipole is, why we use it for ICA and why ICA is so helpful in EEG data processing. Sound like a lot? Well it is, but let’s take a crack at it anyway!

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Disability and Education

Per the VA, I am 100% totally and permanently disabled. I wasn’t always given that designation, I had to fight for it, go through years (yes, years and in fact almost a decade) of medical tests and several diagnoses before they finally acknowledged it. Thinking about how hard it was to get to this point, reminded me of an important issue, disability and education. The system isn’t accessible, but don’t worry that’s by design.

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More data!

Today marks another day that I got to collect data for my project. The good news is we got a LOT of it, the bad news is I got a LOT of it! Okay, only semi-kidding about that last part. I’m happy I have more data than less data, but it’s also a busy time so I don’t get to process it until I finish all this other work.

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That time I angered my PI

king's roads from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell
Navigating the right path isn’t always so easy.

I met my deadline, so now I’m going to take a short(ish) break and tell a quick story. I have been debating about telling it since it’s embarrassing and talking about failures (or really mistakes) is uncomfortable. I had enough uncomfortableness just trying to hit my deadline, but now that I’ve made it I figure I can at least tell the story for posterity’s sake.

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The due data

It’s time, my data and the results from the experiment are due today. Okay, if we want to get technical the due date is tomorrow. HOWEVER, and that’s a big however, I need to get it to my PI today to review before I submit it. Which means he needs to see it today so I can send it off to the center for review.

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Computer rebuild

Okay, lots of work and not a lot of time to do it in, but today I thought I would show off the internals of my computer since I had to swap out the watercooler for one that wasn’t garbage. This is a follow up to this post, so with the background out of the way, let’s go!

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Time to work

So this post is coming a lot later than I would normally do this, but it’s been a day (already) and it’s going to get busier. I’ve had one experiment, one class, and now I need to repair my computer so I can perform the analysis of the data I have to get done before Thursday. Fun times ahead!

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Computer troubles

It’s my baby! The case is unique, but I wanted something that could grow with my needs and this case is not just fun to look at, it’s huge! Unfortunately that makes the computer super heavy.

I had a feeling this may happen, I just didn’t expect it to happen when I was so against the wire to get this project done. I’m having computer troubles. Not my laptop thankfully, but my desktop computer is feeling a little… warm. I’ll explain and then get into what I’m doing to fix it, so today let’s talk about my computer!

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A race to the deadline

Yet another day closer to my deadline for this EEG project and I’m still trying to pre-process my data so that I can make sense of it. We’re racing the clock here and my PI is pushing me to get it done, sure I think I can do it, but then again… maybe not?

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The stress of an education

Art by: DestinyBlue (you should read their story too if you have time)

I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment. I’m sure that’s probably true for most people, but in academia it’s somehow considered normal that you balance the tightrope of sanity while more and more pressure is added to you. It’s a toxic environment for sure, more so now that COVID and current affairs are gumming everything up.

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COVID and Education

Not my school, but still not effective at prevention either.

Today I received an email from the Chancellor of the school I attend. This is the person that is in charge of the entire university school system (since there are several campuses). The email was with regards to a survey that was sent out asking how comfortable we would be with returning to school with the pandemic going on. Why it was up to popular vote is beyond me.

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The politics of education

It’s time to make a minor shift back to the focus of my little daily posts and that’s getting a PhD. Technically even the most political of posts are part of this journey, but I think it would make sense to discuss the link a little more explicitly since we never made the connection and I think it’s important.

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Out of my hands

November 2nd at 11:59 pm. That’s the deadline for this years NDSEG application. Which means that today is the last day for me to get my application materials ready, double check that I have all the boxes ticked, and that my references did their part (they did). Then we play the waiting game.

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On anxiety

If you’re finding yourself in the high anxiety club, welcome! I’ve been a member since well before the pandemic. I’m sorry, but I’ve got some bad news for you. We are constantly being bombarded with reasons why we should be highly efficient and constantly producing something. That’s how we end up with articles claiming that we can turn anxiety into a super power. Which are complete garbage and are written by people who’ve obviously never lived with chronic anxiety.

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NDSEG Fellowship Tips

I might as well talk about it, this will be my second time applying for NDSEG, so today we’ll go over exactly what that is, why I’m doing it, and why, if you’re working on a PhD, you may want to do it as well. NDSEG is tricky, but if you get it then you should be pretty well set for funding, it’s a great program, but it also means you’re being funded via the DOD.

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