We're a little crazy, about science!

Posts tagged “research

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 long goodbye

It’s not official, but it kind of is… my Co-PI and I will be parting ways unfortunately. On one hand I’m happy for him, he’s found a better opportunity to help him grow and progress his career. We don’t do research for the money, but we do it for the adventure. We do it for the help we can give people. We do it for the discoveries and friends we make along the way. He has a chance to grow and it looks like he’s taking it. We worked together for over two years now and I didn’t expect it to be coming to a close anytime soon, but plans change and I need to change with it.

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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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An uncertain future…

Surreal door made from a question mark.
Surreal door made from a question mark.

My funding is about to run out. There I’ve said it. The problem is I cannot afford to live without the funding I get from school. If I don’t find someway to gap the issue I could quickly find myself homeless, or worse. I’m trying not to panic, but it is just a little scary to be getting so close to this invisible end. Both my two PI’s have offered workarounds, which may or may not happen. There are some good options, but those may be off the table. It’s complicated, so let’s just lay it all out.

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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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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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On the research I do

My 3D printed spine (as in my own spine made from my CT scans, make your own body part here!).

“They are changing the world and I want to help,” one of our regular volunteers told the guy who runs the hospital department. It was a glowing review from someone who had spent the better part of the last decade paralyzed after a high level (cervical) spinal cord injury. We’ve seen him regularly for the better part of a year now and you would’ve thought we coached him if you could hear the review he gave the man who came to see our little lab. I feel stuck a lot, but yesterday I was reminded of why I do what I do.

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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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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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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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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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The hunt for funding

Funding, a running theme around here. When I started my PhD it was clunky, I had no clue what I was doing, but I new that I needed to have some money because the first rule of doing a PhD is that you DO NOT pay for your PhD. That much I knew from my Masters (which I was lucky enough to not have to pay for because my PI at the time was just starting out and had funding for me). The rest was up in the air and has been up in the air for a little bit now, so today I’ll be talking about my funding history and where I’m at now. It’s all a little up in the air at the moment, but I’m optimistic.

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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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How to find the right lab for your PhD

Going into a PhD program is a confusing whirlwind of stress, new experiences, and the general feeling of being lost. You do belong there… right? You know what’s harder than making the choice to get your PhD? Finding the lab you want to call home for the next five or more years. Inspired by advice I gave to one of the undergrads I’m mentoring, today we’re going to talk about how you should hunt down a lab you want to be a part of. It’s that time of the year again, but don’t worry, finding the right lab for you doesn’t need to be scary.

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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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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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Journal paper update

With all the things going on I never got the chance to talk about some non-class news. The downside is it’s not good news, but on the scale of horrible things to happen recently it’s not that bad. Back in February I submitted a paper for journal publication and we got rejected. Not great news, but the reviewers were not super critical and with some minor changes we should be able to resubmit it. I figure today we can go over the stuff that needs to happen now since I’m the first author.

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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 ambiguity of email

As per the usual around here I’ve been swamped with things to do. Between classwork, experiments, data processing, and writing, its been a lot. It may sound like I’m repeating myself at this point, but stuff just keeps coming up and I prefer talking about it instead of just keeping it all bottled up. More to the point, it means I have new things to do and I like to talk them out here so I have a clear(er) path moving forward. What does this have to do with email and the title of today’s post? Well, let’s talk about that.

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Another week in review

A week ago exactly I gave a review of the week I had and a look at the week coming up. I thought it was so much fun I’m doing it again, because that’s what passes for fun around here. Who knows maybe I’ll do this regularly! Basically a lot has happened this week and now is a good time to catch everyone up on some of the oddball things I’ve done and things I may have missed in favor of freaking out about the work I’m doing. So let’s just jump into my semi-traditional introduction, then we can look back and ahead. It’s fun for everyone!

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Everything went better than expected!

So yesterday I had my hands full with a bunch of work to do, no motivation what so ever to do it, and a deadline that was today. I didn’t want to burn myself out, especially since I still have a homework assignment due this weekend and yet another round of tasks set out before me, this time before the next week so that’s… umm terrifying. Let’s just dive into what happened today during my meeting.

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Scientific figures are hard!

Well now, part of the work I needed to get done this week involved making some new figures. Actually I had added work dumped on me yesterday that I got done just as quickly thankfully. However, there’s a bunch of other figures I need to make that are due… tomorrow! Ah! So of course instead of actually making them I’m here to talk about how big a pain figures are and why we (the scientific community) stress out about them so much.

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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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Another approaching deadline!

Well it’s going to be down to the wire this week. It’s good to know we’re keeping the theme, if you’ve been following along for awhile you already know it’s always down to the wire. This week is particularly challenging because I have competing interests for the time I have. There’s only 24 hours in a day, so there’s only so much work that can get done. I would prefer to not do it at the last minute, but here we are… again.

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NDSEG fellowship result

Applying for a fellowship is sort of like creating a time capsule. The lag between when you submit it and when you hear anything back can be 6 or more months, long enough that you’ve completely forgotten that you applied. Or at the very least it isn’t at the forefront of your brain anymore. I’ve kept an eye on my application sporadically, I know people who check weekly and I’m sure there are plenty who don’t check at all until the results are sent out. It’s a slow motion car crash, you hope for the best, but it’s no longer in your control.

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The new to-do list

It’s been busy! So busy I was trying to find time to write while working on the million other things I have going on. Since I have a moment, I thought now would be as good a time as any to go over the big list my main-PI gave me to do before next week. It’s a long, long, long list and as you may expect, he’s pretty far removed from the situation, so I don’t think he realizes how difficult it is to do what he’s asking, but we’re doing any anyway! Thankfully I’ve gotten pretty good at coding, the bad side is that it’s not my code I’m working with, so that’s the start of my struggles.

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A PhD proposal defense

Not mine, at least not yet. A colleague of mine is defending his PhD proposal today and while I was going to wait until I did mine to go over the details about how that works and why we do it, I figured today was as good a time as any to do it. Besides I probably (definitely) repeat myself a lot around here, but that’s the catch with blogging daily. So let’s get into what a proposal defense is and why it’s important, shall we?

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A roadblock

I haven’t spoken with my Co-PI about this yet because I’m angry. Like fist balled, white knuckled, want to scream into some endless void angry. This was not the post for today, but I’ve learned a long time ago that I should get things out instead of bottling it up and letting it eat me alive. It’s the reason I’m still here today and one minor step to my success in not falling into the abyss that is depression. I am angry and I need to chose my next words carefully, because as you’ll see, I have no power here.

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A meeting with my two PI’s

Yeah it feels pretty dangerous…

If I could make a comedy TV show about my life, I would call it my two PI’s and I would get into hilarious situations while trying to make both of them happy. Mostly you would see me get a lack of sleep and sort of feel like I’m running on a treadmill, going as fast as I can, but getting nowhere. It’s not all bad and I respect my two PI’s, but there’s a saying about having too many hands in the cookie jar and sometimes it feels like that’s what is happening. It’s a lot like the old game “telephone” where I’m given information to pass along between the two, so we’re all going to meet… *cue dramatic music*

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The t-test in statistics

mind reading

Welcome fellow mad scientist enthusiasts, the last time we talked statistics, we found ourselves in an interesting situation and we need to figure out if the mind control device that was developed is actually working. We introduced the idea of a two population problem and today we’re going to use something called a t-test to determine if our mad scientist succeeded.

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What is good outreach?

Yet another outreach event in the books! I have two more events this week and I believe that’s the last for my skype a scientist commitment. Since this term I was assigned classes practically all at once, I may re-volunteer to get a few extra classes in this term. Normally requests for my specific field don’t happen, but they’ve become more frequent, which is interesting to see because biomedical engineering, or my subset neuroengineering, isn’t a widely known field, but it is growing. All this recent outreach has gotten me thinking about what makes a good presentation, so let’s talk about it.

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The road to a PhD program

In hindsight this post should’ve happened a long time ago, like year one and day one of my 365 days of academia project. Things have… evolved in ways I didn’t understand when I started this, originally the project was simply going to be a notebook for my classes, then it turned into my journey as a whole, and even what I do in my spare time. Like anything we create it took on a life of its own and I’m reminded I should touch on the process to getting accepted into a PhD program.

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Paper submission!

This morning I woke up to some good news! I got an email letting me know that the journal paper I’ve been working on has been submitted. It’s not the end, it’s only the beginning really. It needs to be reviewed before we know the outcome, but I’ve spent the past ten months or so writing this damned thing, so this is a huge moment for me.

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The tightrope of mental health

My mental health is like walking on a tightrope, one slip and I’m done. Getting back up could take years for someone like me. The truth is, things are hard on the best of days. Getting out of bed, shaving, cutting my hair at regular intervals, things that would come easy to some require sheer force of will to accomplish. All the small choices through the day eat away at what little energy I have until I’m drained before breakfast. Yet here I am, pushing forward. It’s days like today remind me that for all the progress I’ve made, it’s still just a tightrope I walk.

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Back to outreach

Just hanging out with the bots.

Today was the finish line, like it or not the R21 grant had to be finished. My Co-PI seems happy enough about the outcome, so we’ll have to wait and see what the result is, it could be several months before we know anything. It was a marathon of work, data process, experimenting, and now… nothing. I’m finally done so I can actually focus on other projects, which is the topic of the day!

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A clear path!

The easy path to getting your PhD…

That was quick! I have an update regarding yesterday’s funding debacle already… it’s good news, but that’s all the hint you’re getting for now! Things are happening fast and frankly they need to I only have a few more days to finish the grant before its due for internal review and I don’t know how my Co-PI is feeling right now, but I’m stressed out!

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Trouble on the horizon

I did not see this one coming… or maybe I did and just wanted to pretend it wasn’t going to be an issue. There’s been a difference of opinion to put it lightly. I received an email this morning from my main-PI asking if we could meet to discuss my funding options and he also casually mentioned that the R21 might not get submitted.

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Scientific figure design

Well I’ve done it… sort of. I edited the grant for the semi-last time. Now we’ve got a working copy that reads the way we want it to read, so it’s off to the scientific writer to read over it and make sure it sounds good. You would think that means my work is done, but no. I need to do arguably the hardest part and create some of the figures we will use in the paper. Writing well takes practice, but making a good figure, well that’s art.

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R21 Grant update

We’re not even two weeks aways away from the deadline for the grant submission that I’m working on with my Co-PI and things are getting close! It feels like there is still so much to do that I don’t see how we would ever make it to the end, but really a lot of it comes down to polishing everything to make it look pretty. Part of writing a grant is telling a story, that story needs to be backed up by science, but without the story the grant will fall flat.

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End of the month crunch

It’s the end of the month and that means there are a lot of loose ends I need to tie up before the new month begins. Deadlines I need to hit, plots to make, projects due, heck I even have a book chapter due. There’s just a lot going on and not a lot of time to finish it all. It seems to be a common theme that things are “due” at the end of the month for me. This month is no different, but with school having started, it gets a little more hectic than normal.

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Experiment Results

It’s been a crazy week, more so than usual! The R21 grant I’m writing is due to my Co-PI today, it’s our self imposed deadline. It’s not THE deadline, but it might as well be in my mind. I’ve processed most of the data from the experiments and yesterday I said we would talk about the result from finding an error in my code. Well let’s talk about it!

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