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Posts tagged “research

The two year countdown

Yesterday was exhausting! In the end though I had a meeting with my school-PI (I think that’s as good a nickname as any) and we discussed what my timeline is and when I see myself graduating. A lot of what we discussed revolved around the funding we just got and the fact that I’ve just taken a new job doing research full-time in a clinical (see: hospital) setting. The talk went well, he’s been supportive of the fact that I took this job and even though it’s caused some friction between school-PI and hospital-PI (formerly main-PI and Co-PI respectively) things are settling down some and I’m hoping to find some minor and probably temporary stability in life.

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On to the next paper

With one of my four papers finished and finally accepted for publication (yay!) it’s time to switch gears to getting the others done. That said, progress has been made and I’m stuck swapping between two papers at the same time since both need to be done and submitted soon. There’s some analysis that needs to happen, figures to be made, code to be written, just a lot of loose ends to tie up.

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The plastic spinal cord

Amazing spinal cord slice artwork by Greg Dunn

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

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The art in science

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

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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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The voracity for exploration

Humans have set foot on the moon, multiple times in fact. We didn’t go once, we went six different times. Six times. That feels both like an incredibly large number and an incredibly tiny number all at the same time. For you and me it probably doesn’t feel like anything special, but for the people who’ve done it, they KNOW it was life altering. They told us so and it’s a shame that in my lifetime I will probably never set foot on another planet and have the chance to feel so… insignificant.

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A small job update

It’s not a straight line to the finish, that’s for sure.

A week ago almost exactly I did something incredibly stupid. Okay, I did it because I really want it, but there’s a chance it could blow up in my face, I’m going into research full-time to help pay for my PhD. Now, I’m not paying for my PhD, that is never a good option. Instead the hospital I will be working at will be paying for my PhD now and I will get paid better while I wrap up the last two years or so of my degree (more here).

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Analysis fails

I’m an idiot. So for the past few weeks I’ve been working with our super fun new dataset! Like a big kid, I did the statistics, made the checks to ensure that the assumptions held, then got my result. Everything was going well until I realized there was a typo (here) in my code. Well it turns out that wasn’t my only problem, but everything should be fixed now… should.

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The stress of change

When I think of change, I think of fall. Maybe it’s an apt time for a change in my life then.

I’m used to things changing. In fact, when things are static it’s actually slightly scary because I never had a stable life growing up. Things were always in flux, from what state I lived in to what school I went to, every few years it was time for a huge change. But things are different now and I prefer consistency, I try to live a structured life. Even if the only reason I do is to keep things simple because I feel like I’m constantly rushing around trying to get stuff done for my degree.

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A leap of faith

Well I did something today that I will not be able to undo. Since I have a policy of honesty with this blog, I will admit that I’m scared. I don’t like taking risks, but I didn’t have a choice so now I’m going through the grieving process wondering if I’ve made the right call and how quickly I will end up regretting it. I had a choice, I made a choice, and now we wait. It’s a leap of faith, one I’m not sure I am ready to take.

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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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An unfortunate typoo

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

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The other funding options

I think I would describe my life as controlled chaos. It’s a delicate balancing act of stuff I need to do, mental health, physical health, and just my horrible luck in general. For the past few years my level of panic has been steadily increasing as the end of my funding was getting closer and closer. Try as I might, I have had no luck getting further funding for my PhD and in less than four weeks that dreaded deadline will be here. Which for those who are not students, means I will not be getting paid, my school will not be paid for, and the house of cards I’ve built will come crashing down around me. But there’s still some hope…

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A small celebration

Salted caramel apple empanadas covered in cinnamon and brown sugar, the result of my labor of love (and frustration)

It’s my Co-PI’s birthday and to celebrate I’ve been busy. The rest of the lab took care of getting a cake and hanging the decorations. Since I split my time between two labs at the moment, I wasn’t around to help and I felt slightly guilty about it. I like my Co-PI and even though he’s (probably) leaving soon I at least wanted to do something nice for him. So in spite of all the work I had to do I got to baking.

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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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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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