The Wonderful World of SICB, Part I

Right now, it is 4:08am of what is now, I guess, the second day of SICB. For those who aren’t familiar with this conference, the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology is like the Mecca of conferences for biologists (undergrads to emeritus) in everything from devo bio to biorobotics.


I first went to SICB during my senior year of undergrad (so, last year). I was doing astrophysics research at the time, so I didn’t go to present or anything like that. I had applied to 8 different biology professors for grad school, and 5 of them were going to be at SICB 2016. I somehow convinced a parental unit to fund me to go and it ended up being an excellent networking decision.

I have never networked so hard in my life. Stacy, one of my current labmates, remembers seeing me there and says she saw me talking to everyone. They were “all the right people” but apparently I was booking. Most socially exhausting 2 days ever. However, since I was making the transition from mostly physics in undergrad to mostly bio in grad, going to SICB turned out to be a great way to start that slide, to meet people and become more familiar with the culture.

Sometime back in August of this year, I was just starting work on the pneufish project and I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to take it. Discussions surrounding SICB came up, and I didn’t think I would be able to go since I didn’t have a project to really present yet. Little did I know.

Apparently not having a project fully formed or even really started yet is not a good reason to not submit an abstract for research you haven’t done yet for a conference that is 4 months away. [Post-sleep edit: four negatives, wow. That’s a new PR.]

So, here I am, sitting in my hotel room at 4.14am taking a break from crunching numbers and making the presentation I have to give in a DAY to write this short blog. I am exhausted. I’ve probably had maybe 5 hours of sleep spread out in the last 2 days.

See, the problem was that I didn’t actually start experiments until the end of November, due to school priorities. And it wasn’t until the end of classes that I had fine-tuned the experimental protocol enough to be satisfied with the results, that nothing was wrong, yada yada. I spent all of reading and finals week in the lab, doing 10-12 hour experiment marathons while trying to squeeze in time to sleep and study for finals. Guess what? This left NO ROOM for actually looking at the data I was collecting. I could see it coming in, so I knew vaguely what it looked like. And then I left school for home immediately after finals. Well timed, Zane, way to shoot yourself in the foot by booking flights like 2 months in advance like a responsible adult. #Neveragain

The plan was to spend the two weeks I was at home going through the 1.5TB of video data I collected during the experiments and the 375 excel files of [6 cols,5000 rows] entries each. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men….Video analysis is a bitch. It takes forever, it’s nearly impossible to automate, and it’s cumbersome and hard to get exactly right. And I had to go through it twice, once to get midlines (of only 105 of the 375 videos, though), and once to get amplitude data.

For the numerical data, I’ve spent a good chuck of time learning Mathematica. It’s a wonderful software and it’s making data visualization really easy once I know the syntax and commands. The only problem is that it takes time to learn syntax and commands for a whole new language/software thing and increases data-mining time almost 3-fold.

And that left me at 5 days before my presentation, with little data analyzed and no slides made.

On one hand, GT had moments where life was fun, and relaxed, and an over-all enjoyable place to be. On the other, there were sometimes days, if not weeks or months, where all the professors give all their students a thesis chapter’s worth of work to do and it’s all due on the same day. Thanks to those times, GT-necessitated survivor mode has kicked in and sleep has once again become 20-minute naps spread out throughout the day, coffee has become the largest food group, and advil is taken not to prevent headaches, but to relieve muscle aches from sitting in the same chair for hours on end.

I arrived Tuesday afternoon, checked in to the hotel, and didn’t really leave the hotel, or my room, specifically, until last evening for the plenary talk. And then after the plenary talk, I came back to my room and continued working. So. Much. Fun.

I now have most of my slides made, most of my data made, and perhaps a half-day to practice my talk once I finish and go through a few drafts.

Well, it is now 4.32am. Time to get cracking again.

I plan to write several more posts about SICB, relating events, cool talks, fun things we’re doing in NOLA (once my talk is over, most likely). It’ll be fun. At some point.

Cheers,

Z

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