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April 28, 2016

#PhDin2016: April Re-cap

Wow, how am I writing my April update already? This month flew by so quickly.

I do have exciting news, though. I FINISHED MY RESULTS CHAPTERS on Thursday, April 21 at 6:52pm. Yes. This was very momentous. I can also tell you exactly what I ate, wore, etc. etc. on that day. THIS WAS VERY EXCITING, PEOPLE.

This is the face of someone who literally *just* wrote the last sentence of their Results section:


This excitement was, perhaps, even more pronounced on Snapchat:


You get the picture.


Here's why I was so happy!


1. I have nine results chapters. It's basically like I wrote nine separate manuscripts, albeit shorter, and...you know, without the hassle of peer review (yet).

Five of the chapters comprise my main results sections, as these data tell my "story" and are all from the child/adolescent cohort I study. The four appendix chapters are somewhat related (they're still mostly about sleep apnea), but the data are from studies in adults and tell a slightly different side of the story. Three of the appendix chapters are actually based on papers I've already published (this one and this one), so that made it a bit easier.

2. I was really, really busy with a lot of other things while I've been working on my results. In the last few weeks alone, I've also:

a.) Written a book chapter. For, like, an actual book people will read (AKA more than my 5-person dissertation committee).

b.) Written an IRB protocol for a study that will be the focus of my postdoc (and have endured many meetings, e-mails, phone calls, and hair-pulling-out episodes related to said protocol).

c.) Re-submitted a manuscript to a journal that had over 30 comments that needed to be addressed (and it was still rejected, which I learned about on my birthday...).

d.) Submitted abstracts to the European Sleep Research Society meeting (in Bologna, Italy this September) (my first trip to Europe!).

e.) Written a short rebuttal paper for a "debate" that we were commissioned to participate in by a journal.

f.) Did a few polysomnography hook-ups in the sleep lab (nothing like getting home from work at midnight! But no overnights recently, luckily).

f.) Somehow maintained my sanity, visited family and friends on the weekends, got back into an exercise routine, turned 27, bought front-and-center tickets to see Paul McCartney in July, and wrote. Nine. Freaking. Results. Chapters. AHHHH!

Anyway.

For the next three weeks, I'm focusing on my Introduction (it's like writing a long blog post!) and then my Discussion. And then my Abstract. And then editing those last three things. Then it's DONE. I'm passing it on to my committee the week of May 16, and defending June 7.


A few tips I've learned and adopted along the way:


1. Don't write in order.

I've always approached manuscripts by writing the Methods first (because it's easy), Results (because the tables and figures are usually ready to go at this point anyway), Discussion, then Introduction. 

In the case of my dissertation, I'm actually writing the Introduction before the Discussion, because it's much more of a longer literature review than any 1- or 2-page quick few paragraphs I'd write for a manuscript. It's great to have all the knowledge crammed into my head, fresh and ready to make sense of my results as I begin to craft the ever-so-ambiguous Discussion section.

2. Format as you go.

I've always done this anyway with basically everything I approach anyway, because it gives me peace of mind. But for a dissertation, which undoubtedly has ridiculous rules for formatting, I suggest making a skeleton of your document with proper font, spacing, page numbering, and etc. so you can just fill in the blanks. 

Also, do your references as you go. It's a lot less daunting than leaving them all for the end. (But don't ask me how I do my references. It's rather archaic. I'll leave it at that...)

3. TAKE BREAKS!

There are several days I've found myself glued to the computer, but not realized HOW glued I was until getting up to walk home. My eyes are dry, my legs are stiff, and my brain feels like it's swimming. I now make it a point to get up at least every hour, even if I'm really really engrossed in what I'm writing, just to stretch it out and get the blood flowing. Plus, undoubtedly, it helps me think much more clearly.

Here's my top tip for taking writing breaks, which is something I've done since I started blogging (and which I thought was totally unique, until learning that Ernest Hemingway also did it): take your break in the middle of a paragraph (or even a sentence), so you know EXACTLY what you'll say when you come back to the computer to start writing again. I think it's pretty common to find a good "stopping point" at the end of a paragraph or section, so you can start something fresh the next time you sit down to write. But for someone like me who requires a lot of inertia and effort to get *into* writing, this tip has helped me push forward A LOT.

So that's April, basically, and it's been a crazy one. This time next month, the dissertation will be turned in, and I'll be a week away from my defense and preparing my oral presentation. Stay tuned! 

(And, sorry, probably no fun neuroscience blogs in May. I'll be back soon!)

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