At the time of writing this, I stand two weeks away from travelling to attend my first academic conference ever. One month ago, I was dying to get accepted. I didn’t think I stood a chance, yet my conference submission got accepted. I still think it was a miracle: a miracle of hard-work, resilience, and determination. Here is the story!
For those who don’t know, I started working at the Georgakoudi lab at Tufts in the spring of Sophomore year. Full of excitement and thirsty for knowledge, I continued to work there during the summer of 2018. Specifically, I worked on one main project (it’s a shame I can’t publicly disclose!) as well as other smaller projects that didn’t require a lot of time. Being the hard-worker (bla bla) I am, I committed myself to excelling at my project. Of course, research is inherently risky; as a researcher, you never know whether something will work right away or if it will require months of tweaking to get right. Worse yet, if you collect some “good” data, you are never sure whether to believe the data. In research, there is always a next question to ask, a next iteration of an experiment and a next scientific frontier to tackle. As charming as this might have sounded, it is also physically and emotionally taxing for a researcher (especially one who’s trying to prove themselves in a new field!).
I did my best. I wasn’t playing games; this job was wholly my choice, so I had every reason to bring out the best of myself. For more than three months, this was my day: go to the lab, run experiments and collect data, go home and analyze data. Next day: discuss with colleageus and repeat. Thankfully, the Gods of the data chose my side and blessed me with a lot progress, bringing me closer to a publication-worthy revelation. My PI, as supportive and awesome as she is, advised me to submit an abstract to a national conference: the Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.
One week before the deadline to applying to this conference, I had collected promising data for one phenomenon I have been studying. But there was a problem: they were preliminary data. There was some question marks that needed to be answered before any conclusion could be reached. Of course, repeating an experiment takes a long time, so I had to conserve time in order to make it in time for this conference application. I took it, like many other things in my life, as a challenge: an opportunity to grow, to be faster and smarter about how I do science.
Fast forward to two nights before the deadline. It is 4 in the morning and I just spent about 3 hours collecting what I hoped to be the final decent data that I can use for my conference submission. Guess what? I realize that the data I collected was all misleading. Due to bad experimental design, all the signals I have been measuring were “polluted” with unwanted signal. Even worse, there was no soft fix for this. I had to find another way, another experiment design and even another instrument to collect data, all in less than 24 hours.
I stepped aside for a moment and asked myself a few questions. Do I really need to grind in order to apply to this conference? Of course, even if I worked non-stop till the deadline, there was no guarantee that I will collect good data. In fact, there was very little chance. Moreover, I understood that I was already exceeding the usual pace of work, and that my PI and colleageus were already satisfied with my work, and wouldn’t think less of me if I chose to go home, come back at 9am and work in a more relaxed manner. However, I also reminded myself that I have nothing to lose and only something to gain. If there is no risk involved, why would I not try? I chose to grind.
Enter the most intense 24 hours of my work life (so far).
I set a timer that shows the amount of hours, minutes, and seconds left till the deadline. I vowed to myself that I will not waste a single second. I will commit any time I have left to getting the right data and writing the best conference submission that I can in that time. I was already on just 3 hours of sleep for two days, and more cups of coffee that I could remember. I was already in beast mode, so there was nothing to change about how I behaved. I just had to maintain that state for the next 24 hours, which required a clear mind and even more coffee and Coke. Thankfully, I managed to relax every now and then, while waiting for people to respond to emails or for machines to finish data collection. Since there was no way I could use that time to help my conference submission, I decided to have fun by reading. At the time, I was in the middle of Harvard’s Business School’s must-reads. Ironically, I read an article that talked precisely about me at that time: employees so overwhelmed with work that they refuse to sleep or go about their normal life. In fact, I engaged with this article so much that I tweeted about it (and I hardly tweet anything!).
Even reading this, I can't convince myself. There is no way I'll just let it go, go to sleep, and miss invaluable hours before my deadline. One way or another, I'll try to keep up, which is something specifically advised against in this article.https://t.co/Z0zI4A2uK2— Ahmed Gado (@gadoplus) July 30, 2018
After many iterations, I managed to collect the perfect dataset that I have been meaning to collect. This happened exactly 40 minutes before the deadline, which was at midnight. This meant that I had exactly 40 minutes to look at the data, vet it, and if deemed reliable, analyze it, and finally, write up an abstract to submit for the conference. It all seemed impossible to be able to do all of that in such small time. But I went for it anyway; again, there is nothing to lose, only things to gain. Miraculously, the world finally rewarded me: the data looked great, the analysis proved robust to a level even beyond my expectations. All the pieces fit together, and I finally submitted the abstract. One month later, another miracle happened: it got accepted 😌
[please excuse any brevity or misspellings in this post, it is 3am 😆 If anything is unclear, contact me. I’d be happy to clarify!]