Apparently Thursday was #DayofScience. To celebrate I thought I’d share a couple typical if my typical ‘days of science’.

Experiment day:

July 13th was actually a specimen scan day so the schedule is *quite* fresh in my mind as I write this.

3:45 a.m.

Wake up (*yawwwwwn*), drive to work with radio blasting & careful eyes out for early morning deer trying to cross the highway.

4:30 a.m. – 7:00 a.m.

Arrive at medical center/research center. Clock in, change into scrubs, head into cadaver lab and prep specimens for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning (i.e. put in labeled biohazard bags and try not to let them leak all over)

Meet technologist at scanner, get protocols set up, eat bagels while magical physics makes images

7:30 a.m.

Pull up images, freak out because artifact screwed up the one image we didn’t check on scanner before ending the session


Wrapping 😦      (The bright blob near the bottom is actually the top part of the shoulder, it shouldn’t run into the dark shapes of the scapula and humerus. MRI can use the phase of the molecule’s spin as a localizer by varying the magnetic field, and thus the resulting spin frequency, over the length or width of an image. Different frequencies makes the spins in different locations hit different phases of the spin at the same time. Here the MRI scanner got confused about the pixel location because the location-specific-phase for the upper and lower pixels in the image were the same due to inadequate phase range, so the computer thought the pixels should be in same location & overlaid them. Not helpful.)

7:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.

Talk to radiologist, technologist, research assistant, surgeon; get make-up scan slot squeezed in

Re-prep specimen, lug downstairs after wrapping *very* carefully so as to not freak out patients, get scanned, lug back upstairs

Get images off PACS (picture archiving and communication system), check images, sigh with relief because they look ok, let research assistant and surgeons know we’re ok to move forward.


Better MR image (left) next to CT image of same shoulder (right). No weird wrapping this time!

9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

Wait for surgeon who’s doing the research surgery to get through a morning case. Eat lunch while working on an end-of-year department summary.

11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Discuss surgery with surgeon, find out he needs measurements from CT, run down to CT to talk to radiology tech, get 3D volumes, run back upstairs, find out 3D view angles aren’t quite right.

1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Coordinate to get radiologist and surgeon to talk to each other, finally succeed and call surgery off in order to allow time to get measurements, firm up research plan.

Reduce frustration about delay by getting a hot cocoa.

Put shoulder specimens back in fridge, change out of scrubs. Mourn loss of clothing with real pockets.

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Come up with way to do the measurements in Mimics with more adjustable volume rendering, send examples to surgeon for approval.

3:00 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.

Meet with director of another department, discuss collaborative research projects.

3:15 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Work more on research presentation, emails, a few other small tasks.

Talk to PI about an industry project proposal.

Realize I forgot to eat my afternoon snack when my stomach cramps so hard I feel slightly ill.

5:30 p.m.

Head home!!! Shirk actual dinner making duties in favor of heating up pasta and sauce-from-a-jar with husband, who also worked a long day.


4:30 a.m. versus 4:30 p.m. after wayyyy too many trips up and down the stairs

Normal, much more relaxed day:

7:00 a.m.

Arrive at work, clock in, check email

Grab large coffee (yay!) from hospital cafeteria

Chat with PI briefly in break room

8:00 – 9:00 a.m.

Work on PowerPoint presentation for PI

9:00 a.m.

Fill out some IRB paperwork

Bug PI for IRB paperwork signatures

Scan/mail IRB paperwork

Re-print and scan/mail at least one piece of IRB paperwork because I invariably miss something…

10:30 a.m.

Snack time! First snack of the day while starting some Matlab analysis

Debug code, run code, look at the lovely resulting data plots

12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Lunch, either with coworkers or at desk with a book

1:00 p.m. -4:00 p.m.

Work on some image segmentation on Mimics, manually tracing regions of interest in MR or CT scan images on touchscreen

Grab a second (smaller) coffee and afternoon snack

More Mimics!

4:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Meet with researchers from another department to go over a collaborative project

4:30 p.m. – 4:50 p.m.

Send out more emails, wrap up work

Make to-do list for next day

5:00 p.m. Leave and go running 🙂



More specifics – why is it especially challenging for *me* to come up with viable research ideas in my new situation?

I’m hoping the answer to this question isn’t “I’m an idiot with no original thoughts.” That would be…unfortunate 😛

Ok, so I think there a actually few external factors. First, I’ve decided, once again, to shift fields. I’m shifting with the broad orthopedics research umbrella and will be applying many of my grad program skills (writing, Matlab image processing, Gavin some clue how joints and cartilage work, etc.). However, my shift into the imaging sub-field (MRI, CT, etc.) means that there is an overwhelming amount of learning to do.

First, I need to quickly get up to speed on what’s been done and what’s possible – both in general and with our available resources (equipment, participant recruitment, technical expertise, funding, collaborators, personnel, etc.) I’m doing a lot of extra technical reading about the techniques that we use and taking in everything I can. There are SO MANY ACRONYMS :-0

I’m getting buried in reading (it’s all so interesting! But I need to figure out how to focus it…) and am only getting a small glimpse so far of who’s who in the literature. As I was completing my thesis I was finally feeling like I could list major players and their specific research focuses in my specific master’s work research area (fatigue wear in joint replacement components, behavior of the polyethylene that I was simulating).

Now I’m looking at an entirely different pool of researchers and haven’t yet seen enough papers by the same groups/authors to start making those connections. Although I didn’t usually limit my searches to specific authors or groups, seeing the continuity between advisors, their students, and various collaborators gave me a context to frame a lot of the literature that I saw, and a good idea of who would be coming out with the studies suggested in existing papers.

In addition to shifting sub-fields, I’ve also moved into a slightly different type of research. The institution that I’ve joined is focused on applied clinical research, which means we are more focused on finding and solving specific, immediate problems than just exploring. My thesis project was in engineering, which is also fairly specific-existing-problem-and-solution focused, but it was also a little more open-ended and definitely not clinical except in a very big-picture way.

As a non-clinician working on clinical problems, it is tough for me to identify problems that are more than merely interesting – they also need to address a clinical problem and take efficiency, feasibility, cost, and patient compliance into account. I keep coming up with interesting ideas, only to realize that the slight benefit of extra information may not actually improve treatment over the existing diagnostic techniques once time and cost are taken into account. I’m gradually figuring out how to balance this based on the previous and current work being done in my department.

I’m definitely looking forward to becoming more involved with our clinician investigators and collaborators and gaining access to their insight into the most pressing problems and how the proposed solutions compare to the existing methods of addressing these clinical challenges. I have a feeling I may get knocked down a few pegs, but I’ll certainly be learning and growing in the process!

** Any suggestions for strategies to overcome these challenges are more than welcome 🙂 **