Monday, March 16, 2015

Thoughtful Thoughts: Mod 1 and That One Time I Tried to Knit

I've been staring at this pesky flashing cursor for over forty minutes now (although admittedly, I think I accidentally fell asleep for about 37 of those minutes while lying in bed) and I can't figure out why writing this blog post is turning out to be so difficult for me. I suppose on one hand, it's not surprising that my productivity has bottomed-out; after hours and days of wading through figures, trees, and colorful geometric dots, your brain begins to feel suspiciously less like grey matter and a lot more like a crusty bowl of banana pudding. Banana pudding is not very good at generating thoughtful reflections. 

On the other hand, the mod 1 data summary and abstract was the most pressing matter on hand for this week, and now that 5pm has come and gone, the only things standing between me and spring break are a couple of psets and the primer design memo. Not quite home free, but certainly nothing to complain about. I should be eager to wrap this up with some culminating final thoughts. 

Thoughtful thought #1: When trying something for the first time, don't get discouraged. 

I think the hardest part about the scientific writing required for mod 1 was actually just getting started. Although the data for all of the samples had been posted over a week before the due date, I didn't really start sifting through the data and planning out figures until Saturday night. It was more than just a bad case of procrastination though. What it really came down to was the uncertainty that I felt and the unfamiliarity I had with manipulating the raw data and translating that into a cohesive piece of scientific writing.

I have never had experience with scientific writing before, so every time I thought to myself, "hey, right now would be a great time to get started on your 20.109 assignment because, you know, waiting til the last day is a really horrible idea", I would open openwetware, maybe pull up a MEGA file, but would ultimately be too intimidated by not having the slightest clue as to what I was doing.

In the fifth grade, after a particularly riveting needle-point unit, my class delved into the wild, wild world of knitting. I was supposed to be making a scarf, but having never knitted before, and perhaps lacking a bit in the manual dexterity department, I ended up with a sad puddle of mangled yarn. In the fifth grade, I gave up. I got discouraged by my initial inadequacy and since then, I have never had even the slightest itch to take up knitting again. 

In 20.109, I didn't have the option of giving up. With the Monday deadline looming, I was forced to face my inadequacies and to learn, mostly by trial and error, what was definitely not the right thing and what (I hope) would be an acceptable draft. The drafts of the figures and topic sentences that we had to turn in throughout the module were extremely helpful, and for the most part, learning from this feedback, as well as from examples in established papers, I was beginning to pick things up bit by bit. 

The hardest part for me was getting over that initial roadblock. All parts of the assignment were new to me so no one section was particularly hard. They all were. But once I hunkered down Sunday morning, the work started coming easier. Not that it was getting any easier to know what to write, just that I was getting more comfortable with trying new things and pushing forward. 

If only fifth-grade Krystal hadn't been so easily discouraged, who knows, I could have been a world-champion knitter by now or something.

Thoughtful thought #2 (though I guess this is more a piece of advice for my future self): For next time, I would make sure I fully understood the data and what I was going to say about it before making all of the figures.

I started backwards this time in the sense that I made all of the figures first and then started playing around with them and trying to draw conclusions from them. Obviously the PCoA graphs and the UniFrac clusters etc. would have to be run first to even have data to analyze, but I was referring to the more tailored figures, such as pie charts or Venn diagrams.

If I had had more time, I would have made some changes to my pie charts in the figures section because I felt that after drawing my ultimate conclusions, there were certain characteristics of the data that I would have liked to emphasize more on the figure. However, I had spent an ungodly amount of time clicking away at a frustratingly slow Microsoft Powerpoint and by the time I realized I wanted slightly different figures, it was too late to go back and change everything. 

A little extra time planning can go a long way in making sure you aren't scrambling to fix wonky figures at the wee hours of the morning. 

Closing thoughtful thoughts (that are probably less thoughtful and more rambling): I think that there are a lot of things that I would have done differently if I could go back and redo module 1. My first experience with scientific writing was not necessarily my most enjoyable experience (I made a lot of mistakes and questionable procrastination choices), but I would say it was one of those experiences where you learn a lot through the struggles and by the end, you can't help but feel a little bit proud of what you've made it through. The pressing question I suppose then is do I feel prepared for Module 2 now? I certainly hope so. 

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