Monday, October 3, 2016

It is now safe to turn off your interface

So, it's been a while since I posted anything, and I probably fell off everyone's radar over the past couple years, but I wanted to give a brief explanation.

Once I started getting data for my thesis project, I put everything else on the back burner, including my health. I gained some weight, which wasn't unexpected, but that set off a cascade of problems. Thesis work slowed to a crawl and tasks that usually took a day were taking weeks. What I thought was just mental fog from poor sleep and stress turned out to be one of the most severe cases of sleep apnea my doctor had ever seen.

I took a year to focus on my health, which has been an incredibly slow process, before sitting down to churn out the rest of the thesis document. My advisor went on an extended sabbatical to run a scientific institute in Europe after agreeing to review the document progress, forcing me to finish the whole process through my thesis committee. That process took 2 years, but in July, I (finally) successfully defended my dissertation.

"The document" (Is this considered prior publication?)

That's the VERY short version of the toughest 5 years of my life. Now I have a PhD in Neuroscience from Brown University for work in the field of implantable brain-computer interfaces as part of the BrainGate project and John Donoghue's lab. I am very grateful for all the support I received from students and staff, and especially my thesis committee (David Sheinberg, Leigh Hochberg, Mike Paradiso, and Phil Kennedy).

When people hear the details, they always ask, "Was it worth it?" Much of the experience was incredibly rewarding and I worked alongside many brilliant people. But, having been through it, I could never recommend graduate school to anyone. At least not yet. As with all schooling, the value of the experience is really determined by the opportunities it unlocks. So, when asked if it was a worthwhile endeavor, I always respond, "It depends on what comes next."

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I'm now looking for industry positions that will take advantage of my background in alternative interfaces, technology, medicine, science, and business. That could mean VR, AR, BCIs, assistive devices, HIDs, etc, but I'm not interested in a traditional post-doc arrangement. The bigger, more complex, and more disruptive the problem, the better.

For others in a similar situation, but with less experience between undergrad and grad school, check out Free the PhD, a project by my friend Vay who also left academia for industry. There's plenty of good advice there regarding the differences between academic and corporate general mindset and communication.

For now, DNI will be placed in suspended animation. It was awesome conversing with all of you here and at conferences and workshops. I will post small status updates from time-to-time, but this will be all for now. Thanks much!