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Science Must Go On!

June 6, 2011

Well, so far, the charge ahead has been extremely successful but for unexpected reasons. This would be why I have not updated in several days. The Tuesday after Memorial Day marked the first in a long, and so far unending stretch, of 12-14 hour days. However, that Tuesday morning started with an emergency trip to the Lander Medical Clinic. That morning and the previous morning I woke up covered in red, raised splotches all over my legs and arms. I was itchy all over and my eyes and face were swollen. I was uncomfortable and scared to be frank. The doctor diagnosed it as a severe allergic reaction…to what I and she do not know. However, it resulted in her prescribing a 21 day long series of Prednisone which is a steroid. She also is having me taking two different antihistamines at night. Basically, Prednisone works as an extreme upper for me. I am exceedingly focused and energetic throughout the entire day. I get into the office by about 8:30 in the morning, stop work at about 7:00pm and then put in a nice workout at the gym and I still feel rather energetic. Herein lies the problem, it keeps me from sleeping even with a double dose of Benadryl. Though I must say, all the hives are gone and I have only minor itchy patches here and there. I get a ton of work done and some great physical exercise, but I am completely and utterly exhausted. But onto the rest of the work…

Tuesday and Wednesday were filled with massive amounts of preparation for subjects to arrive in Lander and planning how the next two months would work. This of course consists of tweaking data sheets, making an inordinate amount of copies so that there would be data sheets for each subject, making excel files for data, making schedules, attending logistics meetings, and lots and lots of talking. Thursday through right now (and through this coming Wednesday) has been nothing but scheduling subjects and collecting the first round of data from each person. Hopefully, I will have about 30 subjects, and the first round of testing takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. It is grueling trying to get 30 subjects in a matter of a few days when one has to take into account their regular NOLS schedule, meal times, and sleep. This would be impossible, and I truly mean impossible, if it were not for the second new and very important development – I now have a research assistant.

Kate Herden, came to NOLS to be an intern for the Public Relations Department and will be here in Lander through December. Through methods and reasons unknown to me, she thankfully got co-opted onto my project. Kate has been dealing with so many of the little details I have not been able to focus on while collecting data. She basically hunts down all prospective research subjects, tells them about the project, schedules them for the first round of testing, and then hunts them down again if they do not show up on time. Kate also works out the different meal schedules for subjects who have to skip a meal in order to take part in the first round of data collection. She is also really great at talking with the NOLS students about the project and keeping them company as I collect data on other people. This has allowed me to focus purely on the science – on collecting data. It has removed a huge responsibility. The impact of her presence and work came into the forefront yesterday morning.

I began collecting data at 9AM yesterday morning and at about 9:40AM, halfway through the first subject of the day, my equipment stopped working. It completely stopped working giving me the message RS-232 Communication Error. I tried quick fixes like turning the system off and back on, but no luck. I pull out the manual and find it contains no Troubleshooting Section for me to look up RS-232 Communication Error. I go to the manufacturer website – no Troubleshooting section. I call the tech support line to discover that they do not have weekend staff. I was stuck dead in the water. I came close to a panic. Kate was kind enough to manage the one subject whose test I could not complete and to also communicate with the next subject in line I would not be able to test on time. With that off my mind, I was able to focus on what to do. Basically, my equipment stopped communicating with the computer, such that I am not able to have a live feed of data so I can watch minute-by-minute data as it is collected. I am still unsure why this is happening. I have a theory that the USB connection (cord from the equipment to the computer) comes loose during the running trials. There is not much that can be done about this. So, I decided to set up the system such that all the data would be collected and temporarily saved on the piece of equipment and then I would manually transfer it over to the computer once the data collection trial was over. This is far from ideal because I can’t watch the data being collected in real time so that if there is a problem with another connection or the battery I won’t know until I transfer the data to the computer. This obviously runs a bit of a risk, but it is clearly better than not being able to collect any data whatsoever. Science must go on! I have been able to collect data on about eight subjects since the new system set up, there have been only a few minor hiccoughs but it is more or less running smoothly.

Here is basically what the system setup looks like. There is a subject connected to the equipment (the mask and white unit on his chest) and a connection between the unit and a computer.


Here is a picture of one of my subjects from last year wearing the mask (the data collection unit is put in the top of the backpack) walking around a track with a heavy backpack on.

Tonight I have to give a presentation at the NOLS orientation for my subjects. I will then collect data on 2-3 more people tonight and probably leave the office around 11pm! Monday, I will be collecting data on 7-8 more subjects during the day. Tuesday, Kate and I will travel down to Vernal, UT to collect data on about 11 subjects for the other semester course taking part in this study. There are many busy, stressful days ahead. I am just going to hope the new system setup works and I can get through this first round of data collection limping if I have to.

There will be pictures of data collection to come!


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kay permalink
    June 6, 2011 8:27 pm

    Cara, you are handling these problems beautifully! Fieldwork is so demanding! What a strange problem with the computer hook-up, and what a shame to hit at the crucial moment. I hope it is fixable eventually.

    Glad you have the allergic reaction under control, too – you will have to know what it was, sometime, so you can avoid it!

    And finally, what a godsend to have Kate’s help, and to not be facing all the stresses alone! -Kay

    • June 7, 2011 12:14 am

      Kay, thank you so much for the encouragement. It means so much and really does help!

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