Why haven't I posted any updates on the sweat glands project? Well, I've been so mired in it, so in the thick of it, that blogging about it didn't feel like a good use of my time. And progress has been 2 steps forward/1 step back, and that's not fun to write about. But I'll write about it now, because as much as I neglect this blog, I would like to keep a loose record here of how this project is going. I'm still learning about how science actually works, and one main point of this blog is to share those realizations- remember I'm a teacher and runner turned scientist/academic. Ten years ago nobody would have predicted I'd be here, including me. So, Here's the story of how I spent 10 months searching for traction. (Note: I've edited this post and deleted an older post in an effort to embargo some details of my research while it's in progress. Going forward I'm planning to withold some details of the research and the story until it's done and published.)
We left off with a post from earlier this year. There, I described looking at cadaver skin in hopes of identifying sweat pores and characterizing them in skin impressions. That goal- identifying non-sweating pores in skin- consumed my research efforts from November 2017 through April 2018. I've determined that they can't be seen by any methods I'm likely to get my hands on. My best guess is that sweat pores in skin only become detectable when they're sweating, as the action of sweat emerging from the duct forces the pore open. So my methodological goals shifted from counting active/inactive gland ratios to simply counting active glands. The research questions remain the same.
My efforts to see sweat pores necessitated use of a crazy microscope at the UMass Light Microscopy Core (left). It took many hours of work with the help of the core's director and probably $600 in usage fees to determine that I won't be able to see pores in skin or in impressions of skin. By then I had forgotten that, for my new research goal of counting active glands while they're sweating, I could probably use my $20 usb microscope. Realizing this was both a breakthrough and embarassing. I had brought a half-million-dollar microscope into play when a $20 microscope did the job. Wow. This wasn't all quite a waste, though: I have demonstrated that pores are quite likely undetectable, and that's a finding in itself I suppose.
So while this may not have been a waste, many hours of work put in this summer were largely fruitless. I collected sweat gland data from 10 volunteers before realizing that part of the methodlogy wasn't working. I recollected data from some of the same volunteers before realizing that this too wasn't sufficient. More time and money spent spinning my wheels. I've refined the methods enough to move forward but it's still not 100%. I've got just enough money left to collect data on perhaps 20 volunteers before wrapping up this pilot study and figuring out what changes will need to be made for the bigger data collections next year. This next phase of the project will require at least $10,000 and maybe twice that, and to this end I spent the summer writing a grant and I'll be submitting 2 more in the coming months. I've even reached out to sports drink companies in hopes of setting up some collaboration. Basically I've spent lots of time grubbing for money, and I think that's how it goes in science.
Had I made the best possible decisions, and had better luck, I probably could have made it to this point in the project in 6 months instead of 10, but I guess that's part of the scientific process. Getting a PhD in science means doing something nobody's done, and by definition there's no instruction manual for that.