Something that has always challenged me is creating new momentum for a project or experience. I've always been quite good at exceeding expectations when they are laid out for me, but I sometimes struggle with creating my own expectations and goals. At the halfway mark of this experience, I found myself looking for small projects to keep me on my toes and to go beyond the learning experience I've had in the lab.
For a short time, this meant that I was looking around the lab and trying to invent a design problem to create a solution to. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it left me staring off into the lab with not much to do. That's when I realized that this impulse stemmed from my desire to connect, in a very literal way, this experience to my engineering design background. However, as good as design challenges can be when they do present themselves, I've decided that I shouldn't waste time trying to fabricate them to the exclusion of simpler, less tangible goals.
There are many small tasks I can take on at work that will bring more meaning to my experience and yet have nothing to do with engineering. For example, I have often been in the room with families, alone, while Dave has to go make a quick adjustment to a prosthesis. Though my spanish is improving, I am often left with a lack of proper grammar/vocabulary to address the patients and ask them about their day, their lives, likes and dislikes, etc. So, a very valuable and extremely simple goal I've set for myself is to improve my conversation with patients at times like these. This means more actively getting on top of my spanish and even memorizing certain phrases with correct grammar, etc.
Fortunately, I've recently come into two new projects that will keep me busy until I head home. On top of the work I do at the lab, I'm going to be creating a database for military amputees that makes it easy to see who needs prostheses updates and when they need them. This will allow the government to propose all of the prosthetics work for their amputees, in any given year, all at once. This makes the whole process streamlined because the entire year's schedule can be figured out at once which cuts down on the possibility that a patient's prosthesis gets delayed due to organizational inefficiency.
The second project that I'm working on is designing a new rack to hold the large sheets of plastic we use in the lab. Right now, the plastic is leaning on a wall and wedged behind the oven which makes it super difficult to get at and even more so to put back. One of the best things about having Dave as a boss is that he is ridiculously supportive of any and every idea that I throw at him. I mentioned that the plastic was difficult to work with and we immediately started going back and forth with ideas for a solution. He basically said, Design it and we'll have it custom built. So, there's my engineering design project. And it came to me more after understanding how the lab worked than by arbitrarily looking around and picking something to change. I've got a few ideas sketched up which I'll talk to Dave about tomorrow, but I'm very excited by the independence this project gives me as well as the fact that it will become a tangible reality. I also love bouncing ideas off of Dave, and together we both start nerding out on the concepts.
The work in the lab continues to be rewarding, and I get great satisfaction out of improving at any particular task. If I were to go into this field, though, it would be as the prosthetist (or maybe an engineer designing the parts) as opposed to a technician because I need the intellectual challenge that the human physiology brings to the table. The combination of biological problem solving (determining how to fix someone's current physiology) and technical problem solving (figuring out how to actually fabricate a prosthesis/part that accomplishes that) is the best of both worlds.
All of this has certainly made me think about getting a master's degree in prosthetics. At this point, it seems to make sense to work for a bit out of college to get industry experience and get a better sense of how I fit into industry and what my specific likes/dislikes are. And then, after, to look towards a masters... I'm still pondering neuroscience and product design as two other options as well.