It is expected that someone in academia develops the whole mathematical apparatus needed for the rest of us to keep wrong steps to a minimum. I believe until that point we will not get closer to a general solution, although of course the more knowledge we hoard about particular cases, the better!
I'll contact you regarding those positions :D
PS: out of curiosity, with what version of MNIST do you work? Binary (B&W, 0 or 1) or grayscale? And what image resolution?
MNIST grayscale, 7x7 pixels = 49 continuous variables
meaning we can do something already with 5 qubits)
Yes, hope to see you around !