Wednesday, March 10, 2010

data love

Something awesome happened this morning. There I was, minding my own business in my history class, and then bam. Whoa.

Backing up. We had to write a paper for history, analyzing an article, determining what house of history (basically, from what standpoint the author writes about history, such as marxist, environmentalist, etc) our author uses and if he incorporates other houses of history in it, etc. Anyway, last week sometime we studied something called quantitative history, which is where the author pulls in data, graphs, charts, all that sort of thing in order to make his point. This is, so far, my favorite house of history, because it makes the most sense to my weird, three-quarters-science, one-quarter-humanities brain. But until today I didn't realize just how much I really like this sort of stuff.

This morning in class we went around telling each other about what we wrote about for our papers (there are only 10 people in the class). First we went around the room and said which house of history we picked, then later we went back and actually discussed the content of our articles and papers. Of the class, 2 picked empiricism, 2 environmentalism, 1 Annales school, 3 quantitative, 1 anthropological, and 1 marxist. Our professor thought it was interesting that 3/10 of the class picked quantitative history, and asked everyone how they felt about the use of graphs and charts and the like in historical writings. Several people answered, saying that they found them confusing and they didn't like when they were used in historical pieces. Data can be manipulated, that sort of thing.

Then I raised my hand, prefacing myself with a disclaimer: "I know I'm the outlier in here, I'm the only science-y person," and then went on to say, "but oh my god I love numbers." (This impassioned statement made my professor almost spit out his coffee and then proceed to crack up.) "I love data and charts and graphs and seeing all the statistics. They make so much sense and they are so fun, data is so cool to play with, I love numbers". And at that moment as I was saying all this about data/statistics/numbers, I felt something that I almost have never felt before in my whole life. This swelling happened in my chest, this feeling like I was just going to burst out of my body. The only other time I have felt like that was when I've been in love. Maybe a similar experience would be that feeling you get when taking in a simply breathtaking view.

I was explaining this phenomenon to two of my wonderful friends, who have both just decided which grad school they are going to, and both who are, it seems to me, pretty into what they're studying, over lunch and asked them if that's what it's like to be passionate about something, is that how it feels? I have never felt like that before, what does it mean doctor? And they confirmed my suspicions, "Yup, that's what it's like!"

Oh my god.

I knew I liked playing with data and numbers. I've always had a knack for remembering the most random statistics. For god's sake I remember for years random license plates I'll see on the highway. I've always been fascinated with census data and other demographics. I want to know how things relate to each other, but specifically in a quantitative way. I like gathering up data and making charts with it. It's so interesting!!!!! You find out the most ridiculous things. My favorite thing to do at DePauw with the first newspaper of the year is look at all the demographics of incoming students, like where they're from and all the percentages. I get obsessive about sports statistics, wanting to know all sorts of things, like when the last time x amount of points were scored, or other completely trivial things like that.

The thing is, I don't really want to study statistics. I just like playing around with numbers and data and seeing what happens with them. While I do, to some extent, care about statistical significance (that was my favorite actual math thing to do in AP Stats in high school), the rest of running statistics on things doesn't necessarily appeal to me, although maybe if I got to know more about it it would, and it would make more sense.

But I think to do anything with data analysis or data visualization or even be a sports team statistician I have to have some kind of statistics and other math background. This kind of sucks for me since the only math I've had in college was discrete. The computer science program here doesn't have a very big emphasis on math at all - maybe only for the graphics class do you even need to know anything besides basic addition. So I am not at all prepared for any sort of career dealing with numbers, which is incredibly unfortunate. Math also tends to be the area I struggle the most with, so it is incredibly interesting that it is the area I seem to be most drawn to.

I think I will still apply to more grad schools in a different field from museum work (although I think I could definitely get in number work in museums). I would like to apply to sports management programs, because I'd say, that if I had to say what I'm passionate about (before my enlightenment experience this morning), it would be sports. One suggestion S had was that I could always minor in statistics. What an awesome idea, right?! Duh Maria. You can have minors in grad school, and that could potentially be a perfect combination.

Anyway, I just got so excited about the fact that I had this crazy, wonderful experience that I had to write it down. I also want to be writing more; it helps my sanity to get it out, and I want to remember as much about my time at DePauw as possible.

2 comments:

  1. Dear Sir,

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    ReplyDelete
  2. HA! That is the most robust spam comment I have ever seen.

    Anyway, Maria, that's so very interesting. I know what feeling you are talking about exactly. But I've never analyzed it like that. Probably intentionally, because then I know exactly what my "passion" is (music and songwriting, which is about the least realistic pursuit for me this side of the NBA). Ironically, it would have served me well to have a love for numbers - in any form - at DPU, or of course during freshman year at Rose-Hulman Engineering Death Camp.

    So that's cool that you at least can say you have some kind of passion - and that you might be able to form a plan around it.

    I will say this: 90% of the numbers/data lovers I've ever met would NOT be well-rounded enough to, say, type up the anecdote above in such a readable fashion. So you're way ahead of the game there. Haha

    ReplyDelete