Thursday, November 19, 2009

Unanswered Questions from Statistics

Yesterday I finally became elligible to register for spring classes. I'm pretty sure that I'm in the lowest priority group, as I am a non-degree student with only 11 earned credit hours in the system. I'm undecided on what I'm actually going to take, but I have staked claims to spots in three different classes before things fill up. And three fairly different courses they are, as one is in the School of Art, one is in the College of Engineering, and one is in the College of Business Administration.

I need to jettison at least one of them, probably two. Not only am I working full time at my regular job in the spring, but I am also dealing with all manner of crap from my summer/consulting work that they are apparently not paying me for.

The ones that seem most expendable are the art class (freshman-level graphic design survey) and the statistics class (another so-called "graduate" level statistics class in the College of Business Administration). At the moment I'm signed up for a class on dealing with categorical data. I'm trying to decide whether I'm motivated enough to learn what I need about categorical data withuot a class. On the one hand, I have practical problems to solve that are filled with categorical data, so I do have a real reason to figure this stuff out. On the other hand, though, am I really going to learn enough without doing homework and getting feedback and without the context and whatnot that a real statistician can give to the material?

Of course I don't know how realistic the hopes of feedback are, as in the current statistics class the homework grader's notations are mind-bogglingly inscrutible. Points are taken off without comment. The most recent assignment I received back had only a number of points earned but without any notation of the number of points possible. And I worry that if the class veers into the theoretical that my head will explode. Math grad students taking the stats department's so-called theory class have reported back to me about egregious violations of the rules of calculus. The professor will evaluate iterated integrals in capricious orders without any consideration of whether the limits of integration need to be reconsidered.

And how alarming is it that although I have been absolutely terrible at paying attention in class that I was the first person done with the quiz today in statistics class (and fairly confident of my answers)? I have the same problem paying attention in this stats class that I did in the math classes that I took during my freshman year of college. When I find a class to be not very challenging, I end up not paying attention at all in class, and then I find myself behind. I end up doing much better in classes that I am not well-prepared for and in which I need to work hard. This is the exact opposite of the advice that I give the freshmen, but long ago I realized that they are not like me.

And does anyone else go to office hours for statistics class? Based on the small amount that I know about the grade distribution, there are an awful lot of students in the class who know less about statistics than I do (which I find somewhat alarming, as my classmates include statistics grad students who majored in statistics as undergrads as well as grad students in data-driven fields who have already done research). And yet, I never run into anyone else when I go to office hours. And I am in office hours all the freakin' time. I always have about a zillion questions.