Sunday, June 27, 2010

Statistically Yours

Let me sum up:
Email I'm sending to bid farewell to my grad school cohort...

"I wanted to send an email to ya'll before I head out to internship. I can Pollyanna-up lots of situations, but I can also imagine grad school experiences that would have been really miserable. I've loved my time here and a lot of my best memories involve you folks.

Life is full of uncertainty...sometimes it can be difficult to predict what the future holds. So as we continue heading off on different paths, I have this wish for all of you:

I hope that life treats you well. I hope that you keep pursuing the things you care about even when it doesn't, because a lot of people will be touched by the good, hard work you all are doing.

I also hope, on sunny days, that you guess it's going to be sunny and leave your umbrella at home (because no one likes to carry an umbrella when it's sunny out). But most of all, on rainy days, I truly hope that you guess it's going to rain and bring your umbrella with you. Because I think we all know what the awful alternative is."

Let me splain:

This is my first text-only post. Please take my word that tears were shed as I composed this missive. I think the email is pretty geeky because it's a build up to a statistics joke. Many of you geeks will recognize the punchline as a descriptions of type I and type II error, banes of science!

The email also hinges on an inside joke. The stats classes in our program are generally frustrating--they're taught outside the department and often don't apply to the kinds of studies most of us design (though this situation is gradually improving). The stats class we all took in our first semester of our first year was taught by a woman (we'll call her Sally) whose sunny demeanor and treacly tone might have been more at home in a kindergarten classroom. I'm pretty stats phobic, so I actually appreciated being a little patronized, but she rubbed most of my classmates the wrong way. After she did a lesson on probability that hinged on her distributing Salted Nut Rolls to the class, her command of our respect and attention flagged notably.

End game came during her lesson on type I/type II error. She drew the requisite hypothesis matrix on the board, filling it in with various scenarios involving weather prediction. When she wrote "Sally gets wet" in the type II error quadrant, it was pretty much all over.

~Geek out

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