Wednesday, September 24, 2008

the importance of fake data

Today I gave a presentation for Chip's statistics class about my research. Everyone in the class is taking turns presenting their research and teaching the class about the statistical methods they used and why. Since I don't have any real data, we made up data for the purpose of experimenting with different statistical methods. This exercise also forced me to think critically and carefully about my hypotheses and the assumptions I'm making.

I think the presentation itself went well. People were interested, asked questions, and seemed to understand the gist of my research. However, by the end of the presentation I felt discouraged about my project because I realized that the project as I defined it for this exercise would not be feasible, affordable, or interesting.

I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling a little down about my project.* But then I had to remind myself that I have put exactly ZERO dollars and ZERO hours of real field work and data collection into that specific hypothesis. The whole point of this exercise for me is to figure out what might work and what won't, and I've found something that won't. Sham data are cheap. I've got 7 months to continue making sham data to figure out how to appropriately approach my questions and use my resources most efficiently once I get in the field and collect REAL data.

I have to remind myself to tackle my project one piece at a time, because if I think about the whole thing I just get overwhelmed and stare off into space while scratching my head and wondering how in the world I'm ever going to finish my Ph.D. I think I've got a really interesting question, but I have trouble breaking the larger question down into appropriately designed testable components, let alone recognizing which of those are most important and meaningful. Maybe I need to approach it the way I've been writing my review and work on a little piece every day. Yeah, that's what I'll try to do. I'll let you know how it goes.

*I actually think part of the problem with getting discouraged about my project during the presentation was because I hadn't eaten lunch before class and it's during my normal lunch time so by the end of my presentation I really needed some food. Food makes me happier.

2 comments:

sarcozona said...

Not eating tends to make me think EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE and then I faint.

Nicole said...

"I have to remind myself to tackle my project one piece at a time, because if I think about the whole thing I just get overwhelmed and stare off into space while scratching my head and wondering how in the world I'm ever going to finish my Ph.D."

Oh my gosh. You must be my twin. (Or many all grad students go through this?) In any case, your positive thoughts encourage me, too :-)