Drinking from a firehose

YES – I’m talking about grad school. I’m taking, what I understand to be, two of the most difficult courses to start with simultaneously in this program (many forums and the advisors themselves recommend you not do it). These are 6040 – computing for data analysis and 6501 Intro to analytics Fortunately, my computer science and extensive data analysis background is making 6040 a straight-forward endeavor. So far, this class takes me about two nights per week, and I’m about two weeks ahead, which means if I have to blow off a week, and I’ll get to that in a second, without any sort of negative impacts. Even then, that class, in particular, is a bizarre hybrid of basic introductory computer science and programming concepts mixed with fairly advanced and sophisticated data manipulation techniques. For me it’s a weekly ‘language drill’ – for the lack of anything else to call it. I am learning a lot, and the main thing I’m learning is that I’d be hard-pressed to justify the extensive use of python for data analysis in my current context. It’s fast and all, but not the kind of thing that lends itself to summary and computation of dozens of variables.

For the other class (6501), today is the last day I’m allowed to turn in my week 2 homework. This particular week’s lectures, notes, and homework took me, and I’m not exaggerating, just shy of 30 hours. Fortunately, the homework is done (only just, I realized today I’d neglected to scale the inputs for the model). Said homework write-up is just under 15 pages long (with tables, figures, text and shockingly little R code). This class basically gives you a concept, some cool R functions, a handful of sources, and a dedicated discussion forum (which is remarkably productive), and then the homework (or lab, whatever). The homework amounts to maybe 3 questions, one of which is meant to simply assess that you understand how to apply the method being discussed. The other two questions are brief paragraph asking for you to analyze some dataset using the concept & functions discussed along with some end-goal. Your job, as the student, is to analyze that data, write it up, and present it. Honestly, this is how I make my dollars. Granted, I don’t do the deep analysis, just the superficial numerical stuff, but this should be easy, right? NO. not even a little bit. Normally, I’ve got time, on the order of weeks to sift through data, and not only that, when I get stuck, I can set it aside for a day or two, work on something else and come back. This is not possible here. Not only are the concepts largely to me, I also have to develop an understanding well enough to explain the approach, methods, and outcome over the weekend.

Now, for the firehose part (bet you thought I was already there). The lectures and class discussion drop on Monday. This week, I had the good fortune of having Monday off, which afforded me the lovely space on Saturday to get into a totally unnecessary ditch involving a two dozen lines of code that was remedied Sunday morning with a single parameter… Anyhoo, There I was Monday morning, feverishly trying to figure out where to start with question 2 (of 3), when the new lectures dropped and the next weeks’ class discussion questions were posted. Plus, I knew (hadn’t checked, but knew), that this weeks’ 6040 homework had ALSO dropped. On top of all of this, I’m trying to get through a project at work that we do every other year, and helping to kick-off a massive annual project. The only saving grace thinking about next week is that I can reduce my effort in the other class washout falling behind there.

Monday, was not a great day. Ultimately, I kept my nose to the grindstone and things are fine. But, here I am on Wednesday, probably not able to take more than just these few minutes to myself to knock out a poorly written blog post before working my way through the lectures and notes for 6501 in prep for this week’s homework.

So that’s my update – I’m learning a lot, and not just like “oh, cool – I just found out about this k-means model in R, you can use for clustering”, I mean like: “Oh, so with k-means, I can probably develop a state-wide cluster-sample of communities to generate a reliable regional estimate of harvests – or at a minimum demonstrate that it’s not really practical.” Yes, I still have to learn a LOT with any of the topics we’ve been given, but it’s enough to actually implement some of the ideas in the real world – and that’s pretty cool.

Image by AntOne_01 from Pixabay

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