Monday, October 31, 2011

Graduate certificate in statistics

I finally have a sabbatical; such a relief not to have to teach for a bit. What can one usefully do during a sabbatical? Here's a preliminary list:

(a) bird watching
(b) lounge around
(c) check email relentlessly
(d) surf the web for six months straight
(e) do a statistics degree

I decided to go for (e). I never really learned statistics systematically (some would say, not at all, and they would not be far off the mark ;), which is absurd if you consider that it's practically my bread and butter (using statistics for data analysis). Why isn't everyone in psycholinguistics a professional statistician? God knows we all need that expertise.

So I surfed the web a bit and found something that kills two birds with one stone. A part time distance MSc in statistics, at Sheffield. Time commitment is 20 hours a week (i.e., 3 hours a day if you work on it seven days a week); very minimal I would say. If I cut out on reading fiction and other non-work books in the evenings after dinner, that's three hours right there every day.

At Ohio State, one of my professors, Brian Joseph, related the story of a physicist at OSU who decided to learn Sanskrit by taking one of Brian's classes; he did his studies in the evenings after dinner. Before long he was teaching the course with Brian. So my only question is: why the hell didn't I think of formally learning statistics earlier?

I'm doing the prep course first, to review the math, stats, and probability theory that is assumed for the MSc, and plan to start the MSc next year (I do have to pass the prep course, would be pretty annoying if I failed ;). And the course is great! I never realized back in school that math is FUN, probability theory is FUN, I only understood that once I got to Ohio State. And I'm again enjoying struggling with unfamiliar problems.  The only annoying thing is that the homework assignments have to, of course, be submitted online, and so I feel compelled to typeset them nicely using Sweave+LaTeX, which is very time consuming. At Ohio State I never did that, I just wrote them up by hand (e.g., in formal language theory or discrete math or logic classes). Somehow the idea of an online submission demands typesetting, I can't bring myself to write it with a pn, scan the solution, and send it...

The course itself is good so far (too early to tell; e.g., in the stats segment we are drawing boxplots "by hand", which I did for the first time in my life today). But the textbooks could have been better, IMHO.