“Opening your mind” and “learning new things” are all well and good until you actually do them….
I try to be an open-minded person and I generally impulsively go wherever my interests take me. This is the attitude that compelled me to take an advanced optional statistics course in grad school. If you follow my blog, you may remember that I was struggling with statistics last semester, but then, somehow, ended up enjoying the subject (more here). Statistics was a particular challenge for me, but in the end, the concepts made so much sense that I actually enjoyed the content. For these reasons, when I was scheduling for my spring semester, I barely hesitated before signing up for an advanced statistics course — oh boy.
While I enjoyed intro-level statistics, mathematical concepts have a particular way of escalating quickly. That is to say — I was quickly out of my depth.
While I thought we would pick up where we left off (moving from simple linear regressions to multivariable ones), instead we began to learn the statistical programming software known as “R.” If you have even a smidge of computer programming or coding knowledge, you won’t find R to be any particular challenge, but, dear Reader, I know absolutely nothing when it comes to data strings or commands. I literally could not input a single command into the software without getting a big red error message warning me “Error: incorrect number of dimensions” or “Unexpected number of tokens $”.
Luckily, in the class we are given plenty of resources to consult. In other discussion courses, when I see hundreds of pages of reading assignments listed, I roll my eyes and think well, that’s certainly NOT going to happen. However, when I see 5 chapters assigned in the Basic R Programming textbook, I make sure to take diligent notes. Each page of the reading contains essential information and a skill worth mastering. Feeling overwhelmed, I tried to just skim the readings, but then when I attempted the homework problem, I could conjure no piece of relevant information to help me through the exercise. So, I went back to the textbook, read, and took actual notes (which comprise 60% screenshots to capture all of the R commands, but also saves time on typing). Learning something new is no easy feat!
While it is somewhat easy to cruise by if you are taking a course in a subject you are familiar with, there are no viable shortcuts when you are an absolute beginner. Even taking statistics last semester wasn’t square one for me, because I took it (eons ago) in high school. However, when it comes to statistical programming, I might as well be studying Thai or rocket science.
Learning R is slow going and seriously cutting into the better part of my life (… I’m dramatic, I know). However, being diligent about one’s studies is the only way to make the class worth it. Pursuing the subject to get an A, may get you an A, however, working to understand the concepts, will, hopefully, make you a master.
Learning something new is not always easy, or fun, or (honestly) even worth it at times, however, if you are going to learn something new — you must learn it, which may mean a challenge, struggle, and many hours trying to get simple concepts to stick in your head.
So, when it comes to learning something completely, totally, and utterly new, I wish us both all the best.