Monday, January 21, 2013

Done and done!

2 final exams in one week. Add volunteer work at my daughter's school: math tutoring and math team coaching 3 times each, nutrition docent for two classes and staffing the CSA booth at the school wellness fair.  I was a stress monster this past week.

Oh, I also ordered supplies for the sets for the school play and made half of my daughter's costume.

How did I do?  Grade wise, I did ok.  Keeping my cool and not snapping at people?  Room for improvement.

CS 600x, Intro to Computer Science and Programming (with Python), allows students to resubmit homework code many times until the software passes the suite of software tests.  Thus, 100% on homework is not difficult to attain. The exams, however, are not so easy and offer more limited checks.  I passed the course even before the final so there was less stress.

PH207x, Biostatistics and Epidemiology, gave much more limited checks (only one try at vaguely-worded multiple choice problems--even for homework), so I wasn't sure I would pass.  I needed 78% on the final to attain the 85% overall average required to pass.  Fortunately, the final was not any harder than a typical homework from the latter half of the class.  Whew.

Biostats is definitely a class that starts out easy and then builds to some very deep and difficult stuff.  Some favorite things I learned:
  • The visual explanation of what's going on beneath "turn the crank" linear regression.  I've never seen it presented that way before.  Why didn't someone explain that to me 25 years ago?
  • What are the odds?  I didn't know and I never before cared because I preferred my statistics stated in probabilities.  But, I had never before pondered the beautiful symmetry of odds tables. Now, I will keep both odds and probabilities in my toolkit and use the one appropriate for the situation.
  • The application of Bayes' theorem to experimental design.  Suppose you are interested in cancer research, but it's unethical to give people cancer just so you can study them.  With Bayes'  theorem, you can just flip the conditional probabilities around to design an experiment that you can perform without giving people cancer (or some other disease).
  • Soft skills are more highly valued in the biological sciences than in the physical sciences.  One professor began .each. lecture segment with, "Welcome back everybody.  Thank-you for coming."  I can't recall any physics professor saying that*.
* The nicest thing any physics professor said was when I asked him why he always picked on me in class.  He looked kind of taken back and then replied, "Because you are my benchmark student. You are the kind of student that should be able to follow the lecture, if I am doing my job.  So, if you are confused, then I know I have to backtrack."

He further went on that he can see the confusion written plainly on my face, and the (mostly much taller) male students leave a front row seat open for me, which makes for a handy benchmark student.


  1. Just discovered your blog. I love this post. Congrats on your exam results too. I've never really got the point of Bayesian analysis, but I think you've just explained it!

  2. Benchmark student - that's almost like having a private instructor when you're getting such focused attention. YEAH.

    When I was teaching (art) it was always an interesting challenge to keep the class flowing while not boring the students who got "it" or making the ones who didn't feel less than in some way.

    A subjective subject matter was tricky too because most of my students were looking for one right answer and wanted to get "it" right.


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