I never liked the happy Christmas songs

It snowed on the end of town I work in Thursday night, so when I got over there Friday morning, the roads were wet and there was a very thin layer of snow still on the grass and parking lot. It’s now warmed up into the 50s-60s, so my tiny fleeting glimpse of winter didn’t last. But for a brief moment Friday morning, it looked and felt like winter.

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Bad kids and other mythical creatures

My mind has a tendency to bounce all over the place, which I think is a result of years of retreating into my head in order to survive. Once of the topics it bounced to earlier today was a conviction that, the older I get, the more stubbornly I adhere to:

There’s no such thing as a bad kid. Continue reading

Spoons

Spoons are oddly meaningful in my world lately.

I’m a spoonie, which means I have a chronic illness. This term comes from Spoon Theory, which is the idea that people with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses have to measure their lives carefully so as not to overtax themselves. It’s a sort of energy conservation. I know I have a very finite amount of energy, and so I think very carefully about how I choose to spend it. And sometimes, you just run out of spoons.

But spoons have other meanings, too.

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The Master…undermined.

It turns out that I’m still a PhD candidate. After a long talk with my advisor, I decided to stay with it, as they addressed some of the concerns I had, and…quite frankly, made me realize that I’m not half bad at this. My advisor was fairly candid with my about my performance, and it was all quite positive.

I’m still feeling highly motivated to write, so I figure having limited time to focus on my own writing may make me more productive. In the past few weeks it has, since I’ve had to divide my time up so carefully. I’ve managed to stay on top of assignments and punch out more than 5,000 words, so that’s something.

Meanwhile in PhD-land, I’ve been reading a lot about something called Arts-Based Research after having taken a class on it, and I’m intrigued. It’s an interesting marriage of arts and research that can potentially make knowledge more widely accessible. I’ve always faulted academia for being too insulated, so it’s a relief to be in a program that doesn’t see itself as developing the next generation of Keepers of the Ivory Tower.

Having a job environment that isn’t saturated in elitism and hatred masked as sarcasm is helping immensely as well. Once again, it reiterates to me that who you surround yourself with matters; if you spend 40 hours a week with people who are tiresomely full of themselves and always ready with a biting, negative quip, it’s going to pull you down. And what really chafes is that humans have the uncanny ability to normalize to really shitty situations, so often we find ourselves plugging along and tolerating it.

So here we are – new job, new outlook, same program, maybe a bit more invigoration? Ask me again at the end of the academic year.

 

Now what?

It’s fall, so that means I’m firmly ensconced in classwork again, this time in two theory courses. Theory is an interesting thing; it’s such a wide-open world, and it’s exciting to plummet into the depths of it, but it doesn’t always translate well to practice. The goal of the program I’m in is to help translate theory into practice – something that’s sometimes easier said than done. That got me to musing a bit about my academic career…

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Data philosophizing

As I will tell anyone willing to listen to me wax poetic about how a person with two degrees in literature ends up becoming a data analyst, data (as a concept) is a narrative. The data you gather are all threads that, when woven together, tell a story.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently cleaning data, which is always a tedious task. Analysts are nothing if not tenacious in this regard, but even we get a bit weary of making sure every little detail is as valid as possible. It’s also a lonely task. Even though I often listen to music when doing things like this, my mind still manages to wander.

I started thinking about data purity. There’s this idea that quantitative data is the purest form of narrative; “the numbers don’t lie,” after all.

I had a conversation recently with someone about this concept, and how so many people, some quantitative analysts included, don’t recognize (sometimes willfully) how easy it is to introduce bias into numbers. Anytime you have humans involved in a process, you have bias. Bias can be introduced through study parameters, during analysis, or in the conclusions drawn and recommendations given. Many people bend data to fit a narrative that’s been pre-ordained.

What I like about qualitative analysis, which is my specialty, is that it doesn’t hide or deny bias. It encourages the researcher to think about and state their biases very clearly. Some methodologies actually use the researcher’s bias as part of the study. It’s impossible to completely put aside your own perspective, so why not channel it?

I’m starting to tackle with a lot of philosophical questions about qualitative analysis, and bias, and constructing studies that are useful operationally but true to what qualitative analysis is at its core. It’s an interesting place to be floating for a while, and gives me a lot to think about as clean, and check, and clean, and recheck the quantitative data I’m slowly polishing into something meaningful.

At the heart of it all, that’s really what all data analysis is about, be it quantitative or qualitative – finding meaning.

And meaning, and what meaning is, can launch a hundred different discussions and poetic manifestations…