ai, personal, psychology, research, work

Introducing emotion/know

I’m excited to introduce you to my next project, emotion/know. This has been percolating for a while, but a change in employment status has given me the time and resources to make it a top priority.

Long term, my goal is to build artificial intelligence that supports and promotes emotional regulation and mastery. Short term, the goal is to learn more about emotions and have fun.


The meta-spiral

What she said:

Now I want to keep doing the same things over and over again but maybe in a different key sometimes or with different backup singers or in a different arrangement. I want Nietzschean eternal recurrence except the intra-life version. I’m happy with what I have and if I can redo it again and again, into eternity, I will be satisfied. I am satisfied, even if it is February.

Despite the difficulties I’ve faced since I wrote those words in 2007, I still feel that way–happy and satisfied with the opportunities and challenges life has presented to me; wanting more of the same (but in variation) as long as I can keep spiraling and evolving. I want more time with my family and friends. More chances to engage with smart people and good ideas at work. More laughter and joy. More heartbreak? Sure, that too, because it means I’m still alive and connecting.

diary of a doctoral student, personal

Spiraling progress: Looking to a bursty 2015

1280px-NautilusCutawayLogarithmicSpiralI like to think that progress in life happens in a spiral – we return again and again to the same places and lessons, going deeper each time as we evolve into our best and most whole selves.

I cherish the spiral of my life, as long as I find more meaning and human connection each time I come back around to what sometimes seems like the same exact place I was five or ten or twenty years ago.

This afternoon I’ve been browsing the Wayback Machine looking at past blogging I’ve done (such as at The Barely Attentive Mother and Anne 2.1), thinking as I am of dedicating myself in 2015 to renewed blogging and a whole lot more connecting than I’ve done recently. The past five or so years I was focused first on getting my PhD then recovering from the divorce that may have been related in some complex way to my pursuit of the PhD at the same time that I was launching a career in data science. Between those three activities I had little energy and inspiration left to consider any but the most mundane concerns. I was working working working all the time. At least when I wasn’t crying.

So I’ve been busy, not bursty for the past five years. It’s been a whole lot of perspiration not inspiration. But I’m feeling inspired and excited – ready to make connections again – with great people and great ideas – with great people who have great ideas.

In addition to returning to regular writing online other things I’m spiraling back to are these: mountain adventure (skiing, snowboarding, hiking, backpacking), music (playing both guitar and piano, plus helping my middle child find her own musical muse), leading a team at work (have just put together the processes and people I need to accelerate IQN’s data-driven innovation efforts in 2015), plenty of dating of the casual and serious varieties, and Latin American travel (planning a Christmas trip to South America for next year).

I haven’t decided exactly what my blogging and connecting in 2015 will look like but I’m excited to get going, excited to evolve and grow and spiral some more.


On wanting to be a daffodil

I love January, full with possibility and empty of regrets. Last year’s disappointments and failures–wiped clean. All January holds is promise for the coming year.

Spring, on the other hand, demands achievement, not just effort and inspiration. Daffodils and tulips should grow tall and green before bending down with heavy flowers. Crabapple trees must cover themselves with leaves then buds then an outrageously excessive display of flowers. Grass will shake off its winter chill to transform back into a thick blue-green carpet that provides the perfect backdrop for the wonders of the spring garden.

But that’s just the garden. It’s the same story everywhere. Work projects and commitments started in the bracing cold of January must blossom in the sunlight and lengthened days of April. Even then, summer threatens with child care arranging, summer camp provisioning, and family travel planning challenges. It’s not enough to just dream of possibility any more. Possibilities must be turned into executed reality. Or not, in some cases.

The difference between me and a bulb is that a bulb
has all that stored up energy plus a natural urge to do exactly what it is supposed to do. The Cheerfulness daffodils that grow among my magenta moss phlox will automatically produce double white flowers with pale yellow centers. The Claudia tulips that encircle my crabapple trees know to grow lily-flowered purple with white tipping.

I am neither so energetic nor so properly directed as a bulb. That is why every year I find spring a challenge even as I welcome the warmth and beauty it brings.

I am more like a crabapple tree than a tulip or daffodil, I suppose. I’m sure my husband and children would seize upon the “crab” in that admission. But there is more. I will bloom in the spring only if everything has gone right for me before that. Even then, I might refuse to do it if it’s not my year. I might throw out one solo branch of flowers, like one of my trees did one spring, taunting those around me with possibility if not aesthetic pleasure. I might get my buds ready to open right before a late Denver snowstorm then drop them unbloomed onto the ground, mocking those who anxiously awaited a flower show. I will only rarely do what a flowering crabapple tree should do–which is to flower, reliably and appropriately, each spring.

It’s hard to be a crabapple tree when you should be a daffodil instead.

big data, education, personal, statistics

So you call yourself a data scientist?

Hilary Mason (in Glamour!)

I just watched this video of Hilary Mason* talking about data mining. Aside from the obvious thoughts of what I could have done with my life if (1) I had majored in computer science instead of philosophy/economics and (2) hadn’t spent all of the zeroes having babies, buying/selling houses, and living out an island retirement fantasy thirty years before my time, I found myself musing about her comments on the “data scientist” term. She said she’s gotten into arguments about it. I guess some people think it doesn’t really mean anything — it’s just hype — who needs it? Someone’s a computer scientist or a statistician or a business intelligence analyst, right? Why make up some new name?

I dunno, I rather like the term. My official title at work is “data scientist” — thank you to my management for that — and it seems more appropriate than statistician or business intelligence analyst or senior software developer or whatever else you might want to call me. The fact is, I do way more than statistical analysis. I know SQL all too well and (as my manager knows from my frequent complaints) spend 75% + of my time writing extract-transform-load code. I use traditional statistical methods like factor analysis and logistic regression (heavily) but if needed I use techniques from machine learning. I try to keep on top of the latest online learning research and I incorporate that into our analytics plans and models. Lately I’ve been spending time looking at what sort of big data architectures might support the scale of analytics we want to do. I don’t just need to know what statistical or ML methods to use — I need to figure out how to make them scalable and real-time and — this is critical — useful in the educational context. That doesn’t sound like pure statistics to me, so don’t just call me a statistician**.

I do way more than data analysis and I’m capable of way more, thanks to my meandering career path that’s taken me from risk assessment (heavy machinery accident analysis at Failure Analysis now Exponent) to database app development (ERP apps at Oracle) to education (AP calculus and remedial algebra teaching at the Denver School of Science and Technology) and now to Pearson (online learning analytics). I earned a couple of degrees in mathematical statistics and applied statistics/research design/psychometrics meanwhile. 

Drew Conway's Venn diagram of data science

None of what I did made sense at the time I was wandering the path — and yet it all adds up to something useful and rare in my current position. Data science requires an alchemistic mixture of domain knowledge, data analysis capability, and a hacker’s mindset (see Drew Conway’s Venn diagram of data science reproduced here). Any term that only incorporates one or two of these circles doesn’t really capture what we do. I’m an educational researcher, a statistician, a programmer, a business analyst. I’m all these things.

In the end, I don’t really care what you call me, so long as I get the chance to ask interesting questions, gather the data to answer them, and then give you an answer you can use — an answer that is grounded in quantitative rigor and human meaning.

*Yes, I do have a girl-crush on Hilary. I think she’s awesome.

** Also, my kids cannot seem to pronounce the word “statistician.” I need a job title they can tell people without stumbling over it. I hope to inspire them to pursue careers that are as rewarding and engaging, intellectually and socially, as my own has been.


Midlife career reboot

My husband Rick started work as a patent attorney this week. He was trained as an aeronautical and mechanical engineer, worked as a NASA engineer and later a Boeing executive, then went back to school in his early forties to launch a second career. This isn’t typical today, but according to Virginia Postrel, perhaps it should be. In a time of increasing life expectancy and good health in old age, we need to reframe the way we think about career evolution:

But changing that picture means exchanging today’s architectural metaphor, “building a career,” for another one: adaptive reuse. This is the human-capital equivalent of turning industrial lofts into apartments, factories into medical schools, power plants into art museums, or saw mills into shopping centers. Your original career may be economically obsolete, or you may just want a change, but your knowledge and experience still have their charms. Instead of equating success with a steady progression of better-paying jobs, each related to the previous one, this model emphasizes taking on new challenges and making new contributions, even if that means going back to school, taking a pay cut, or starting as a trainee when you’re middle-aged.

I’m engaged in some human capital adaptive reuse myself, as I upgrade my statistical education from master’s to Ph.D. level. I’m looking towards a second career that combines my experience in software development with new expertise in research design, psychometrics, and the latest in statistical modeling.

Carlo Strenger and Arie Ruttenberg, writing in the Harvard Business Journal in 2008, suggest that midlife career change is not just desirable but existentially necessary. It’s important for financial risk management too, they say:

Hanging on for dear life is usually the wrong strategy. In terms of long-term risk management, it might be much better to start a new career at a relatively young age. Many people need to start thinking about alternatives that suit their abilities and personalities when they still have two or three productive decades ahead of them. In this way, they can discover the possibilities that will allow them to work much longer and thus ensure their financial well-being.

It’s scary, for sure, to be doing this. It’s exhilarating too.

diary of a doctoral student, education, personal

Dot plan for autumn

I have really great memories of my first job after finishing my master’s degree. I worked as a Unix/C++ programmer on an intelligence agency software development contract. The people I worked with were really smart and the work was engaging.

Many of us at that workplace kept “.plan” (say it “dot plan”) files in our home directories that said what we were working on. You could see what someone else was doing by “fingering” them (kind of a precursor to Facebook poke, but with a reaction–a listing of the person’s .plan). Keeping public plans was a good way for us to share what we were working on, without being annoying about it. People use Twitter for that now, and I do intend to get back to Twitter, someday soon. But for now, it feels comfortable to write and think alone in my hermit-cave here.

Back to school

I completed my two big summer projects: submitted two studies to the AERA 2011 conference then prepared for and passed the SAS base programming certification exam. Now I’m thinking about back-to-school activities and fall quarter. It feels like the right time to update my plan.

These are my fall projects:

Submit a manuscript to a journal. I haven’t decided which study to rework into a journal article. Both studies are based on the TIMSS 2007 data set and fortunately I’m attending training in D.C. at the end of this month to learn more about that and other international education databases, so I think I’ll be in good shape to do this.

Prepare for my doctoral comprehensive exam, scheduled for late October. I’ll be blogging about the topics I expect to see on the exam, so if you see some tutorial-like posts, that’s why.

Study for and pass the SAS advanced programming certification. I plan to do this after taking comps, but ideally before January, when I’ll start looking for a job. Some of the most interesting statistician positions I’ve seen require SAS. Plus my advisor and I have a plan to do a missing data simulation study in the winter and she suggested we use SAS. I might have selected R if it were up to me, but I plan to use R for my dissertation research, so I’ll have both adequately covered.

Find a good middle school for my middle child. It kills me that Denver no longer supports neighborhood schools; it’s all choice choice choice. This is great when you find a school that suits your child and your family circumstances. The problem is there’s no default choice in many neighborhoods now. I don’t know anyone who sends their kids to our neighborhood middle school or high school, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending my daughter to either of those schools since her peers will go elsewhere. We’ll be looking at private and magnet schools. We may also consider trying to “choice in” to a traditional public school that’s near us but has a better reputation than the one that we are assigned to.

Complete 14 units of coursework. I am taking Cost-Benefit Analysis, Economic Fundamentals: Global Applications, Item Response Theory, and a required seminar in which I learn to administer IQ tests. After this quarter, I’ll have just two classes left, Qualitative Research and Analysis of Variance, and I can focus on my dissertation research and job search.

Meanwhile, keep the family happy and healthy. I’d like to get in the habit of starting my kids off each day with healthy breakfasts: scrambled eggs, berry smoothies, pancakes and waffles made with good stuff. We eat dinner together almost every night and I’d like to continue that too, including continuing to try new recipes on a regular basis so I can feed my need for novelty.