“Remind me why you are doing this again.”
Someone seriously said this to me yesterday; in relation to the fact that I have 2 maths assignments and a stats assignment due in the next 6 weeks. The two maths ones are some what urgent; the stats one slightly less so.
The Open University is an amazing thing. I started a level 1 course in October; it has coincided with some major things happening at work and a house move. So you could argue that it wasn’t a great time to be starting and yes, I will admit that there have been times, since February when I added a level 2 course to the mix, where I really wondered if I could actually manage this.
I’m not going to say that’s defeatist talk; it’s a recognition that sometimes I’m just not the driver of what is going on in my own life. So I have struggled a bit in terms of organising study around housemoves and unscheduled work issues that turned up out of the blue which happens when you are an operational type person. Reality and planning are not always in sync. I expect the most recent stats assignment score to drop down below my desired standard because it was such a fight to get it out, but apart from that, the scores have been sufficiently high for me to be sure that I’m doing the right course
I’m studying for a degree in mathematics and statistics. The course code is B36 but it has since been superceded by changes to the Open University mathematics and statistics offerings. There are now four streams to that area with differing concentration on areas of maths and statistics. Do I regret getting in there before this happened? Well no, not really, because the fees structure has changed as well. I’m not sure I could afford to do this if I had waited the one year a lot of people felt I should since work was in such a mode of changing.
So I’m glad, despite the fact that I started it at a time of a lot of stress in my life, that I did start it.
The reactions of people have been quite interesting. Typically, you can split the responses into two types a) it’s a terrific idea or b) you’re mad.
Interestingly enough, most people who know me think that it’s a great idea. Not that I am bored but that – for whatever reason – the people I know about and care about and who care about me care about me choosing to do things that interest me. The responses from people I work with have been more nuanced and range from complete disinterest to considering that maybe I’m a little mad.
My employer in general is good on supporting personal study from a practical point of view; not that they are covering fees although they have a program to do so if I want to go down that road in the future, but in providing access to people who are experts in the area you are studying. I will be meeting a couple of those people next week. I really value this sort of direct support and I think it’s a great idea.
Actual people I work with, on the other hand, have seen this in terms of “you can make a fortune” and “you’re spinning too many plates” and “why would anyone do this except to get more money”.
In a way, it’s quite interesting to see those responses.
As to why I did it – well, mainly because I wanted to and because one thing I have always regretted is that I let my maths skills slip. I was good at them at school. I got a B in honours maths when I was 17 and I was disappointed. I did my leaving certificate in 1990 and since then, they have streamlined the course twice (ie, reduced the workload). I’m currently averaging around 86 which – cue list of excuses – given work issues and the house move problems – I don’t think is bad. I want to keep it up around there as far as possible.
I also did it because data presentation is becoming very high profile but most people aren’t really stats literate. I saw an interesting graphic on usage rates of social media profiles a little while back which looked very funky but when you actually looked at the detail on which the graphic was based, it compared completely different base data to give a misleading impression. The objective was to compare usage on FaceBook with a bunch of other social media platforms including twitter and Flickr. The figure for FaceBook was based on page loads, twitter was on number of tweets posted and Flickr was based on the number of photographs uploaded.
This isn’t a fair comparison at all. It’s fairly likely that if you compared page loads across the board, FB would still come out on top but…it disproportionately undervalued Flickr usage which is heavily based on page load and not on image uipload, for example, and as for twitter, pageloads plus API calls may be a more accurate reflection of their usage.
I figured if I wanted to get involved with data presentation in any shape or form – and data mining and data exploitation is becoming big news (it’s now called Big Data which as a label pretty much sucks) – I needed some decent stats skills. The sort that gives me more ability to recognise misuse of statistics than just the question of comparing like with not like.
In the meantime though I still have 2 wrap up assignments to do for the first maths module and the 3rd assignment of the first stats module and while it still feels daunting, I feel remarkably empowered for having done this.
For anyone who is interested in having a look at what I am doing at the moment, the modules are MST121 which is a level 1 maths course. It has a lot in common with what I remember as higher level mathematics ca 1990, and M248, an introductory statistics module.
I want to say – by the way – that I looked into doing this via an Irish University. I could not because not one offered it the course in anyway that was meaningfully possible for a part time student such as myself. The Open University currently has tutorial groups dotted around the country for both M248 and especially MST121. Their course materials are excellent and the support I have had from tutors has been excellent; in neither case have I had to draw on them too heavily.
I intend to start MS221 which is the next level maths course in October, and probably M249 also which is the next level statistics course. Currently my planned study route includes a third module in October, and looking at my schedule, that’s down to be M343, Applications of Probability.
If I can get through MST221 and M248 as planned, I’m really looking forward to this.