I’m starting to think that this whole academic thing is not my skill.
I am really, really good at taking difficult and complex concepts and making them understandable by anyone. It’s something I’ve always been good at. I can take information and make it usable. I can get lightbulbs going off in people’s heads. I do talks and write books and blog posts because I love the challenge of explaining stuff.
But that’s not what academia seems to be about. It’s about technically explaining technical stuff. I just can’t make my writing flow. My brain doesn’t work that way.
Take statistics. We learned about regression. The Wiki definition of regression is: “In statistical modeling, regression analysis is a set of statistical processes for estimating the relationships among variables. It includes many techniques for modeling and analyzing several variables, when the focus is on the relationship between a dependent variable and one or more independent variables (or ‘predictors’). More specifically, regression analysis helps one understand how the typical value of the dependent variable (or ‘criterion variable’) changes when any one of the independent variables is varied, while the other independent variables are held fixed.” I read that and first read “blah blah blah”. So then I have to make it meaningful. I ask so what? The answer is that you can use regression to do “what if” stuff. So if I am doing a survey of which coffee shop is the best, I would want to look at how people decide. So my question is “What is the best coffee shop?” (dependent variable). Things that might affect it are availability of seats, way they make the coffee, price of the coffee (independent variables). So the really cool thing is that there is this one, relatively simple, equation that you can just throw the numbers into, to see which of those things have the biggest impact on what the best coffee shop is. One equation and it works all that out for you. That’s very cool. Even better, I can go and play with something like the price of the coffee, and see what effect that has on how good a coffee shop is. That’s it. That’s regression. It’s really useful in many ways. No books or YouTube videos explain it in this kind of way though. They go straight in with the technical language.
Then this week I am learning about Anova. Wiki says “Analysis of variance (ANOVA) is a collection of statistical models and their associated procedures (such as “variation” among and between groups) used to analyze the differences among group means”. You what? So what? Why would I use it? Problem with the coffee shop example above, is if we want to look at price of drinks, when there are different categories of drink, like frozen drinks, coffee drinks, tea drinks, a regression can’t handle that. So Anova lets me work out which of those three drink types is a bigger deal when we are thinking about the price of a drink. This time the equation is not so simple, but at least if I know what I’m trying to work out, I can understand what to put in and how to interpret stuff.
But I could not find a simple explanation anywhere. Everyone explains stats by using stats. And it’s the same for writing assignments and literature reviews and all that stuff. The goal does not seem to be to distil complex ideas into something that makes sense. It’s about technical writing using technical references. I can’t make my writing flow. I can’t construct an argument in an understandable way.
It is just not my skill.
And so I’m wondering about a PhD. Am I really capable of doing a PhD? Can I do the level of statistical analysis and write up that is required for a PhD? At this rate, it feels I am going to just scrape through my Masters. But if I am no good at it, and I don’t enjoy it, should I really carry on? Is it worth it for the Dr. title or is there a different path that would be better for me.
I love learning. I love the Uni environment. I hate the style of writing required for academia. And a PhD is 3-4 more years of that. Can I really do that?