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Help! I Love Statistics

So, you already know that Lucas loves physics. It turns out he loves statistics too!

So, you already know that Lucas loves physics. It turns out he loves statistics too!

So I’m in a bit of a pickle.

Not really, but it feels like it.

Basically, I think I’m in love. What an unexpected, beautiful gift! But what a source of heartache as well! It’s not the first time I’ve felt this way; indeed, I’m already committed to another. Whatever shall I do?

I’m referring, of course, to my love of physics and commitment to the major, and my newfound love for statistics. It hasn’t been very long, so maybe I’m just crushing, but it makes a fair amount of sense. I’ve always had a penchant for collecting data and assembling spreadsheets, and Owen Biesel‘s Introduction to Statistics has given me ample opportunity to do so. What’s more, each chapter in our surprisingly great textbook has introduced to a new concept that’s struck me as a) interesting, b) intuitive, and c) quite useful.

A potent combination.

Now, my feelings about physics have not diminished at all. Besides, I’m surprisingly close to completing the major: there’s Quantum Mechanics and Contemporary Experimental Physics, along with an applied elective (which I’ll end up satisfying through General Relativity, Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics, maybe an ENTS class, or even something else) and, of course, comps. So two courses I get to pick myself, and another two that I would be taking anyway out of personal interest.

The question, I guess, is if it’s time to start thinking about double majoring.

Because I am really, really enjoying statistics right now. Again, this shouldn’t really be a surprise: I’m pretty sure I remember my dad telling me he could see me majoring in statistics a few years ago, observing that I had a “statistical mind” or something to that effect.

One moment in class that really drove this point home for me was when I learned about z-scores. I realized that the topic felt so familiar because I’d attempted to come up with my own version of it back in middle school. I was deep into my obsession with Battlestar Galactica and was having fun scrubbing IMDb to figure out, basically, which season of the show was “best” according to the fans. Obviously, I started by just taking simple averages of each season’s scores, episode-to-episode. I wasn’t quite satisfied, and figured that may be due to the fact that some particularly great episodes didn’t boost the season averages as much as I felt they should.

I realized those great ones tended to be extra long (up to 3.5x the running time of a standard episode), and so delved into weighted averages. But even that didn’t feel like enough, because there was still a matter of consistency. Surely there should be some sort of quantitative way to distinguish between a really consistent season and a season that was all over the place, even if the two happened to average similar IMDb scores. So I came up with some weird way of recording the average degree to which a given episode of a given season differed from that season’s overall average, and thus smol Lucas’ own little home-brewed z-score was born.

I have to admit to giving myself a little pat on the back when I realized the concept was, like, already a Thing with formalized names and definitions years later in this class. I felt like there might be reason for me to start seriously looking into statistics as an academic pursuit.

An even cooler moment in class, of course, was when I was introduced to an entirely new topic: bootstrapping.

Again, it’s a topic that makes intuitive sense to me, but here, the harder I try to think about how it actually works, the more questions I have. It’s mysterious in the best way possible: it feels like we’ve figured out a way to coax more information out of a set number of data points than we should really be able to, and that feels so powerful. Thinking about it gives me the same giddy combination of curiosity, excitement, and discovery that’s kept me with physics all this time, no matter how dumb it’s tended to make me feel.

So: double major?

When I pose myself the question, my initial reaction is split in two: “you can’t make that decision yet” and “it’s definitely too late for that, bro”. Because on the one hand, I’ve only taken one stats class so far (and it doesn’t even count for the major). It’s entirely possible this will turn out to be a brief fling, not life(college-)long commitment material. But at the same time, I’m literally at the end of my sophomore year! It’s major declaration time! If I added statistics as a second major, I’d have to barrel through it in two short years.

So, for now, I think I’m sticking to my older plan: major in physics, enjoy the flexibility that one major leaves me in terms of other courses I can take out of sheer curiosity, stay open-minded to the new directions such flexibility may suggest. Because I’m so enamored with the subject, at the moment, I’ll certainly take another statistics course or two, and we can see how I’m feeling after that.

But of course it isn’t that simple. If I want the statistics major thing to remain a viable option, I really should be taking Probability next term. But I’m already set on General Relativity, Carbon and Climate, and Television Studio Production, should those courses be available. And each of them are available less frequently than Probability is. So what do??

I don’t know. When I’ve stressed about this to friends, they’ve reminded me that I can always, y’know, just take statistics courses for the love of it. I’m gonna graduate with a degree no matter what; why worry about the official credentials? Bypassing the obvious answers to that question, I could also minor in stats. That way, I’ll work my way through an official curriculum in a field I want to get a proper education in, while also leaving more room for the Liberal Arts Exploration I came to Carleton for in the first place. So yeah! I’ll minor in stats!! Problem solved!!!

Well, nah. There is no stats minor.

But there’s a math minor! Yay! And…very few stats courses that count for it.

Okay. Kind of back where we started. A frustration reminiscent of the time I realized there was no CAMS minor either, almost exactly one year ago.

So this situation leaves me with some fun questions – do I want to major in stats? what’s behind the particular selection of minors that are and are not available at Carleton? what’s the worth of a minor over just taking however many classes interest you in a specific field in the first place? – but no easy answers.

Oh well. Still a great problem to have.

Lucas is sheltering in place for the rest of his sophomore year. He’s fighting his pandemic anxiety with a passion for all things nerdy and a talent for overthinking and awkwardness (and self-deprecation). He hails from Pasadena, California, and hopes everyone is okay back there. He currently sees himself majoring in Physics, although he hopes to explore Cinema and Media Studies, Chemistry, Economics, and Computer Science (among many other subjects) as well. Lucas misses everyone and sends his love. Meet the other bloggers!