You're a Sociologist; You don't need Math

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in | Posted on 5:27 PM


My previous degree is in the arts, which required no complex math of me. When I started the PhD program, I decided the best way to make myself useful (because I am quite insane) was to recreate an undergraduate math major while I take graduate courses.

I'm almost done with the first semester of courses, and considering that I have four jobs and an over full time load right now, I am fairly content with my B+/A- grades.

I've had several conversations with my fellow grad students, and was surprised to find that they did not share my enthusiasm and conviction that to be a sociologist, you must also be a mathematician and a statistician.

Several have sighed heavily and told me that they don't need to know numbers. That's, they said, what a specialist is for. After all, it's not like they want to be around forever, or anything.

I don't think I can quite describe the look on my face when they said this to me. A baseline, in my mind, of having a PhD is the ability to perform and analyze your own work. What does one do as a scientist, if not to design, implement and interpret ones own work?

I'm all right with it taking a little longer to graduate if it means I do my own damn analysis, even if it's a bit daunting right now.

I'm in that awkward, frustrating place where I'm getting fragments of math from many places, taught in several different ways. Bits of advanced stats show up in my readings, bits of Baysean analysis and matrixes presented as fast as I can take them in, but my undergraduate classes are deadly slow and painfully juvenile.

However, they are fundamental and fill in the gaps in my understanding.

I haven't had a math test in years before this. It is so odd to file into a classroom and take out a mechanical pencil, to have the teacher roaming the aisles to check and see if we're cheating.

It feels so odd to watch my thinking change; to have moments in class where a subject which seemed to obtuse to me before now makes a crystalline sense, and to watch myself able to locate patterns in the material presented and start to have a strange feel for what they build up to. I begin to be able, when presented with multiple ways of doing something, to pick the best or quickest by looking at the shape of the problem.

If I weren't so busy, I'd be reading ahead. I find matrixes and three-dimensional shapes oddly appealing. I'm looking forward to more of them.

I had not expected to find the act of solving problems quite this pleasurable, even if, as my colleagues say, I'm a sociologist and don't need math.

They worry me, sometimes.

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