Math Brain

You know you’ve just finished a statistics class when certain phrases start to creep into your conversation. And, you know you’ve been married to an engineer when certain thoughts creep into your head. A few humorous examples that make me think I’ve got math brain? Take a look:

During rehearsal this weekend, the backstage area was extremely hot. One actor says, “I’ll mention it to the stage manager to get it fixed. (Sarcastically) I mean, it’s not like she doesn’t have 12,000 other things to do, so clearly this is the HIGHEST priority, right?” My first thought? “Actually, adding one more request to a list of 12,000 is really small in comparison to the entire list, and the proportion of people affected by the request is much greater, relative to many of the other requests on the list that only affect one person.” Sigh… all proportions and percentages!

At dinner with my engineer husband, we started talking about the traffic flow at the restaurant and the turn time on the tables at the restaurant. Then, I mention that it would probably be very interesting to see the Poisson distribution or a regression to see the influence of factors like party size, alcohol consumption, time at table, and average check size. You could arrange these in any number of ways to hone your food order, frequency of service, time to drop the check or upsell… any number of ways to increase that average check size!

So, how does academia creep into your daily life? If you’ve got a spouse on the opposite end of the spectrum, do you start to think like them?

Grade Thresholds

Maybe I’m just frustrated at my poor performance on my Stats exam, but several people I’ve talked to agree that the professor has a high threshold for his grade inputs. I’ve talked before about the discrepancies between academia and the real world, but I’m wondering if we’re all correct that this scale seems a little weird.

The biggest source of fear about this grading scale, is that anything below an 86 is a C. This correlates to a GPA of about a 2.6, which means that if I score an 85 in the class, my lovely 3.9 is going to plummet. This strikes an extra amount of fear in me, particularly because I feel like I made something like an 83 or an 84 in Stats during my undergrad degree. Thus, even with “good” performance (for me, remember we’re talking about Stats here!), I’m still stuck with a terrible hit to my GPA. One student commented that surely there’s some kind of uniformity across the university, because otherwise, professors could make a 98 the threshold for a B or C. From my previous semesters, it does seem like most professors have a similar scale for grading, with only a point or two of difference amongst themselves, instead of the 5-8 point difference shown by this professor’s scale.

Fortunately, it seems that most companies don’t care about your grad school GPA unless it’s below a 3.0. And, most companies factor in the school’s reputation when evaluating GPAs in the first place. This leads to the debates about whether grades, GPAs, and scales are even relevant when predicting someone’s level of success, since you might be comparing apples to oranges anyway. If me and another student both make an 85 in Stats, but I get a C and they get a B, I look worse. Maybe it’s because I’ve never made a C in my life, but for some reason, a C compared to a B sounds much worse than a B compared to an A. It may also be that I think a C involves laziness vs. intelligence or “natural ability”, and that laziness offends me more than not having the ability in the first place.

Either way, there’s some trepidation about my final grade, and I’ve only had one exam for that class! I’m sure it will turn out fine in the end, but would you be worried if you were being graded on this scale? Am I bitter about the high threshold, or correct that it’s much higher than I’ve seen in previous classes?

Teach Others to Teach Yourself

I’ve got my first statistics test this evening, and I’ve been pretty stressed out about it for the last week. If you remember, I’m not a numbers person! However, attending a study sessions with my fellow classmates yesterday afternoon actually made me feel much more confident in my ability to do ok (note, not AWESOME, just ok!) on this exam.

It turns out that the one thing I actually really understand was the one thing most of the session attendees didn’t understand. Thus, I was able to walk them through the steps I took to solve the problem, and it helped solidify my own approach. I’ve found that teaching others really helps me teach myself. When I was preparing for my economics final, I went through some of the problems on a white board, explaining all the steps to my husband as I worked my way through. In both cases, there were questions about why I did it this way or that, where I found a piece of information, and how I ended up choosing one line of reasoning or another. The “why” is a great way to approach problems, as it keeps you from just memorizing one formula for one situation. Since I knew why I was taking certain steps, I was able to apply them to several different problems.

I found that one of the study attendees was able to work through some of his own questions by walking us through some examples. He’d found a much faster way to solve one of the problems, and he gave us the steps to complete the problem in half the time. The session was worth it just to pick up that Excel trick!

So, wish me luck on the exam tonight! Next time you’re confused, find someone to teach the subject to… you might realize you know more than you thought!

Tests and Grade Inputs

I had coffee with a friend the other night, and we started discussing college readiness and testing. She teaches AP US History at a local high school, and she said the standardized testing requirements are killing her opportunity to teach and test in a way that will prepare her students for college. Going back for my MBA has been a big change in testing and grade inputs from what I experienced in undergrad, and I feel that high school grades and tests were somewhere in between. In theory, all of this education will prepare you for your career, but I’ve noticed some pretty significant differences between academic tests and real world test.

There’s a pretty big discrepancy between the number of grade inputs in undergrad, grad school, and the real world. For my first two years in undergrad, we had multiple-choice tests, essay tests, homework assignments, and short papers or case studies, similar to high school. So, if you bombed one test, you weren’t too bad off. However, my last two years, which consisted of upper-level classes in my major, were solely case studies, papers, and presentations. There were fewer grade inputs, but still enough to ensure that bombing one case study wouldn’t kill you. I feel like it’s pretty similar to the real world, with lots of projects contributing to your overall “grade” at your performance review. It was a pretty big shock to the system to enter graduate school and find out that most of my classes have only two grade inputs: a mid-term and a final. A few have an additional grade input in the form of a case study or presentation. But still, only two grades, for a whole semester? So if I’m foggy on test day, I’m in trouble! I don’t feel like this minimal number of grade inputs corresponds well to the real world, at least not at the entry level. Very few of my projects are deal-breakers, based on the performance for 2 hours, once a quarter.

There’s also a pretty big discrepancy between academic testing and the real world, in that you rarely have to go completely without notes in the real world. Even on the deal-breaker presentations, I’ve got my notes to refer to, or a PowerPoint to jog my memory. It’s rare that I have to stand in a room and use only the knowledge in my head. I never have to forgo a calculator or Excel spreadsheet when I’m working on calculations, and I can Bing the formulas if I forget them. So, it’s a little odd, particularly in business school, to be forced to only use my head knowledge for a test every 2 months. I feel like the presentations and group work in undergrad was much more representative of working in the corporate world. I think grad school will move in this direction once I finish my basic classes, but I think it’s odd that colleges still use these old testing methods. A lot of research says that US education is terrible because we focus so much on standardized tests that require memorization and regurgitation, instead of critical thinking. You’d think by the time we reach college, we’d be able to handle testing in a way that mirrors real-world critical and creative thinking in the long-run, instead of fact cramming in the short-run.

Finally, academic tests and grade inputs are measured differently than the real world. Most colleges grade on a curve using single numbers to measure performance. There’s not really a degree of success, particularly in the case of multiple-choice tests. This, again, does not mirror the real world. I can complete a project at work with a number of different solutions that result in a number of different outcomes. It’s possible that we were aiming for outcome #1, but ended up with a superior outcome #2. Current testing and grade inputs don’t really allow for different outcomes, and don’t take into account that the “correct” test answer may not be the best answer in the real world. It’s a little frustrating to deal with tests and grades when you know they aren’t correlated to real-world scenarios.

It’s interesting to think about our educational path, and what we’re actually striving for. In high school, it seems like the only goal is to get into a good college, and in college, you are looking for a good job upon graduation. But, if we’re not teaching, testing, and grading in ways that improve our skills and knowledge for the job, what’s the point of all this extra schooling? If you’re considering a graduate program, I highly recommend taking a look at how they test and grade, and look for a program with an emphasis on cases and presentations, as I feel they are much more indicative of what you’ll experience in the real world.

Good-bye Summer and Grades Are Up!

School officially starts on Wednesday, but since I’m taking classes on Monday and Tuesday nights, I get a few extra days off! It’s been a wonderful 3 week summer break, filled with time at the gym, time with my family and friends, and adventures with my husband. We attended “’til Midnight” at the Nasher Sculpture center this weekend, where we enjoyed live music and the movie “Up”, surrounded by sculptures! If you’re in the DFW area, I HIGHLY recommend attending September’s event. We’ve taken the DART train to downtown a couple of times this summer, and we enjoyed another date night at the Dallas Comedy House. The Dallas Comedy House is a collection of semi-professional and amateur comedians, with shows at 9:00 pm and 10:30 pm. If you go to the 9 pm show, you can opt to stay for the 10:30 show for $5 more! After some great laughs, we stopped in at Tucker’s Blues. We were a little pressed for time to make sure we caught our train home, so we only stayed for one song. However, we both agree that we need to go there for the evening, as the atmosphere and music were great! We’re heading on a backpacking trip over Labor Day weekend to the Lonestar Hiking Trail. I’ve never been backpacking before, so it’s been fun to buy our gear, work on planning the route, and figure out food and necessities. We’ve also spent many weekends grilling and hanging out by the pool, and we’ve attended several weddings and parties this summer. I’ve enjoyed my productivity at work, but it’s been nice to enjoy a lot of events this summer outside the office. Work-life balance… it’s important to corporate success!

Grades are officially posted, and I had a 4.0 for my summer classes! This makes me happy, as I was pretty concerned about Economics at the beginning of the summer. On another, I don’t have to take Economics ever again! This also makes me happy, as I’ve taken 3 classes for Economics, and it’s not my favorite subject. This summer semester puts my new GPA at 3.93… which is probably going to take a hit when I finish Statistics this semester. It’s a little funny, because my overall GPA in grad school is actually a little higher than my GPA in undergrad. I suppose it’s because the majority of MBA classes for the first 25-30 hours are similar to my undergraduate courses. A lot of my classmates are engineers, so the business courses are new to them. It’s been fun to share different perspectives, goals, and work environments, and I’m looking forward to having a few former classmates in my upcoming semester.

So, good-bye summer, and hello busy fall semester! In addition to my MBA pursuits, I’m reprising my role in a musical from last year, coordinating and attending our company’s biggest tradeshow of the year, and hopefully managing go live for 2 websites by the end of the year! How are you guys taking a break from corporate life?

Game Theory

I’m taking my Economics final tonight, and there will probably be a lot of questions on game theory, as my Professor really seems to like that subject. In the lecture notes, he’s got a hypothetical game involving studying for the exam. It’s a little ironic to be studying for the final while doing a practice problem that discusses the outcomes of NOT studying for the final. He sets up the example as follows:

– students are graded on a curve against the class, so they can collude and not study, thus the entire class will do poorly on the exam, and the curve is higher

– one student could “cheat” by studying, and therefore score well on the exam, thus hurting the curve for the rest of the class

– there’s different payoffs for studying or not studying, and if you’re the one student that opts not to follow the agreement to skip the study session and score poorly on the exam to boost the curve, you stand to profit nicely by making a high score after studying for the exam

Basically, when you play the game, you find out that even when all the students collude not to study and boost the curve, it’s actually in someone’s best interest to study, score well, and throw the curve. Thus, if we all assume that one person will study and mess with the curve, we should make sure that we’re the one. Effectively, everyone ends up studying for the exam, since we all think we’re going to be the exception. It’s a great theory to show students why they should study for the exam 🙂 It’s similar to the prisoner’s dilemma, where police tell each suspect their options for confessing, and they end up both confessing because they have an incentive to deviate from their original agreement to both refuse to confess.

Game theory is much more fun that the regular supply and demand curves, but it gets a little complicated. Maybe I’ll post more games after the final… fun brain teasers for all my readers!

The Numbers Don’t Lie (Or Do They?)

I’ve been on a data-gathering mission since I started my position, and now grades are up for my MBA mid-terms. In short, I’ve got numbers running out my ears! I’m probably the least numbers-conscious person you’ll ever meet (seriously, ask my husband about the calculus study incident where the book, pencil, and calculator somehow managed to fly from the table to the other side of the room), but I’ve been particularly interested in the numbers lately. Most people who like numbers say that their affinity for numbers stems from the single answer they provide, and the “truth” shown in the numbers. Us marketers know better… hence the reason we tend to hate the numbers, because the numbers don’t actually provide the data we’re looking for. So, the numbers don’t lie… or do they?

Let’s start with grades and GPAs for the MBA. In theory, everyone answers a certain number of questions correctly on the exam, and receives the empirical percentage associated with those correct answers. Except, there’s a curve… and you’re not technically graded against yourself or the exam, but rather, the rest of the class. Thus, if everyone flubs the mid-term, you could end up with a decent grade by just being better than the average. That was my strategy in Economics, to make sure I wasn’t the dumbest person in the class. In reality, I managed to do really well on that mid-term, only missing a few questions, even without the comparison to the rest of the class. This example generally backs up what many people seem to think: grades and GPA are really not a strong measure of a person’s intelligence or work ethic. By “not being the dumbest”, someone could end up with at least a 3.5 GPA. This is probably somewhat off-set by the fact that a high GPA indicates that they weren’t the dumbest person in every class they took, which might give a semi-accurate measure of the person’s intelligence and/or work ethic.

My latest struggle deals with sample size and statistical significance (I know, marketers everywhere are coiling in horror at those words, as am I!). I’m trying to determine our referral lead sources for the business, so I’ve asked the sales reps to survey their customers when they go on a sales call. On one hand, I’ve got a really small sample size, so my results aren’t actually statistically significant, meaning I can’t really draw worthwhile conclusions. On the other hand, it’s a survey that is directly targeted to and answered by our customers, meaning that if what they say is true, it’s a good representation of how our customer base actually behaves. So, now I’m back to the marketer’s dilemma: WHY? Why do people read this magazine or that magazine? Why does this ad appeal to one segment but not the other, and how influential is segment A over segment B? Should I start re-allocating my advertising dollars if a publication suddenly sky rockets in the survey results? I’m much more leary of changing the spending, since 1 or 2 responses can “significantly” change the data.

Last, I think survey numbers in general are a little fuzzy. Did you control for different factors, like lifestyle, age, product-type, etc.? I’ve seen a lot of studies that quote statistics, but statistics are easy to skew. I’m currently trying to aggregate data to determine the “real” response to our ads. What is the best way to change them to improve our numbers in the survey? Is the survey sample really indicative of our customers’ thoughts and behaviors? I think the aggregate data is very telling, and the moderators also give you real comments from real participants, which helps immensely. I’ve found the comments to be much more helpful than the numbers in determining why our ads did not score as expected.

So, while I’m currently chasing the numbers, I still think the numbers need to supplement comments, conversation, and human observation. I think the numbers do their best to tell the whole truth, but nothing but the truth… the numbers are gathered by people, so it’s going to have some slant from someone!

Transparency and Credibility Part 3

I’ve been steadily working my way through the perils of transparency and credibility, and I’ll wrap it up today with a discussion on publishing “personal stuff” on my blog. This fear stems from the fact that people who are close to me sometimes read the site, and maybe I don’t want my real-life connections to know some of this personal stuff. The seeming anonymity of the internet makes people much more willing to share their secrets and private information. In my case, this makes no sense, as I am clearly NOT anonymous. I’m easily identifiable by anyone who knows me, as I put my full name, resume, and contact information out for the world to see. Thus, it’s a false sense of anonymity that prompts me to consider sharing the more personal information about salaries and education costs. I think it’s because most of my readers are at least somewhat anonymous to me, so I feel like I won’t have to deal with the awkward real-life situation of readers knowing my salary and spending habits. So, what are some benefits to sharing this information?

First, my salary and cost of education are facts, so I shouldn’t really be embarrassed about the choices I’ve made. If I’m not doing anything to change those facts, I must be comfortable with them. As everyone else in the world also makes a salary and most likely has some educational spending, it’s not like I’ve got secret facts that are unique (like, say, if I’d killed someone. May be a fact, but I clearly wouldn’t want to share that if it was true.) Thus, my personal journey to my current salary, position, and educational spending might be very helpful to some of my readers. When I was considering the MBA, I researched costs and salary potential for months before deciding that this was the right direction to take my graduate education. I would love to be able to help someone else make this type of choice, with good information about where I started and where I progressed to after receiving the MBA. Did it really get me a salary increase? Was it really worth the hours spent in a classroom? Do I actually use the information I learned in my classes?

Second, in the interest of fostering a helpful community, I’m thinking that these facts would help others realize they’re similar to at least one other person in the world. Kind of a “if she can do it, I can too.” While discussing real estate options with a classmate of mine, I discovered that some options were available that I’d never considered. This classmate was kind enough to be completely open about the choices they’d made on real estate purchases, including total payments, monthly payments, long-term plan to pay off the loan early, interest rates, and other things that most people keep secret. Had this person not shared their experience candidly, I’d have no idea that my husband and I could do what they did! We tend to be very protective of our financial habits in the US, but this is not the case in much of the world. In some countries, “what’s your salary” is a common getting-to-know-you question. I think it’s because we tend to place a lot of our self-worth on what we make, and we know others will judge our worth based on our salary. So, if we just keep that number a secret, we can inflate our worth to whatever we want! As mentioned in the earlier parts of this discussion, I’m not fooling anyone into believing I’m perfect by not publishing “damaging” posts, so why not let people decide for themselves if I’m “worth it” by publishing my salary/educational spending?

Lastly, I think I could get some valuable feedback by posting this information. For instance, part of my strategy in pursuing the MBA, is to gain skills that I’m not able to gain in my current job or side projects. I’ve done extensive research on the types of positions that I would like to obtain, and then looked for some classes that help me gain the skills I’m lacking. Why not get some feedback from others who have these positions, or are similarly working toward them? I think the real-world feedback I might receive would be infinitely more helpful than the anonymous experiences of someone representing a company or business school… they’re paid to tell you that b-school is the right choice, that their company only hires the best, etc. How do I know if I’m getting paid what I’m worth if I don’t talk to other professionals like myself? How do I know that my degree is worth it if I don’t hear others’ experiences that also confirm what the internet tells me?

While I’m using this post to argue for transparency on salary and education costs, I’m still not completely sold on this idea. I might have to do baby steps on this one, starting with educational spending, and possibly working my way into salary issues. I’ve done well to be transparent by publishing this post and this post, and I’ve had positive feedback that this transparency increases my credibility, but you may have to wait a little longer for me to come around on this one!

Murphy’s Law

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” To be fair, the forthcoming situation isn’t really the best representation of Murphy’s Law, but my classmate mentioned it as an immediate reaction, so I figured it can’t be THAT far off base!

I’ve mentioned before that MBA students dress much better than undergrad students, mainly as a function of coming to class directly from the office. I’ve got mid-terms this week, so I intentionally came into the office early to allow myself time leave early to go home, change clothes, and eat a snack before heading to the exam. Lo and behold, the one day that I don’t dress like a professional to attend class, there’s someone there who I’d really like to network with! Our professor is speaking at a conference on the other side of the world, so his TA came to proctor the exam. She gave us a little bit of her background information, and it turns out that she was the HR Manager for a large company that I’d be interested in working for someday. Yeah, not the best time to be dressed in yoga pants, tank top, and casual sweater! Thus, I decided to send her an email to see if she’d have a moment to let me buy her a coffee and discuss future opportunities at the company. She’s a fairly young doctoral student at the moment, so I’m sure she would’ve excused my appearance on exam day, but still… the first impression is extremely important, and I think more professional attire would have been helpful in this situation.

Have you ever been caught in the perfect networking opportunity, but lacked a resume, business card, or professional attire? I think another cliche applies… “Be prepared!”

100th Post and Grades are Up!

Well, I’m officially posting my 100th post on the blog, and coming up on the two year anniversary of the launch! I know there are many more prolific bloggers out there, but 100 posts is pretty amazing to me. I’ve still got some drafts in queue, and it makes me feel good to know that I’ve been able to talk for 100 posts about my career and industry! This post also comes just before the six-month mark on the switch from Musing Marketing to Consciously Corporate, and I have to say, the switch has been well worth it! From what I can tell on my stats, I’ve almost doubled my traffic by broadening my horizons, and I’ve been receiving a few more comments and Tweets about my posts. I’ve been able to use this tool to connect with classmates, friends, and the blogging community at large in a much more effective way. The ideas flow more freely now that I’m looking at every situation as a potential blog topic, and I’ve been able to bring some of these “aha” moments into my job and my school work. All in all, I’m quite proud of this 100th post!

On another note, grades are up! I’m also proud of this first semester in grad school, since I tackled one of my weaker subjects with success! I ended up with an “A” in Consumer Behavior, “A” in Financial Accounting, and “A-” in Managerial Accounting. Based on the graduated scale for calculations at UTD, my GPA for the semester is a 3.86! This puts me slightly ahead of my graduating GPA in undergrad, and I’m hoping to continue this trend for the remainder of my MBA. However, statistics and finance will definitely be more challenging, but I’d like to stay right around the 3.75-3.8 range if I can. I start my summer courses next week, so I’m excited to continue my progress on the road to graduation!

So, exciting times on the blog and the real-world this week! Websites going live, grades posting, blog milestones… what’s next? Let me know what you’ve accomplished lately, it’s kind of fun to brag once in a while 🙂