Analytics Tracker

Friday, October 16, 2009

When I grow up, I want to be like Norm

Norm is my statistics professor. He is a somewhat large, jolly guy with a bushy moustache and glasses, and an true, deep and undeniable love for teaching young business students how to do statistical analysis.

As a teacher, Norm has his work cut out for him. Not only does he teach a subject whose fun quotient is percieved as being on par with digging your eyeballs out with a rusty spoon, he has to teach it to first year MBA students.

The mind of a first year MBA student can essentially be described like this: A;SLDKFJQPO3IJ;AFDinternshipASDKWEIJ;B!!!!!!!!! We are so totally overwhelmed with readings, more readings, networking events, info sessions, mock interviews, conferences and looking for summer internships that actual academic knowledge is pretty much the last thing on our minds.

When I opened my stats textbook for the first time I could practically feel my brain melting from the effusion of formulas, greek symbols and extra tiny print. I was pretty sure that if I had to sit through three hours of this twice a week, I would probably die.

On the first day, Norm told us formulas were lame. "Tell me more," I thought. The next week, amidst lessons on data analysis and statistical errors, he told us the story of the three red-ball sample. I'm still not sure if this story is true. Basically, when he was a young student like all of us, he had a professor who kept three jugs of white and red balls in his office. One had a ton of white balls and almost no red balls, one had an equal number of white and red balls, and one had a ton of red balls and almost no white balls. If a student wanted extra points, the professor would whip out a jar and give them a three-ball sample from the jar. If the student correctly guessed which jar the balls were from, they would gain points, and if they guessed wrong they would lose points.

Norm wandered in one day, feeling particularly confident, and asked for a three-ball sample. The professor shook the jar three times, and produced three red balls. Logically, Norm guessed the jar with the most red balls - the most statistically probable answer. When he got his paper back, he was shocked to find out he had lost 20 points - the jar was, in fact, the jar with almost no red balls. He had gotten a nearly statistically impossible sample.

Norm made every day mildly hilarious. Whether he was proclaiming the merits of general silliness, promising to wear his P-Value t-shirt (he did - it had a picture of Uncle Sam saying "What's YOUR P-Value?"), promising to also wear pants and shoes with his P-Value shirt (as if we needed that qualification), or pretending to be an outlier by whispering "Take me out! Take me out!" in a despondent tone, he made a dry subject into an entertaining three-hour class that seemed to fly by. One time, while teaching the other half of our class, his wife Carol called - Norm held up the phone so that the whole class could say hi to Carol. Norm's Stats class was itself a three red-ball sample.

On Wednesday, as he was dismissing us for the last time, he thanked us for being there, and told us what an honor it had been to teach us. As he was saying goodbye to a classroom of 50 students he'd known for 2 months at most, he actually got a little teary.

Taking class with Norm reminded me why I am getting my MBA - not because of the actual academic material I learned in his class, but because I remembered how it feels when your work is really and truly a labor of love. No matter how overwhelming everything gets, I keep trying to remember that the reason I'm here is so that I can find a job that I care about - something I look forward too when I wake up, and that every once in a while, makes me tear up a little bit. When I grow up, I want to be like Norm - just without the moustache.

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