After spending most of the Fall Semester engaged in what the Obamacare team has come to affectionately term “data-hazing,” I was looking forward to starting my independent data project and moving on to move engaging elements of the research process. Then I met R. R is a free software program that allows researchers a great deal of data analysis freedom. So much freedom, I might add, that learning the program adequately reflects the well-known saying, “give em’ enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.” The beauty of R is that you can tell it to do anything, as long as you know the command. However, therein lies the greatest challenge as well. The first few sessions were a haze of parentheses, brackets, and red error messages. With the patient help of Professor Settle, Meg, and Taylor, the lab gradually became more acclimated to R. Although the learning process could be tedious, successfully entering commands felt like a huge victory.
One of the major lessons I have learned about the research process is that is often, long, disappointing, and painfully slow. However, this characteristics also make the small pay-offs along the way incredibly satisfying. Over the course of the past year, I’ve had to grow used to scaling back my expectations, then scaling them back a little more, and then adjusting them perhaps one more time. There are tangible things I’ve learning working in the lab, such as how to create a bar graph in R, but there are also so many intangibles that I may not be able to neatly fit on a line in a resume. Growing used to slow and obstacle-riddled research process has been one of those invaluable intangibles. As I prepare to begin my senior year of college, I will need to remember the importance of remaining flexible and keeping an open-mind about the future. While I am excited to start putting my new-found R skills to use for my independent research project this summer, I am even happier about undertaking an independent project (and senior year!) with a better, continually evolving attitude about the process of research itself.