Probably we all have met such people that even since elementary school they were complaining about the education system. During my last stay in Poland I met such a friend from my elementary school. He hadn’t wanted to study and at that time had argued that he was not going to use this kind of knowledge ever in his life.
Well, I have to admit he was partially right. Now as an adult he barely can read and add up two double decimal numbers. He asked me why I study such an “abstraction” as Physics or Math – it is useless, nobody benefits from this and it is such a waste of money. Even though I totally disagree with his statement and I have thousands of arguments to prove it I couldn’t have convinced him. It made me think about our work as researchers and the benefits it brings (except of technical development, scientific progress, better financial status, development of our interest etc.).
I think that the difference that our scientific training causes in us is the way how we solve ordinary problems in comparison to non-scientists. As an example, both my friend and I lately had our first child. Every parent knows this blessing and pain. Being not an expert in this field it just drove me crazy. Therefore my friend and I are now in similar situation where we are both beginners.
When the baby was sleeping too long I thought that she could be sick. On the contrary, when she didn’t want to sleep and cried I was sure that she had some pain in her belly and wanted to go to a hospital to check it. Even one sleepless hour during a night seemed like days and with all the tiredness, anger and weakness I was losing my ability to think rationally.
The solution I found was to collect the data. Every quarter of an hour my wife and I used to summarize the main activity of our daughter. We filled a table with categories like: sleeping, feeding, bathing and playing. It turned out to be really easy to do. Consequently, I was called a madman by my family, but I didn’t care. After a few days of the experiment I could do the analysis. It turned out that my newborn daughter sleeps on average 15.5 hours and it was an appropriate time of sleeping for her age. Hence I calmed down as I proved myself that she was fine.
The difficult part of being a parent is to choose the way of how to take care of your kid. The problem is that there are plenty of theories, but they are mutually in contradiction. For example one theory says that you should not bath your kid in the late afternoon because otherwise she is not going to sleep well during the night. I tested this hypothesis using my data. In an ANOVA test I got a p-value of 0.72. That’s why we continued to bath her just before the night and she sleeps well.
As days went on and I had more data I realized that hours of daily sleep could be well modeled by an AR(4) time series. I used this discovery to predict my daughter’s activity on the following day so that we could mentally prepare ourselves for a more demanding day or plan a trip when she should have a better mood.
Finally, I can say that my university education was useful in everyday life. I keep an eye on the data and I’m calm that my daughter is fine. In the meantime my poor friend is irritated, nervous and frightened about his kid. He is still stubborn and doesn’t want to collect the data.
By this short story I wanted to encourage everybody to take advantage of our knowledge and skills in our everyday life. We are always researchers – not only at the university.