March 10, 2015 38 Comments
Welcome to the March 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Day in the Life
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have given us a special glimpse into their everyday.
There are three main things I do in my day-to-day life: mothering Lydia (10 months old) and Nicholas (10 years old), working 40 hours a week as the data manager of a social science research study, and writing this Handbook. I write quite a bit about the first activity, and if you are reading this you’re obviously aware of the third. But I’ve written very little about my job. What is a “data manager of a social science research study,” anyway?
My job is to organize the HUGE PILES OF DATA collected by interviewing 1,517 men every 6 months for 4 years, then every year for 9 years, and 3 more times since then (whenever we got a grant to follow up). Other people do the interviews; I just work with the data. The study started when the guys were in elementary school. They answered questions for about 2 hours each time, and in the early years their parents and teachers were interviewed, too. Each person’s answer to each question is encoded as a number in a data file, which looks like a spreadsheet. The row is the data on that participant, who is identified by a 5-digit number. The column is the question, which is identified by a string of 8 letters and numbers. There is a separate data file for each questionnaire, each time it was asked; each data file has a name, also 8 letters and numbers. There are patterns to these 8-character strings, which I can “read” and remember very easily after 16 years working for the study.
In addition to organizing the data from the interviews, I make variables called “constructs”, each of which represents an idea that is measured by a bunch of different questions. I write computer programs that do arithmetic and algebra with the “raw data” from the questions to create the constructs. For example, the construct Parental Stress sums up the parent’s answers to these 14 questions; a parent with a score of 14 is exceptionally calm, while a parent with a score of 70 is a frazzled wreck. My programs attach labels to the constructs and their values so we can keep track of what all the numeric values and 8-letter-and-number variable names mean. (No, “frazzled wreck” is not the actual value label! It’s “very high stress”.)
So, it’s my job to know what questions we asked, how the answers were coded, what constructs were made, and where everything is in thousands and thousands of data files. I also spend a lot of time looking for things that don’t make sense, figuring out what’s wrong, and fixing it. The higher-level statistical analysis is done by other people, as well as most of the writing of papers about our findings–but because I like to write and am a grammar zealot, they often ask me to proofread and sometimes let me write a section.
The main focus of the study is juvenile delinquency: which boys do it in the first place, which ones outgrow it rather than becoming adult criminals, and what factors make crime more or less likely. We also have lots of data on mental health, substance use, parenting practices, and demographics. Interesting stuff! I love my job. I’m surprised I managed to summarize it this briefly! Okay, let’s get on with A Typical Day In My Life…. Read more of this post