Statistics and Kittens

By Alex Ligthart-Smith, La Trobe University 

When I found out I had been accepted into the AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship program I was so excited and grateful. At nearly 26, it has taken me a little bit longer than most of my peers to figure out what it is that I really want to do with my life, and to be offered this scholarship provided some much-needed confirmation that I am on the right path. It was also a wonderful opportunity to really find out whether I am cut out for statistical research, or if I would be better off following a more analytical statistics career path.

After the initial excitement wore off though, I became a little overcome with fear at the prospect of presenting my findings to an audience of students who, due to something of a severe case of imposter syndrome, I assumed would be much more intelligent, capable, and experienced than myself. I have never been a confident speaker, and the feeling that maybe I didn’t really know what I was doing made the prospect all the more nerve-wracking.

So I had to come up with a strategy. At first I fell into the trap of thinking I had to get every single detail of my work into the 12 minutes allocated to my presentation, and I thought that if I didn’t make it technical it would come across as inferior and under-researched. However, my supervisors gave me the invaluable advice that I should make my presentation simple and concise, reminding me that many of the listeners would have little to no knowledge of my research area.

Taking their wisdom into account, I decided to trash everything and start over, and make my talk something that would catch and hold the attention of an audience who perhaps had minimal interest in linear mixed effects models with time-varying covariates (I genuinely find it fascinating, but imagine that with little knowledge of or interest in statistics it might just seem dull and confusing). I had to come up with an example of how the models I was comparing might be applied, so instead of going with the original suggestion of an example from a supervisor’s work, I decided to focus on something that I know would capture at least my attention: kittens.

I got so excited about figuring out how I could incorporate kittens into my presentation that I almost completely forgot to be scared! By keeping my focus on simple explanations of why my research was necessary and how it could be applied to adorable balls of fluff, I feel as though I gave a presentation that not only captured people’s attention, but also gave them at least some insight into why I was interested in my work and why it matters! Maybe they even learned a little bit of statistics too.


Alex Ligthart-Smith was one of the recipients of a 2015/16 AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship.

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