Posted by: thebylog | February 3, 2009

The AHA! Moment

As I have turned the corner in the PhD program from coursework to research, it has become increasingly clear that this is what I want to do: Investigate an area that is of interest to me and of importance to some part of the world. The following anecdote illustrates why this is so.

The other day, I was writing some R code to implement my model-robust experimental design method for a particular problem. I hit a snag, in that the output was unexpected and obviously wrong. This means that either the code was wrong or the method doesn’t work.

Now, when a problem presents itself for which there is no immediate solution, I am quick to imagine that perhaps there is not a solution at all, and that this relatively minor problem may have ramifications which undermine what I want to accomplish on the grander scale. However, these despairing thoughts often come when I am staring at a computer screen, growing more and more frustrated at whatever is going wrong. I have found that it is difficult to obtain perspective and think clearly when the problem seems like a room whose walls are closing in around me. The beautiful thing about my current situation is that I can take a walk, and when I do some measure of clarity will invariably be introduced, and a way forward–if not a solution–will present itself.

Even though I hate to leave a problem unsolved, on this particular day it was time to go home. But going home meant walking to my car, and sure enough, the cold air was already inducing possible solutions to present themselves. Then, later that evening in the shower, it hit me. And that was it, that was the solution to the problem. I checked it out and sure enough, it worked.

And that’s about the coolest thing that I can think of in the work world.

A couple of caveats. I know that “research” is not the only place that AHA! moments manifest themselves. And “research” doesn’t necessarily mean academic research; there are plenty of research-like jobs at companies and government agencies around the country.



  1. “R code” makes downloading and installing the most complicated drivers look like child’s play.

  2. Hey man, thats awesome that you figured out that problem. Thats gotta get you pumped. I hope the research continues to go well. Btw, you been playing a lot of Pueto Rico?

  3. I haven’t played a single game since I left Oregon. Just haven’t had a chance. But soon, maybe even this weekend.

  4. And I’ve wrestled with it plenty! The first time I tried to download it, I was clueless. But it was one of those things that isn’t as bad as it seems.

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