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Old Dog, New Tricks

5 Oct

I write often in this spot about professional development, the importance of continuing to expand the skills we need to remain relevant in our work, and how curiosity plays the biggest role, in my opinion, in keeping one ever-growing and ever-learning. I thought about the topic more last night as I was driving home from an absolutely fantastic evening at the Brown University Arts Initiative. The show was a songwriting master class and performance led by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal. (Any regular reader of this blog knows of my admiration and “awestruckness” of Rosanne, thus I won’t repeat it here.) This was the inaugural program in this new series that features accomplished musicians and songwriters to the campus to both perform and offer critique of students taking part in Brown’s Songwriting Master Class. Four incredibly talented young people played one song each, followed by thoughts and comments and suggestions from Cash and Leventhal. It was such a rich time, being able to hear individuals so proficient in something talk about their processes, offer tips that work for them, provide insights into how they chose this over that, etc. I’m grateful to Brown for starting this new program and look forward to attending future events. If you’re in the neighborhood, I encourage you to do the same.

My 45-minute drive home had me thinking about youth – and how I am far from that time in life now. I thought about those young people and some of the comments that they received from Rosanne and John. I thought about how they have a lifetime ahead of them to hone a craft, if they so choose. It started to become depressing, given that I just started writing songs about a year ago (not counting silly songs about science that borrow familiar tunes others penned). How can I ever become good at it?

But before I spent too long at my pity party, I began thinking this … 

I decided to learn to play the drums when I was in my early 30s. I loved it. Still do. When we moved to an apartment that put a cramp on my pursuits in percussion, I picked up a mandolin, found some classes, found a teacher, and got to it. I was in my 40s then. I was knocking on the door of 50 when I performed for the first time ever at an open mic. I was 50 when I joined some friends in a band. And just last year, at the ripe young age of 53, I went to my first songwriting camp and began to write my first “for real” songs. At 54, I started hosting a radio show on my local community radio station and I’m about to launch a new podcast. At 55 … well, I’m not quite there yet, so we’ll just wait and see what comes next. 

Podcast-Art-1

Reviewing this timeline in my head, I realized a few things. One, I’m a late bloomer when it comes to music. While I have always – ALWAYS – been a fan and collector and a reader of the art, I came to be a participant later in life. True, I took piano lessons for years as a kid, but it was really to justify my mom buying a piano for the house. She loved to play and had done so her whole life. Me, I was the tomboy who was happier playing ball with my older brother and his friends. But I did walk down the street to Mr. Cornett’s house each week, faithfully, for a number of years. Until I was paroled. Looking back, I needed to find music. It wasn’t going to find me.

Second, it is my nature to meander. I have now been in the same profession working at the same place longer, by far, than anything I ever did or any place I ever worked previously. It is one of my favorite professional development activities to lead, having people write down all of the jobs that they’ve ever had in life and all of the things that they subsequently know how to do because of those experiences. My lists are long. I’ve done many things, I have many interests, and I have the student loans to back it up. And I’ve come to appreciate this characteristic of myself over time. I like that I like a lot of things. I enjoy dabbling in all sorts of stuff. I used to believe that the drawback to this quality is that I’d never become very good at anything – “Jack of all trades, master of none” kind of thinking. There’s some truth to it, but it’s a choice we have to make in life. Some people choose to live all over the world while others, like my grandmother, live 94 years within the same city limits. Neither is better than the other. They are both valuable.

Which brings me to the third thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as it pertains lifetime learning, professional growth, and the continuing work we do to find our place – whether professionally or personally. We can think of life in the singular or the plural. We can believe that we live one life or we can relish in living many. It’s a state of mind, I believe. I’ve surely lived more of my years already that I’ve left to live, but I’m drawn more lately to wondering about what to do with the different lives that I’ve yet to live and I like to believe that I’ve got maybe one or two left. 

What will I do with them? Maybe I’ll develop and lead more professional workshops around these things, encouraging other librarians to tap into and nurture their creative sides in their work. Maybe I’ll seek out something in the music industry that takes advantage of my skill set. Maybe radio. Maybe I’ll continue doodling data visualizations and writing reports about the cool things that happen via the UMCCTS. Who knows?

There are obstacles to thinking and living this way. We do live in a society that focuses much more on nurturing young people, those with years ahead to give to something, rather than older adults who may cost more and not give the ROI an entity seeks. It’s hard to find fellowships or internships or opportunities that allow one to learn a new profession later in life, but that said, it’s not impossible. (ProFellow is one helpful resource here.)

For me, I believe the most important thing is to remember that we don’t need to be young to either learn – or become good at – something new. It’s all in the mindset we choose to adopt. Let’s all keep growing together!

I think I’ll write a song during lunch. 

SaveSave

Data Viz Sing-Along!

13 Sep

I was invited to give an 8-minute lightning talk at this evening’s SLA New England event in Boston called, Organizing Our Digital World. My topic is data visualization. Easy, right? Normally, yes, but in this case I have to give a talk on data visualization without the use of any visuals! I love a good challenge and this was just that. I mulled for weeks over how I might pull this off until it finally came to me, Schoolhouse Rock! Remember those? I loved them as a kid. I still know many by heart. And so I thought, if I can still remember conjunctions thanks to Conjunction Junction, maybe folks will be able to remember a few things about choosing the right chart for presenting data if I put the rules into a song.

Well, per my usual, my song became lengthy and wordy and without a good hook like, “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function…” but I still think it will work for tonight. Now I just need 2 minutes of fill to get to the 8-minute mark!

A huge credit for the basis of this song goes to Stephanie Evergreen. Her book, Effective Data Visualization, is a constant companion in my work and what I know of choosing the right charts, I learned from her books, tutorials, blog posts, and more. If you need some expert advice in this area, do seek her out.

So here’s the song (truly, a one-shot practice filmed in my studio last night). You’ll find the lyrics below. Feel free to sing along!

Data Viz: A Lesson in Verse
Sally Gore

I was spending time looking at some data
Figuring out the story it could tell.
Taking time studying the data
Lots of rows and columns in Excel.
I needed to get a report to my boss,
I needed to get it to her quick.
And though I wasn’t shooting for form over function
I still wanted to make it something slick.

I took a moment, pulled some books from my shelf.
Seeking out some expert advice.
Two books by Stephanie Evergreen,
I think they’re worth much more than their price.
I flipped to the page that talks about the science,
The work of Cleveland and McGill
Turns out that humans aren’t innate at reading data
And choosing the right charts takes some skill.

One of the books has a “Chart Chooser Cheat Sheet”
That I find an awful handy tool.
Plus a deck of “Chart Chooser” cards
Together they help me learn the rules.
So when I was invited to give this talk
Without the use of any picture cues
I thought I’d try and turn the rules into song
To quickly teach them all to you.

So here we go …

When you’ve got a single number
That you’re trying to convey
A single number of great importance,
The simple, single thing the numbers say.
The easiest means to get that thought across,
Is forget about charts of any kind,
Just write that number big and loud on the page
There’s no need to clutter people’s minds.

Other times you need to describe,
How two numbers are alike or not.
Bars side-by-side or back-to-back,
Try these or else a dot plot.
If you’ve got one group in particular
That changes while the others stay the same
Consider how a slopegraph can easily show
The difference that you’re trying to claim.

Many times you’ll find you’ve got a benchmark
And the story’s all about meeting goals.
Often times we measure performance
It’s important when we’re talking bankrolls.
A benchmark line across a line of columns
Will easily get the point across.
So will a bullet chart or indicator dots,
Pick and choose from these for the boss.

Now you know we LOVE to give surveys,
So what the survey says, we’ll need to show.
For this task there are lots of choices
Involving bars stacked up in a row.
Stacked or diverging, aggregated, too,
Or a bunch of small multiples across the top.
And if you get tired of plain old bars,
Show the same thing with a lollipop.

What about when there are parts of a whole,
Like a bunch of demographics of a group?
It’s easy to default to that famous old pie chart
But listen up folks, here’s the scoop.
Pie charts are old, pie charts are boring
But most they’re often difficult to read
Try a histogram, a tree map, a stacked bar instead
Or perhaps no visual is what you need.

Sometimes you’ve got some data that shows
How things changed over time.
It’s really pretty common, we see it quite a lot,
Did our numbers shrink or did they climb?
Well a few chart types that I sung about already
In this case will also do the trick
Think line graph, a slope graph, a dot plot, too,
Or a deviation bar’s a perfect pick.

Now you might be asking, “How about a scatterplot?”
I learned of those in Stats 101.”
And I must admit finding patterns in a scatter
Really can be a lot of fun.
A bunch of points plotted ‘cross an “X” and a “Y”
Show relationships between “A” and “B” –
When “A” does this, “B” does that,
And is there any trend that you can see?

Sometimes your data isn’t numbers at all,
But rather lots of words said or wrote.
Qualitative methods produce the kind of data,
Where the words give the meaning to take note.
Callouts are useful, heat maps can help,
Or you can make a cloud filled with words.
Each of these is handy, each of these works,
And your meaning won’t get lost on numbers nerds.

So that’s a few tips, I hope you find helpful
When you think about the story you can tell
As you’re sitting there staring at a spreadsheet of data
And all you really want to do is yell.
Start at step one, learn the different charts
And when and how and where they work best.
Once you’ve conquered that you just need to learn to make them
Step-by-step, you’ll have passed the test.

And no one will sit there staring at your PowerPoint slide or your report or your article wondering, “What the heck does this mean?!

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Social Media

23 May

goodbaduglyThe following first appeared as an article for the Social Media column (edited by Lara Killian, AHIP) in MLA News, the monthly membership magazine of the Medical Library Association. Originally, I planned to simply repost it here without any additional thoughts or comments, but in the past 24 hours, a couple of things have occurred that make me wish to add just a quick note. First, I read the New York Times article, The Internet is Broken: @ev Is Trying to Salvage It. It’s an interesting piece about Evan Williams, a co-creator of Blogger, one of the founders of Twitter, and the founder of Medium. Much of the article focuses on the the struggles of the latter as a successful business model, but the underlying theme is about the Internet and what social media has fostered, negatively, in our society.

The second thing that happened was last night, someone who I’ve never encountered in my entire life but who clearly disagreed with something that I posted on Twitter, called me a paid troll, an idiot, and a waste of oxygen. I’m grateful that they stayed away from any comments about my body and my dead mother, but … I blocked the individual before he could think of that. I’ve used Twitter for years. I know that it has an earned reputation as a platform for bullying, for hateful comments, and for even inciting violence, but until last night, I’d been immune from any of that. Twitter is a way for me to aggregate news sources, share interesting and helpful information with friends and colleagues, see pictures of puppies, and even form a few new friendships. I’ll not shy away from it due to this incident, but I imagine that I’m not alone when I observe the horrid behavior of too many people today, virtual and otherwise, and shout, “STOP IT!” 

But enough with the commentary. Here’s the piece that I wrote about why I’m a blogger. It’s been one of the best professional and personal decisions that I’ve made. It’s the Good, to the Bad and the Ugly.

*********************

Way back in September of 2012, I started writing a blog, “A Librarian by Any Other Name.” I chose this name because my official job title had recently changed from “research and scholarly communications librarian” to “informationist.” I didn’t particularly care for the latter term, but it came with an administrative supplement grant from the National Library of Medicine, which was my impetus for starting to blog in the first place. I also chose what I thought was a fun name for my uniform resource locator (URL)—librarianhats.net—to capture the fact that librarians have many job titles, in part because we wear so many different “hats.”

I began my blog to track my experience and progress for the grant. I’m not very good with note taking in any traditional sense, but I do like to write a narrative and I enjoy the world of social media, so blogging seemed a good choice. It became a way for me to share not only with other members of my research team, but also with other librarians and/or interested readers. When the project ended, I realized that I’d developed an audience and that I really enjoyed writing for my followers, so I continued.

Since that first post, I’ve written 192 more and had 62,224 visitors from 156 different countries. Reviewing these statistics makes me feel both proud and humbled. I’ve received many kind words of appreciation, engaged in interesting discussions about blog post topics, and discovered lots of colleagues with similar ideas and in similar situations. As a direct result of contacts made through my blog, I’ve accepted at least 1 invitation each year to speak at librarian conferences, allowing me to travel to fun places and meet many wonderful people. All of this happened because I started writing about what I do and what I think about as a librarian, an informationist, and, most recently, an evaluator for the UMass Center for Clinical & Translational Science. I believe it’s one of the best professional decisions I ever made.

Want to start your own blog? Here are some lessons I’ve learned:

Be yourself

My blog is a mix of the professional and personal me. I found early on that it was difficult for me to write completely objectively, as I might do for a professional publication. Besides, this wasn’t the point of Librarian by Any Other Name. I wanted to share my personal experiences and thoughts, but in a professional manner. As such, I adopted a style that allows me to be myself: fairly informal, folksy, and hopefully funny at times, but also on point in regard to sharing content that my audience will find interesting and relevant. Finding your voice may come easily or not, but with time and practice, it develops.

Be consistent

In her piece, “Making Time to Stay Social,” Lara Killian, AHIP, notes the importance of making a schedule and sticking to it. This is important both for the writer and the audience. People follow a blog when it stays current. In the same way, they stop visiting when a site sits dormant for long periods of time. When I first started A Librarian by Any Other Name, I wrote and posted a new piece each week. When I finished the initial project and especially when I changed jobs a couple of years ago, I found it harder to maintain this schedule due to both time and material. Once or twice a month is now my norm. The key is to maintain engagement.

Be brave (if you want to)

Early on, I made the decision to announce every new entry to A Librarian by Any Other Name on multiple platforms. I wanted people to find it. I wanted to develop an audience. My primary audience—in other words, medical librarians—prefers receiving information via different means. Some subscribe; some follow on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google; and still others click from the link that I send in an email to several email discussion lists. Some may feel this is overkill, but the reality of social media platforms and information flow is that if you want an audience, you need to utilize multiple channels. You may have naysayers who think self-promotion is simply ego, but it isn’t. If you’ve taken the time and effort to write something that you want others to read, you need to tell them it’s there. After all, it’s social media, not a diary.

Final thoughts

Too often, we struggle in our profession to be visible. We feel that we are overlooked and undervalued, and that what we do is misunderstood. The easiest remedy for this is communication. Blogging is one means of accomplishing this goal—and a whole lot more.

Show Me A Story

27 Oct

(The following is from a spotlight talk that I gave at the annual meeting of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries chapter of the Medical Library Association in New Haven, CT, October 25, 2016.)

nahsl_viz_01

nahsl_viz_02I was listening to economist and presentation expert, Jonathan Schwabish’s, PolicyViz Podcast last week. It was an episode from about a month ago; an interview with Andy Kirk, a data visualization specialist and the person behind the terrific website, Visualising Data. Andy is also the author of the new book, Visualizing Data: A Handbook for Data Driven Design, a must-have reference text for anyone seeking to produce effective visualizations. When asked why he wrote the book and the essence behind it, he replied,

Visualization is a game of decisions and to make good decisions you need to be aware of all of the options that you’ve got and then be aware of the influencing factors that shape what choices you can make. What skills have you got? How does that restrict or open up opportunities around chart types or interactivity? What are the formats that you happen to aspire towards and what does that impact in terms of the choices that you have to make for a given context?

I so appreciated this statement for a couple of reasons. First, looking at the act of creating visualizations as a decision-making process gets to the heart of why and how visuals either work or they don’t. In other words, good decision-making is key to good visuals, regardless of all the know-how one might have in terms of tools and/or design. You need to start and end with good decisions. Secondly, you need to have some skills and the more you develop your skills, the greater number of choices you’ll have available to you in the decision-making process. “Aspire.” It’s a grand word.

nahsl_viz_03My story of creating visuals started on a Friday afternoon when I was staring at a spreadsheet/report that I’m frequently asked for in my work. It’s a tracking form of our clinical research scholars, telling the number of grants they’ve applied for, the number and percentage of said applications are funded, the amount of money associated with each, the number of publications they’ve written, and other such metrics that tell the UMCCTS their return on investment, if you will, for these researchers. 

nahsl_viz_04As I was looking at it – and as it was a Friday afternoon and I was needing something fun to do to finish my work week – I wondered if I could draw a picture that told the same story that the numbers and information in this spreadsheet told. I like to draw, so I thought I’d give it a go. I wasn’t sure that my bosses would like it, but I figured it didn’t hurt to try.

So I did just that and ended up with this:nahsl_viz_05Surprisingly, my bosses loved it! And I was quickly asked to make some more, so I did. 

nahsl_viz_06I made one to show how all five UMass campuses are involved with the UMCCTS. I made one highlighting the team science and/or collaborative nature of our sponsored programs. I made one showing the outcomes of our pilot awards, one illustrating the work of the Center for Microbiome Research, and one highlighting the peaks achieved by our Conquering Diseases Program. I covered my office door with them, put them in our monthly newsletter, and eventually we made a page on our Center’s website so that they live online.

nahsl_viz_07Next, we had our annual research retreat and when it came time for me to produce and give a report on the evaluations from the day, I decided to expand my chart-making skills, and learned how to make stacked horizontal bar charts to present the information more clearly and concisely. (Thank you, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic.)

nahsl_viz_08Of course, the more charts I made, the more folks came to me with requests to make more. Each was an opportunity to learn something new, to try something different, to make choices and decisions – some good, some bad, some better. I made slides for a presentation that our Quality Assurance leader was giving to a group of clinical research administrators. 

nahsl_viz_09I made a tree map for the director of our Institutional Review Board. When I showed it to her she asked, “Where’s the pie?” So I made her a pie and she said, “You know, I like the tree better.” Yay! So did I.

nahsl_viz_10I also made her a 100% stacked bar chart to show average IRB approval times and in doing so, also finally made a color template of our UMCCTS colors. (Thank you, Stephanie Evergreen.)

 

nahsl_viz_11And then, taking Andy’s words to heart (before I even knew them) I read and learned and practiced and expanded my skill set, learning dot plots, split bar graphs, lollipop graphs, embedding labels, and creating both heat maps and bar graphs in R. (Thank you, Nathan Yau.) It’s fun and it’s appreciated and it’s become a big part of my job now.

nahsl_viz_12And so when people continue to ask me why I’m no longer a librarian or what an evaluator does, I reply, that I AM a librarian. I’m a librarian who does evaluation and now that I’ve added the drawing pictures aspect to my toolkit, my wife calls me an INFORMATION ARTIST! It’s the best job title that I’ve ever had, by far. 

What I hope everyone takes away from this talk – or this post – is that when it comes to being an information professional, the sky is the limit for all that you can do. Find what you like, find what you do well, find what you want to do, learn what you want to learn, and grow with the profession. It makes for a great career.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Pt.1)

12 Jul

Well, truth be told, I’ve not had a summer vacation just yet. Still, things do seem to slow down a little bit at work during the summer months and I’ve taken advantage of the time to learn a few new things that will hopefully make me better in my job. I thought I’d share some of them, along with resources in case you wish to add some arrows to your quiver, too.

One of the biggest challenges that I face as an evaluator is being able to quickly (and often on the fly) answer questions about the different programs and projects of the UMCCTS. I struggle with rarely getting the same question twice – or at least my ability, yet, to hear the same question twice – and too often find myself scrambling to gather data from different sources, analyze it, and present it back to a particular stakeholder “by the end of the day.” Granted, I was certainly used to giving quick answers to questions from patrons when I worked in the library, but I had a couple of advantages there; (1) I’d worked for a number of years as a medical librarian, so I was pretty up to speed on the library’s resources and (2) the library was a nice, neat, set container of resources as opposed to any number of individuals and project leads and program directors and data gatherers spread across the campus. Praise be the library! It’s difficult to overstate the value of organization. But I digress…

My challenge now is to make my own library, to build my own collection of resources, and to keep them current so that those stressful “by the end of the day” requests are less so. Enter spreadsheets, pivot tables, and dashboards. I was hardly a novice Excel user when I started this work, but enough reading in the literature and best practices of evaluation led me to believe that I needed to expand my know-how about Excel in order to make things easier for myself. After my last scramble to fulfill a “just in time” request, I decided to get to it. I read two excellent books on data visualization that base most of their material on examples from Excel; Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic’s, Storytelling with Data, and Stephanie Evergreen’s, Effective Data Visualization. These are both great, hands-on books to get you going. I also came across Excel Campus, with one of the best series of video tutorials I’ve ever viewed. The 3-part series on building pivot tables and dashboards was just what I needed.

With these new skills, I’m able to take lengthy, unwieldy (to me) spreadsheets and turn them into several separate sheets with associated pivot tables for analysis and interactive dashboards that let me quickly see the who, what, when, and where of our different programs. It’s a work in progress, but I can tell already that it will be helpful for me and – hopefully – when I develop more tables based upon the questions of the Center’s staff, it will be helpful for them, too.

Next up, I wanted to learn how to create both an overlapping bar chart and a heat map. I was inspired to learn the former from a blog post that I read, coupled with the task I had of writing a report summarizing the evaluation results of our annual research retreat. You know, when you create a survey to evaluate an event (a class, a retreat, a workshop, etc.), you’re often stuck with a whole bunch of questions producing a whole bunch of bar graphs showing how much people appreciated this, that, or the other thing about the event. My survey for the retreat was no different, but I knew that there had to be a better way to present the findings – “better,” meaning a one-page document. Overlapping bar charts seemed perfect. As you can see, I was able to use this type of chart to combine the results of several questions into one visual, making things a lot easier to read and a lot shorter in format.

Feedback

Five charts become one with an overlapping/stacked bar chart.

Now the heat map. Why? Oh, I don’t know. It was last Friday and a quiet day. And they’re kind of cool looking, so … back to tackling R for analysis and visualizations. (My goal here is to be able to be comfortable with these tasks in Excel, R, and Tableau, thus I switch off between them, to hone some skills.) I’ve mentioned here before that I find Nathan Yau’s books and website, Flowing Data, to be essential to understanding and doing data visualization. To learn (better said, “follow the instructions”) to make a heat map, I used the example that he offers in his book, Visualize This, but he also makes this particular exercise available in his collection of online tutorials, so you can have at it, too, if you wish. As you can see, I did indeed follow the instructions and made a nice little heat map of NBA players’ stats.

NBA HeatmapI also wanted to try making a heat map in Excel (easier said than done, though you can find resources online). I downloaded the data from my Jawbone fitness band that I’ve been wearing since December and made a nice map of my daily step count. Nothing fancy, but it worked just fine as a learning exercise.

Step Count Heat Map

I still plan to tackle making heat maps in Tableau, as well as other dashboards and charts that will be useful. The tool kit is never full and the summer isn’t even half over yet.

Enjoy! 

Show Me the Numbers

3 Feb

I’ve noticed how ever since I became an evaluator, I’m much more in tune to numbers. This isn’t to say that I never paid any attention to numbers before, but now, when I hear stories on the radio or I read articles in my local newspaper, I look more closely at what’s being reported regarding those numbers. What’s really being said? And more, I find myself asking, “What do these numbers really represent?” Here’s an example:

This morning, I was listening to a story on NPR about the voter turnout in this week’s Iowa caucus. Specifically, the story was about the turnout among younger voters (17-29 years of age) in Iowa and what, if anything, this turnout says about this voting bloc nationally.

Aside: You can find interesting data regarding the Iowa electorate (as well as other states) on the U.S. Census Department’s website. You can find specifics regarding the turnout of younger Iowa voters on the website of CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement).

But back to the NPR story… Renee Montagne interviewed Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, about these millennial voters. Phrases like, “record numbers” make my ears perk up. “What was the record?” I wonder. “What are we talking about?” In brief, Kawashima-Ginsberg stated, “The youth turnout was 11.2%.”

“11.2% of what?” I ask out loud in my car, to no one.

“On the Republican side, Ted Cruz received 27% of the votes, Mark Rubio 24%, and Donald Trump 19%.”

Again I ask, “27% of what?” No one answers.

Bernie Sanders, I’m told, won 84% of the Democratic vote, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 14%.

“Wow! 84%. That’s a lot! You do keep reporting how he’s winning the hearts of young folks.”

I pull out the note pad that I keep in the dashboard cubbie of my car and write down, “Young voters 84%, 14% // 11% = x” I put the note in my pocket, determined to figure out what these numbers mean. Later, I did.

The total number of young people, defined here as voters between the ages of 17-29, that participated in the Iowa caucus was 53,215. What’s that look like? I need a visual reference. I think of this demographic and I think of college. It’s a natural reference-point for me, a college grad. When I think of college and crowds, I think football. (Plus, the SuperBowl is but a few days away. Think football.) Thus, to give myself the visual that I need, I decide to compare these numbers to the capacities of various college football stadiums. Here’s what I found…

… 53, 215 people equals a sold-out crowd for a football game at Rutgers University’s High Point Solution Stadium.

RUFootballStadium

High Point Solutions Stadium, Rutgers University, East Rutherford, NJ

Okay, that’s a good-sized crowd. Granted, it’s not quite half of the capacity of the University of Michigan’s stadium, but let’s remember, it’s Iowa, a state who’s population makes up .97% of the United States as a whole. Michigan is up there at 3.11%. (All of this data comes from Census.gov.)

Of these 53,215 caucus-goers, 22,415 were Republicans and 30,800 were Democrats. Bernie Sanders won the support of 84% of those 30,800, or approximately 25,800 young people. I need a reference. What do 25,800 people look like? A sold-out crowd at my alma mater, James Madison University’s Bridgeforth Stadium. Go Dukes!

Bridgeforth Stadium

Bridgeforth Stadium, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA

Hillary Clinton’s 14%, or 4,312 youthful supporters from Tuesday night, could fit in at Sacred Heart University’s (Fairfield, CT) Campus Field.

Campus Field

Campus Field, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT

Ted Cruz and his 27% of young Republicans (5,828) fill up the Butler Bowl of the Butler University’s Bulldogs in Indianapolis, IN.

Butler Bowl

Butler Bowl, Butler University, Indianapolis, IN

Mark Rubio’s 5,155 (24%) supporters would fill the stands of the University of Rhode Island’s Rams Meade Stadium.

Meade Stadium

University of Rhode Island, Meade Stadium, Kingston, RI

And finally, Donald Trump’s 4,483 supporters, or 19% of the young Republican caucus-goers, would fit nicely in Bryant College’s (Rhode Island) Bulldog Stadium. Or perhaps, more apropos, they could stay approximately 3 to a room in the 1,250 “deluxe guest rooms and palatial suites” of the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City.

Bulldog Stadium

Put into these contexts, the numbers make so much more sense to me. Sure, 25,800 people (that 84% Bernie came home with) is a lot of people, but in perspective, my alma mater isn’t exactly a gigantic school. It’s a good-sized school, mind you, but it’s hardly representative of the number of people who might vote in a general election, even if they could all agree on anything, in mass, besides cheering for the Dukes.

Additionally, these stories say an awful lot about how numbers and statistics get used in our reporting. “The American People,” a phrase that every single politician, pollster, and news junkie talking head over-uses means … what A percentage of a percentage of a percentage of a percentage of people is generally a number way smaller than an image that “The American People” conjures up. It’s also, more than likely, a smaller sample size of ideas and beliefs, morals and behaviors, arguments and agreements, and problems and solutions than the 323,000,000 people in the United States hold in total. 

Yes, the political season in America is just getting rolling and it’s a great time to pay attention to the numbers reported, seek out sites for trustworthy statistics, do some math yourself, and hone up on your data fluency skills. (That last bit is a nod to a terrific book, Data Fluency, from the smart folks at Juice Analytics. Check it out.)

 

A Picture CAN Tell a Dozen Tables’ Worth of Data

10 Dec

[The following was originally written for the UMCCTS December Newsletter.]

When it comes to summarizing and sharing information with an audience, one important thing to remember is the audience itself. It’s a pretty simple concept, yet too often forgotten or dismissed when we’re preparing a talk, an article, a policy statement, patient education materials, and the myriad of other containers into which we fit our message.

Most recently, I’ve been working to pull together sections for the Final Progress Report for our initial Clinical and Translational Science Award. This is not my first time writing such a report and as has been the case in the past, we follow a template that goes something like:

Overall Objectives and Goals > Aims > Accomplishments Associated with Each Aim > Milestones Reached for the Same > Challenges Faced > Future Plans

These reports are lengthy and dry, filled with lots of bullet points and tables and numbers. I’m not privy to how these reports are read at NIH, but I imagine that the format fits how they are reviewed and makes it easier for funders to see a bigger picture across similar awards. Funders and reviewers are the audience, thus we present our information to them in the way they’re accustomed – the way that they understand.

Taking a break from all of the writing, I decided to turn one of the bigger tables of information I’ve received into something for a different audience. Sarah Rulnick, MPH, Project Manager for the Conquering Diseases Project, recently compiled some information regarding the work of the Biorepository and Volunteer Database. These are both integral pieces in the UMCCTS efforts to support clinical trials. I read through the narrative portions of Sarah’s summary and took in the full-page table giving yearly counts of things such as the number of patients consented for the biorepository, MiCARD searches performed, outreach events organized, and the like.

I started to think about a way that I could summarize this information for both people who have already enrolled in the Volunteer Database and those who might potentially do so, if they only understood a bit more about the importance of participation. It’s an audience that Sarah and her colleagues are charged to reach. I pulled out the data points that I thought best addressed this goal. I also brainstormed what came to my mind when I thought about conquering something. What I ultimately came up with is this:

Conquering Diseases

Coincidentally, right in the middle of writing this newsletter piece, I watched a 20-minute “Coffee Break” webinar from the American Evaluation Association. I hadn’t connected the webinar with this piece, but they certainly appear to be related. The webinar was entitled, “How to Develop Visual Summaries and Inforgraphics from Your Evaluation Findings,” and presented by Elissa Schloesser, a graphic designer and visual communicator based in Minneapolis. She, too, talked about knowing your audience and she offered an excellent example of how she prepared two very different materials for two groups; both from the same report. I felt I was on track with my message here.

Elissa has some other nice examples on her My Visual Voice. If you’re thinking of communicating some of your work visually, they might inspire you.