The Intern Diaries: The Dumbest Guy in the Room

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to watch my boss give a keynote presentation on statistical analysis to a collection of brainiacs in San Diego. Walking into the conference that afternoon, I was unsure whether or not I would understand a single sentence from the day’s discussions. More nerve-racking was the fact that I was representing 7 Generation Games, whose CEO is a PhD. in Statistics. I was sure that I was going to make a bad impression should I have to interact with any of the conference attendees. I decided I had only two options: (a) pick one thing I understood from a single talk and mention only that during the networking interlude, or (b) if (a) is impossible (i.e. if I don’t understand anything) fake being mute.

After the first presentation was made by some middle-aged man talking about god-knows-what, (b) seemed to be my only hope. Then came AnnMaria’s keynote presentation on Categorical Data and Factor Analysis. “Oh no,” I thought to myself, “I’m screwed.” But little did I know of my boss’ unique ability to distill complex theoretical concepts into an accessible and relatable framework. In a matter of thirty minutes, AnnMaria, lucidly explained each topic using only six simple bar graphs—minimalism at its finest. I know I wasn’t the only one impressed by this feat. In fact, her simplistic, yet accurate reasoning I bet shocked even the most senior statistician in the building. What’s more is that she also incorporated meaning into her presentation by answering the question, “why?”—Why is this material useful to know and what can you do with it? By the time she finished listing off answers, I had a page of notes that I would soon rely on to initiate conversations with my fellow listeners. Option (a) was restored.

Following what was a great networking reception, I approached AnnMaria to congratulate her on her success that evening, as well as to learn how she was able to make such a complicated subject interesting and understandable. Her answer was intriguing, and oddly symbolic of our mission at 7 Generation Games. She said (I paraphrase):

 “My teaching philosophy is unlike others, in that I try to adapt my instruction to meet the general ability of my audience. In many instances, my audience is a bunch of grad students who are not very well versed in statistics. So instead of boring them to death with uninteresting examples and sophisticated language, I try to use techniques that will grab their attention and entice them to come to class curious and ready to learn. In my opinion, academics and professionals alike often try too hard to sound smart at the audience’s expense. Perhaps this is because they want to flaunt their intelligence. But knowledge is useless if it cannot be effectively passed along to others for their benefit.”

You would think by now (11 weeks into my internship) I should be used to these types of sage-like occurrences; however, it still amazes me to see just how passionate our staff is about making a positive difference in students’ lives.