It is all just numbers, really . . .

I work as a Data Scientist for a database marketing company, and I spend a great deal of time predicting responders to credit based marketing offers, defaults on loans, and analyses of that nature. However, my graduate training (and expected PhD) is in Experimental Psychology.[i] When people find this out, I often get a confused look and the question: How did you get into this business?

Whenever I find myself having this same conversation, I am reminded of a scene from the movie Margin Call that portrays an insider view on the financial crisis. Here is an exchange between one of the “Quants” and a member of senior management.

  • What’s a specialty in propulsion, exactly?
  • My thesis was a study in the way that friction ratios affect steering outcomes in aeronautical use under reduced gravity loads.
  • So, you are a rocket scientist?
  • I was.
  • How did you end up here?
  • Well, it’s all just numbers, really. You’re just changing what you’re adding up . . . 

While I am not exactly a rocket scientist, I share his sentiment. A Support Vector Machine Regression model does not care if I am trying to predict a personality trait or the likelihood of defaulting on a loan. The numbers are the same. That is the beauty of math. It is universal. Techniques that I apply to large-scale analyses on social media can be adapted to study nearly anything else that I find interesting. So the next time someone asks me how I got into the database marketing business, I will tell them, “Well, it’s all just numbers, really. You’re just changing what you’re adding up…” Or, I might just point them toward this blog post.


[i] This confusion is no doubt compounded by the confusion between Psychologists, Counselors, Psychiatrists, etc. and research psychology, but that is a conversation for another blog.

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