more than one way to do something…

This blog post is about stubbornness and a lesson learned anew.

Without getting into the gory details, I was working on an assignment to use a dataset to identify whenever an individual received any of a series of medical procedures or diagnoses using four and five digit medical codes. I started writing the command file optimistic that I would be done in a few hours.¬† Since the variables¬† were in text format I had to type in each possible code for a procedure, but about an hour in I realized that there were hundreds if not thousands of codes to enter. Here is where I made my fatal mistake. I didn’t ask my advisors for help. Instead I spent over 12 hours trying to manually enter all of these codes.

Two days later I was explaining my experience to my advisors, and while they were very sympathetic, they immediately devised another way to check the data. I had struggled to figure out how to use the data as is, without ever thinking to just change the data to the format I needed. The programming was more difficult than anything I had done before, and it took a while to get it right, but it was much more accurate and much less like banging my head against a wall.

This post is not about the wonders or frustrations of technology, but a friendly reminder to all my fellow researchers that while independence is a great quality, don’t forget to ask for help— you can save yourself a lot of time and pain, and you’ll be more prepared for future challenges, not to mention being able to help others!


  1. Ugg! I know exactly what you mean! I don’t think my data is as complex as yours, but, I feel like whenever I send my advisor some stats or graphs that I worked up she has me reformat them somehow to be more easily analyzed. I totally agree about the independence thing — asking for help sooner than alter can save a LOT of time.