Statistics Course

by Dawn Spires from Wahnapitae, ON
Aug 31, 13

I was driving to Sudbury and listening to the Vinyl Cafe on Sunday afternoon, as is my habit. The story about Stephanie struggling with her statistics course brought back a lot of memories: some good, some not so good. You see, just like Stephanie, I’d never failed any school course I ever took…high school or post-secondary …until my first year university statistics course. To make matters worse – it was a mandatory course. There was no math or computer course that could be substituted for statistics. So I had to repeat the course the following year.

To this day, and this is decades later, I can still recall one particularly excruciating question on the final statistics exam. It was about short-haired and long-haired guinea pigs. The problem, as I saw it, with this particular question was that it also involved black and white guinea pigs, black and white guinea pigs that would mate with various long-haired and short-haired versions of black, white, or brown guinea pigs. This of course ultimately resulted in, you guessed it, many, many statistically numbered genetic variations of black long-haired guinea pigs, black short-haired guinea pigs, black and white long- or short-haired guinea pigs, black, white and brown short-haired or long-haired guinea pigs, brown and white….you get the idea. Guinea pigs, guinea pigs, guinea pigs. All varieties and versions of guinea pigs, each with its own genetic statistical nomenclature that could somehow be used to predict their arrival in this world, using a mathematical calculation that turns my brain to mud just thinking about it thirty plus years later.

As if this wasn’t enough, it was a four-part exam question. Based on the answer in part (a) you were then to calculate answers for parts (b), (c) and (d). There may even have been an (e). All I know is, I couldn’t complete part (a). I thought I’d failed this darn course a second time. Stephanie’s plight seemed to have followed a similar path to mine and my mind was fully engaged with thoughts of students, statistics and guinea pigs as I was driving along towards Sudbury.

I suddenly realized I was closer to town than I’d expected, going faster than I should, and had to slow down hard for a red light. As I stopped, I noticed a police cruiser pulling out of an adjacent parking lot. He waited at the intersection till I drove past his vehicle then flashed his light to pull me over. BUSTED!!!

Apologizing profusely, I got out my driver’s license and car ownership for the officer. I explained I’d been listening to the Vinyl Cafe and hadn’t noticed the speed limit change. 

“Oh, the story about the girl taking the Statistics course?” he said.  

He smiled and told me he’d be right back.

When the officer returned, he handed me back my license and car registration papers, admonishing me to travel slower in future. A small fine had to be paid, but he had reduced it substantially. I was grateful, all things considered. I could blame the statistics course and those darn guinea pigs, if it hadn’t been for them I might not have been transported so easily back to those university days. But, on the other hand, if I hadn’t mentioned the Vinyl Cafe, I wouldn’t have been able to drive away with little more to deal with than feeling a bit foolish and very lucky.