Tuesday, 12 April 2016


I have been cruising around in my warm fuzzy cocoon of writing (which is so nice and entirely predictable, although pretty slow going) and making trees (which are improvements upon my already pretty finished phylogenies, so I can't go wrong). Until a few weeks ago, I was gently (but increasingly obviously) avoiding any other kind of analysis. There are big scary computer programs that I have to fight with, and I feel so tired after grappling with BEAST. But also I was afraid that anything I did would just retrieve the information that my data were inadequate and I'd need to start again. Before analysis, I don't know whether my results are useful or useless. They happily exist on my computer as big files filling up my hard drive and making me feel accomplished. But a PhD is not assessed by how much hard drive space your data takes up. A PhD is assessed by the defence or viva and a thesis, which has to be written, and cannot be written without results.

Analysing my results determines the usefulness of my data...opening the box determines the fate of the cat.
Luckily, I managed to get over this elephant in my own personal room. I started gently, downloading and exploring the programs that I had to use, and running through tutorials using the examples given. Then I tried to make my data look like the examples. Then I ran my data through the program and expected failure. The first few times, there were hiccups - usually a grammatical error, such as a space in the wrong place. After correcting them, I got some pretty cool and exciting results (well, I find them exciting, and perhaps one or two other people in the world would too, after I've explained to them at some length why they are exciting), and managed to make figures out of them. I was pleasantly surprised that my data meant something.

Now data analysis is addictive, and I keep trying to improve on previous runs of analyses and tests. I do not believe that data analysis can ever be completed; only abandoned.

If you're in the above situation, I would encourage you to face your fear and take the plunge so you can get on with your life, and also to save every version of your results and keep it somewhere safe on your computer, cos it's awkward when it gets deleted or overwritten by mistake.