7 steps to build a data science project in spare time

Advice from Google’s chief economist

Hal R. Varian, Google’s Chief Economist (pic. source)

“The model of research that I describe is an idealization of reality, much like the economic models that I create.”

Get the idea worth pursuing

Sometimes the idea comes from peculiar places. Also, strange ideas can come from rather normal places. (source: Alice in Wonderland)

“The first step is to get an idea. This is not all that hard to do. The tricky part is to get a good idea.”

“I think that you should look for your ideas outside the academic journals — in newspapers, in magazines, in conversations, and in TV and radio programs.”

“One of my favorite pieces of my own work is the paper I wrote on “A Model of Sales”. I had decided to get a new TV so I followed the ads in the newspaper to get an idea of how much it would cost. (…) Once I developed the model I had a research assistant go through a couple of years’ worth of the Ann Arbor News searching for the prices of color TVs. Much to my delight the general pattern of pricing was similar to that predicted by the model. And, yes, I did manage to get a pretty good deal on the TV I eventually bought.”

Is your idea worth pursuing?

“Always remember that working on this particular idea has an opportunity cost — you could be spending your time working on a different idea.”

Don’t use Google too soon

Wait a bit before you start seeking the literature (photo by Andrea Piacquadio)

“The first thing that most graduate students do is they rush to the literature to see if someone else had this idea already. However, my advice is to wait a bit before you look at the literature.”

Build your model

(source: canva.com)

Let yourself make mistakes

Allowing mistakes is the best way to avoid making them.

“This takes a surprisingly long time — there are usually lots of false starts, frustrating diversions, and general fumbling around. But keep at it! If it were easy to do, it would have already been done.”

Now search the literature

“When you’ve worked on a topic for several months, you tend to lose a lot of perspective. First, you may think something is obvious when it really isn’t. The other possibility is that you may think something is complicated when it is really obvious — you’ve wandered into a forest via a meandering path. So at this point you’ve got to start getting some independent judgment of your work.”

Discuss with others

The goal of a discussion is to make you think about your project from a different perspective. (pic. by Alexandre Pellaes)

“Talk to your advisor, talk to your fellow students, talk to your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, neighbour, or pet. . . whoever you can get to listen.”

“When you’ve worked on a topic for several months — or even several weeks — you tend to lose a lot of perspective . . . literally.”

Know when to stop

Remember about diminishing marginal returns from each next optimization. (fig. source)

References

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