Dancing in the world of zeros and ones


Time sure does fly, now I only have two weeks left of my time here in Ames. It has been four weeks full of hard work, as well as dancing (ballet and tango), reading and socializing. I’ve quickly become part of a very delightful dance community, populated by biology professors, PhD-students, architects, linguists and people I don’t know what they do for a living – but I do know if they can do an ”ocho” or not (dance step in tango). Social dancing is not just a way to learn an actual dance, but a fantastic way to understand the ways of the world. Tango is a form of dance where the person who leads does not do all of the leading, their partner have a very big influence in which will be the next step and how the dance will turn out. Depending on how well the dancers are able to communicate there will either be a sweet flow in tune with the music or more of a staccato mingled with occasional confusion.

I find this to be the key to many things in life, being willing to listen and learn combined with having the interest and the ability to communicate. Communication entails learning a ”language”, its ”words” and its ”grammar”, and then being confident enough to use what one has learned in order to apply it in suitable situations. During these four weeks that I have been in the US I have had to build my confidence and apply what I have learned in many ways. Apart from the English language that I have to apply in order to talk to and understand the people around me I’ve had to learn and to apply my knowledge in e.g. R, which is a statistical programming language, with many ”dialects”. This has taken a lot of work, to first improve the basic skills I had before and second, to build on those in order to explore the data that I’m here to work on. The many hours I’ve spent working in front of the computer and in tango class has taught me that confidence in ones own ability is very important, not only on the dance floor but also in the world of zeros and ones. By learning slowly, step by step, my knowledge has increased and along with it my confidence. It slowly gets easier to communicate with the program as well as my dance partner.

Nothing is learnt with haste, and learning requires hard work, trials and errors and on top of all: stamina. But perhaps most importantly, at least for me, it requires a good teacher. Be it a patient dancing partner or a well-prepared R tutorial, they have to have a clear intent and a precise language. In the end, whether one is learning or teaching, it all comes down to honest communication and an interest in being understood. When and if those things coincide then magic can happen – I either get a plot that show me how the algae and bacteria found in my samples from an algal bloom in Åland last year differs over time or I find myself floating to the tunes of an Argentinian tango together with my dance partner forgetting all about computers for a little while.

Eva Sörenson
PhD-student in marine ecology, LNU

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