Monday, 30 November 2015

Comlaw and Statistics: Anecdotes of Education

Warning: if you're expecting some sort of post with a clear point in mind, you're reading the wrong blogpost. Try one of my other ones or change your expectation.

You know how I am doing that BCom Series thing where I review, according to a pattern, the BCom core courses? Well, I will write one of those for Comlaw 101 up but I don't want to do so until I've got my exam script copy back (which I requested after I wrote this paragraph). I'll explain the reasoning for that when the time comes but I would like to say some stuff about it now. You see, the following comments don't fit well within the framework and intentions of that framework used in the BCom Series. In some sense, then, this is more like this.

Now, as you may recall, I do BA/BCom conjoint. This matters in several ways. Firstly, one is advised to take nine (not eight) courses a year (to finish within four years) and to take five courses in semester two of one's first year (rather than in semester one). I read this advice, probably heard it too, and followed it to the letter. I also followed this advice here, which says to take four (if not five) BA papers (i.e. Maths 150 and 250. This left me with five courses for the BCom but a BCom comes with seven compulsory core papers (reviewed: Business 101 and 102, Infosys 111, Stats 108 and Acctg 101; not reviewed: Comlaw 101 and Economics 101/191... one of those two). Obviously this is a little bit interesting because most people do all their compulsory papers in their first year. I, on the other hand, wasn't going to be. Yet, more to the point, taking Stats 108 changed things.

I have a book at home, although since we moved recently (and I'm too lazy to unpack) I don't know where it is. The point, though, is that this book, Mathemagic, says something at the end, when trying to point out where maths can go, which as best as I remember means that statistics is something of a way to read the future. That, I cannot deny, is an idea that I have thought about in the past, and now that I do statistics, something that is always in the back of my mind. In other words, I was susceptible to the influence of Stats 108 even though it is what amounted to a quick run through of the main ideas in applied statistics. (I wasn't the only one either: I remember Ross telling some girl that, sadly, stats isn't available as a major in a BCom although there are a lot of stats papers that count, and it should be a BCom major option if you ask me.) Yet, I also took Stats 108 at a vital juncture. On one hand, what I was doing at the time (maths) I was finding a bit too tough for me (but very interesting) and stats was interesting too. You may recall that, for me, interest is basically everything (although the maths case shows its limits). The point is, by the time I got around to doing Comlaw 101 this semester (as a second year with 3 semesters under his belt) I was a stats major.

Remember, though, that Comlaw is mostly done by first years. This is true of History 103/G as well, and my tutor in that course asked, on our first tutorial, how many of us were. In part this was because that tutorial also went over things like CECIL (to be replaced by Canvas for next year) but, in hindsight, this experience probably means I should've been prepared for, "So, how many of you are first years?" Great. I was the only non-first year in my tutorial; I was alone, isolated: the outlier. On the other hand, this doesn't really matter in terms of the tutorial experience itself because inter-student communication, in ours at least, was close to zilch (and one hopes that my status as a second year wouldn't have affected anything anyway). Yet, it does matter, indeed is all important, insofar as it explains why I was, in an office hour some weeks later, discussing what else I do with my tutor.

It turned out that my tutor was very keen on the fact I do stats because of the employability angle (data's really big these days), which while I was aware of that it really didn't feature in my decision making at all. That is, a lawyer was very enthused by the idea of statistics as a major because of employability. Ironically, one of my friends, who does law (Comlaw is a major that, by itself, leads to no job: it is not a law degree) reckons that commercial law is what makes lawyers employable. Basically, we can derive a moral here: sometimes interest and employability work out, but I think it is more important that the former's in the driving seat. Of course, Comlaw itself actually turned out to be pretty interesting.

As you can possibly tell from the nature of conjoints, if one is doing a conjoint one probably has fairly varied interests. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if stats majors were particularly likely, compared to other science subject majors at least, to be doing conjoints. This is because statistics is relevant to probably literally every field you can possibly think of (including, say, history and English*). It cannot hurt that statistics is pretty much the embodiment of varied interests as examples will come from basically anything you can think of (from killing beetles with insecticide to trawlers to university admissions to previous years' grades whatever). I'm interested by a lot of things, admittedly generally people related (history, economics, urbanism, public transport, human evolution, dinosaurs etc. etc.), but one of those things that I am aware of that I've never really considered interesting was law.

Okay, sure, I'm a big fan of Rake (well, a fan, not sure what constitutes bigness) and I used to enjoy Boston Legal (those episodes that I saw, at any rate), but these types of things have a tendency to show lawyers in court rooms and revolve around criminal law. In other words, this is kind of technical, isn't it? And we know what I think about technical subjects. On the other hand, I am interested in constitutional arrangements (largely in relation to my views on democracy, e.g. preserving short terms, and republicanism, I'm opposed) and the flag change (if we consider that a law thing). Yet, it wasn't until I studied Law in a Business Environment (i.e. Comlaw 101) that I really thought of law as anything like interesting. Okay, maybe I did wonder that if I'd watched Rake in 2013 instead of 2014 if I would've tried to pursue law as a thing, but, really, it was Comlaw.

That being said, I did have doubts about Comlaw. Unlike with, say, Accounting I didn't have a very fully formed idea of what to expect. This would be similar to Infosys 110 but one (at least) of my friends had suggested to me that I would like Comlaw... I recall nothing similar for Infosys 110. The first part of the course I quite liked but this didn't really resolve the apprehensions because the first part was generally the sort of things I learnt in the course of the aforementioned constitutional contexts. As it turned out, though, Comlaw probably grew to be my favourite subject this time out. I don't know why but I think it was probably the course I most consistently enjoyed. As it turns out, looking at things like contract or intellectual property is pretty technical. That is, mostly what we seemed to do was learn why some particular thing fitted into this particular idea in the law of contract. If you consider fiduciary we were basically told to take it on faith that particular things would be in particular ways. Yet, there was enough in Comlaw to hint at a less technical idea: the rationales behind why certain things are the way they are. Sometimes, indeed, we did consider this possibility. Yet, this was technical stuff that was interesting enough.

However, I mentioned the exam. There are a couple of things that I believe about exams. One of the ones I haven't, as far as I remember, mentioned in this blog is regarding the formality of language. Basically, I use a simple rule: if it's an essay I use formal English, otherwise anything goes. Well, I'm pretty sure I operated under that mentality prior to History 219's exam (appropriately, that's medieval mentalities). You see, when I did History 219 the exam consisted of one essay on a particular topic (but not one we'd discussed in either of the two coursework essays or one relevant to the other exam section: I chose Rural and Urban Life) and the other two questions on themes (the two I did were "Royal and Papal Power" and "Death and the Black Death"). The thing with those two questions was that we had pretty much free reign over how we chose to construct our answer: including dialogue. Now, you may recall that I have submitted assessments in that fashion at school. You may further recall that my dialogues were written with the sort of flair that tends to humour. So, if I see dialogue what I take that to mean is that I can write in a fashion that involves an element of humour, whereas I don't really consider that part of what an essay will find appropriate (ultimately I answered with pretty boring paragraphs).

What does all that have to do with Comlaw 101's exam? Well, I wasn't entirely sure what kind of answers we were writing. Was it some kind of "mini essay" type thing? In which case it wouldn't really be wise to introduce humour or overt informalities. Or were we writing short answers? In which case it probably didn't matter too much. Maybe my exam will come back with some sort of indicator that it did, maybe it won't. But whatever the case, I'd prefer to have my hands on it (well, the copy of it, which may well be digital) before I make any advice.

So, this was probably a bit weird, still, I hope it was worth reading.

*For instance, you can use Poisson regression to help determine authorship (by considering the counts of words in sentences across a variety of works attributed to one particular author).

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