My work would be so much easier if I was able to talk to my fish: “On a scale from 0 to 10, how curious would you consider yourself?”. “What do you like in a guy?”. When I was little, the other children dreamt of super powers like flying, being invisible or incredibly strong. I always wanted to be able to talk to animals. Today, I am pretty much grown up but still wishing the same. I still speak to my fish but accepted that I won’t understand their answers. Instead, I spend lots of my time designing specific experimental designs to make my fish speak to me through their movements.
For example, when exposing a fish to a novel environment, I get an impression of how exciting or intimidating this situation is for the fish just by observing how, when and where it moves around in this new environment. The next step is to translate this behaviour into numbers. I don’t wanna go into detail with that right now. Instead let’s jump to the last step of the process, which is the statistical analysis of the data we accumulated through observation and quantification of the fish’s behaviour.
A similar problem that I described with my fish, I have with my data points. They won’t speak to me. Statistics is a beautiful possibility to give my data points a voice. It might be tedious sometimes to learn the language but the better I understand it, the more likely I am to understand what the data is really telling me.
Since weeks I am looking at my data from hundreds of different angles, try to understand their connection to other data sets and to make my findings visible through plots. Each day I feel like a detective, frustrated from time to time but knowing I will finally get the pieces of the puzzle together. Also knowing some pieces will be still missing. Knowing that I found a whole new set of pieces of another puzzle that needs to be put together next. That’s science. It never ends. We never run out of work. There’s always more to understand.
Looking at correlations between the behavioural data I sampled in the field and genetic data of the same fish species. It might show me which genes underly the variation in behaviour I observed. These analyses would never be possible without my colleague and friend Milan who is putting the puzzle together with me incredibly patiently🙏