posts in work & workflow

I really like using LaTeX for writing, both articles and for teaching. I find that it eliminates many of the hassles of using Word. I started trying to figure out how to write my own packages this past year and ran into many problems. One of those problems was figuring out a way to keep the .sty packages in a directory that I could easily access and that would be convenient for my workflow rather than what the LaTeX directory structure enforced.

The LaTeX search path includes two environment variables: TEXMFHOME and TEXMFLOCAL that determine where you would store .sty files to be recognized by LaTeX.1 If you follow ...

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I am moving with my family this week so that I can start my new position at American University in the Department of Sociology and Center on Health, Risk and Society. I am very excited to be starting this new position being with great new colleagues, being in a wonderful academic and policy environment, and moving back to the area where my wife and I grew up. In addition to a much needed, if only possibly well deserved, vacation last week posts have necessarily been a little slow.

As a scholar of residential mobility, it is very strange to be going through a move myself. Throughout the process, I attempted ...

While writing scripts is one of the most important skills for reproducible quantitative sociology, the typical convention is to pick up the skills through more experienced colleagues in graduate school or at the workplace. Below are a few tips that I have learned from others, picked up on my own, or otherwise accumulated in my arsenal of tricks that I thought that I would pass along. There are great resources out there, but I thought it would be helpful to pass along what I think are the most important and helpful tips.

  1. Include a brief header in all scripts indicating the name of the file, the creator, and a brief ...

In the last step, we downloaded all of our data and deposited into directories that store this source data, backed it up, and write-protected the files. Now that we have done all of that, it is time to start working with the data! There is only one problem: almost inevitably, the data do not come neat, tidy, and ready to use. Often, the data contain major problems and need to be constructed in order to be usable. In this installment, I will write about managing files for cleaning, constructing and storing datasets.

There are several varieties of how the data are not completely usable. For many items in the data ...

After establishing where my root directory resides resides, it is time to actually get to work. As with any endeavor, success begins by laying a solid foundation and with academic work that begins foundation is our data.

The most fundamental skill to academic success is asking good questions and acquiring data to answer those questions. Yet, in quantitative research, that skill is useless without the ability to manipulate data into useful formats that are capable of answering the good questions. Data cleaning, construction, and manipulation constitute well over half of my work on major quantitative projects.

It should go without saying, but there are many different types of data. I ...

In my last post, I explained the value of a directory structure: consistent file management structures a disciplined workflow that increases productivity. The magnitude of its importance was a revelation that occurred largely after graduate school as the result of starting a new job.

When I moved to start my new job, I needed to move my files to my new computer. In transferring my files, I realized that my work that followed my well-defined workflow transfered easily, while the work that didn't follow the workflow did not.

The contrast between the ease with which I started the well-structured work and difficulty getting up to speed on disorganized pieces ...

When I say that one of the most important things that I did in graduate school was set up a directory structure and workflow for my files, I am not kidding. Reading theory, learning statistical methods, and writing literature reviews were all important. However, just as important -- though not nearly as sexy -- is setting up a file structure and working directory.

Despite how trivial it sounds, maintaining a well-designed directory structure not only provides a framework for files, it structures productive work.

Given how important it was for me, I will attempt to explain the directory structure that I developed. Let me begin by saying that I am not an ...

"You miss 100% of the shots you never take." -- Attributed to Wayne Gretzky

I was reminded of this quote this week after I had a grant submission rejected. Although it stung, the criticisms were legitimate and, as one of my advisors told me, "rejection is part of the process." It was this comment that reminded me of Gretzksy's quote and realizing that, although it doesn't feel good to be rejected, it does mean that I made an effort -- I can't make a shot that I don't take after all.

This was a lesson that was hard to learn in grad school and I was fortunate that ...

I got back from the PAA meetings in Dallas today. I really think that PAA is an incredible organization, even down to the way that they plan and execute the meetings.1 For example, I think that the submission process is incredibly smooth and the papers on the panels tend to speak very well to one another. Even down to the fact that the organization developed an iPhone app (and a Kindle app) that made navigating the meeting tremendously easy (I believe that Germán Rodríguez deserves the credit for the development of the submission website and the iPhone app -- kudos to him!). Beyond the execution, however, the actual meeting is ...