What do Detroit and I have in common? Our spreadsheets aren’t balancing. And I’m thinking that maybe we should have used something other than Excel…

I have oodles of numbers that I clumsily pecked over the last four days on a number pad (yes, a real desktop computer with a keyboard still exists!) Eyes glazed over, thumb pushing zero where there shouldn’t zeros. It was the real deal. And today was to be the day when all of that would pay off.


Excel at first glance.

Excel Confusion

Excel after an hour.

With my undergrad knowledge of Chi squares and T-tests, today’s data analysis was going to be a snap. There was a little variance here, a little correlation there. Lots of = signs. And after six hours of manipulating made-up equations to compare parent and child concordance for pediatric surveys, I thought myself finished!

The jump from my little cubicle to the office of the primary investigator (P.I.) took all but 5 seconds. She looked up and we looked into the abyss that is Excel and I looked at my options. Turns out that Microsoft Office isn’t up to academic snuff for those hoping to submit a humble abstract anywhere reputable. Thankfully, the P.I. gently and patiently introduced my data set to a very powerful behavioral science analysis program, the hallowed SPSS.

That’s when I realized how lousy of a pal Excel was. Here was SPSS who spit out a list of entry errors (At some point I didn’t add numbers where I should of and there was a 76 when the survey maxes out at 70…) and unlike a best friend who tells you when you have something stuck in your teeth or that your fly is open, Excel just sneaks in #VALUE!


Amends were eventually made and files saved. While gathering my belongings, I thanked my P.I. for affording me this crash course in research. She reiterated that I had something there– in the computer and in me.

It seems like we could all use some database straight talk, to let us know where we’ve gone wrong. But other times, we need someone to say that we’ve more than what we thought we had. So, dear Detroit, I hope we capitalize on today’s lessons, embrace good bookkeeping, and someday, make something out of our mangled numbers!

(Here’s a nice lil article on the city where I saw the Pistons play this spring!)