Beyond Excel: Overcoming Your Fear of R

One huge benefit of the Evening MBA and Weekend MBA Programs is that you can immediately apply the lessons you learn in class to your workplace or “in real life” (affectionately abbreviated as “IRL”). In this column, we will celebrate the lessons students learn in class and how they apply them IRL. Do you have a story that has inspired you? Feel free to write to me – your affectionate writer, known as CFN – at

Catherine Frances Napier, Class of 2018

Catherine Frances Napier, Class of 2018

Statistics and modeling can seem intimidating, especially to those of us who aren’t naturally quantitative (these people exist at Booth, including your writer!). Fear certainly didn’t stop Cleo Miller from conquering stats and using it to benefit her work in real life.

Cleo Miller (‘17) enrolled in Professor Polson’s introductory statistics course without a strong background in statistics or R, the statistical platform the class requires students to learn. She admits, “I was kind of nervous about the class, [as the professor] forces you to use R and makes it possible for you to get your feet wet with it.”

After she got her feet wet with R through the class, Cleo fearlessly dove into the R deep-end in real life. At work, she needed to work on a large statistical analysis that needed to be easily digestible. Thanks to learning R in class, Cleo conquered this challenge.

Cleo Miller, Class of 2017

Cleo Miller, Class of 2017

“Because I was forced to be exposed to something I wasn’t comfortable with, [learning R] helped me grow in a way I never would have expected. It gave me a real problem solving tool that I wouldn’t have known about or have been comfortable using,” Cleo says.

Thanks to her time in the classroom, Cleo can use this platform to analyze anything to turn it into anything – including interactive maps, graphs, predictions, and more. She got exposure to a new idea that she may never have been able to find.

“I needed someone to push me in that direction to say that there are statistical tools out there. I can use Excel, but it never would have occurred to me to go outside of Excel. There’s so much out there, and Booth can really help push you in the right direction in ways that you can’t even predict.”

To Cleo, this example testifies to why she wanted to come to Booth. As a naturally qualitative person, Cleo bravely went to Booth to develop her quantitative skills. Clearly, she’s successfully doing just that.

“I want to learn how to use tools and think about ways to solve problems that I never otherwise would have been exposed to or known how to find,” she says. “It has broadened my horizons about what is out there in the world of stats and applied mathematics.”

When Cleo isn’t developing her quantitative skills, you can find her leading the Graduate Women in Business (GWB) group. She has learned many qualitative lessons about leadership as the group’s president. “The biggest lesson I’ve taken away is that it really is all about the team you’re working on and encouraging them to be their best,” Cleo says. “The lessons I’ve gotten from GWB are all about leadership through teamwork.”

Cleo’s story highlights that at Booth, students are challenged both qualitatively and quantitatively. Along that journey, students have amazing learning experiences. As Cleo says about her Booth experience to date: “So far, so great.”

Catherine Napier works at Northern Trust in wealth management, loves yoga, creating content on, and the peanuts at the Midway.