Column, Opinions

The Endless Quest of Chasing R-Squared

Like many other students I know, I chose to major in economics for its practicality. With no idea where my future headed, getting a general understanding of market tendencies seemed like the safest bet. But recently, my economics major has taught me a whole lot more than supply and demand—it’s made me reflect on how I live my life.

As I sat in my 9 a.m. public finance class and listened to my professor explain the instructions for our upcoming research project—instructions that usually go right over my head—he said something out of the norm: “Don’t chase the R-squared.”

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the R-squared is a measure of linearity. In a graph of scattered data points, it’s an assessment of how accurately that data follows a line of best fit. It’s a sort of measure of perfection.

When my public finance teacher warned about R-squared, I knew exactly what he was talking about. In my econometrics class last year, I spent so long working with my research project team to increase our R-squared that it ultimately diminished the quality of our other work. 

Research isn’t supposed to be perfect, it’s supposed to explore and report. The concept relates to far more than just regressions. Life, like research models and data, isn’t supposed to be perfect. 

No one ever makes a TV show about the perfect life. We tune in to watch the ridiculous plots, unimaginable conflicts, and imperfect characters. The perfect ones are boring! They have no character development and no appeal. The messy shows that depict real human experiences are the ones that get views. 

Throughout my own life, I have often strived to present a perfect image of myself to the world. I’ve aimed to fulfill my role as a daughter of immigrants who works two jobs, gets good grades, and finds the best opportunities. But recently, I have been facing reality: the more I focus on perfection, the further I stray from the life I want to live.

Like many other BC students, I put constant pressure on myself to be the best. But sometimes my best just isn’t good enough, and that should be okay. I should be fine knowing that I’m taking steps to get closer to my goal. All too often, when I experience failure, I view it as a reflection of who I am.

This is a textbook case of chasing the R-squared. Rather than thinking there might not be a good relationship in the data, I work tirelessly to fit the square peg in a round hole. 

Throughout my years at BC, I’ve learned that fixating on my failures only prolongs unnecessary hardship. I’m not arguing that you should throw away your ambitions and give up, but offering yourself a little forgiveness can actually improve your outcomes. Pick yourself back up, acknowledge the imperfection, and try looking at the problem in a different way.

To chase the R-squared is to stagnate your life as you wait for the day that things work out perfectly. That day will never come. Life isn’t perfect, and neither are we. We can only control how we respond to our failures and how we look at our data.

April 10, 2024