SAS in a Numerical Methods Lab

It’s the single most common scenario for needing to learn a little SAS quickly. You’re taking an advanced undergraduate course, probably a required course for your major field. It’s the middle of the semester and your professor wants you to experience something of the way real research is done in your field. Or it’s one of the first courses you have to take in a graduate program, and you’re supposed to work with real data and perhaps draw some original conclusions from your analysis. It’s time to collect data, get it in the computer you’ll be working on, analyze it, and present your results.

If your university has SAS available, there’s a good chance you’ll be doing the computing part of this exercise using SAS. This is not just because SAS is popular out in the real world. It also helps that SAS is relatively easy to learn and use at a simple level without having to gain an in-depth understanding of it.

These are examples of fields where you might be gathering data and analyzing it in SAS as part of your university studies:

  • Biology
  • Psychology
  • Epidemiology
  • Marketing
  • Economics
  • Sociology
  • Quality Control
  • Astronomy
  • Genetics

Even though these fields might not seem to have very much to do with each other, your initial numerical exercise in SAS, regardless of the substantive area of inquiry, is likely to follow the same general outline that millions of other students have followed over the past few decades.

  1. Collect or identify a set of data for study.
  2. Make a SAS dataset of the data.
  3. View the SAS dataset to make sure the data is acquired correctly.
  4. Perform a numerical analysis of the data, usually using one or two SAS procedures.
  5. Get the results.
  6. Evaluate and interpret the results. Adjust and repeat the analysis if necessary.
  7. Present the results in a document of some kind.

You can do all this with a very limited set of SAS skills. You need to know how to:

  • Run a SAS program and view the results
  • Write a SAS program to import a data file (usually in a file format of your choice) and create a SAS dataset
  • View a SAS dataset
  • Write a SAS program to run a procedure (it helps if your professor gives you most of this part, but if not, you can always find examples to follow)

It helps that no one expects you to get any of this right on your first attempt. You can make mistakes, identify and fix them, and try again, at essentially no cost to anyone. All of this is a normal part of the computing process for even the most advanced researchers and computer programmers. So go ahead and make some mistakes!

University Materials for Students Using SAS in Numerical Methods Lab

Several universities have web pages to provide introductory material for their first-time SAS users. Usually, they have just enough information to get a student through a simple numerical methods exercise in SAS. They are geared toward the specifics of each university’s environment (and sometimes to the way it worked two or three years ago) so you might have to skip over the specifics about what room the computer lab is in and how to start SAS once you get there (this is information you need to get locally). Some might be oriented toward a specific field of study, but you can expect to be doing many of the same things regardless of the field you are studying. The basic ideas about how SAS operates (after you start it), how to write a SAS program, and the nature of SAS data may be helpful no matter where you are. The emphasis here isn’t on understanding every detail about how computers work, but on getting results quickly so you can turn your papers in on time.

List of University Web Pages for First-Time SAS Users