ASA to Pursue Plans for Conference on Statistical Practice
~Sally C. Morton, ASA President
Nathaniel Schenker and Maura Stokes
ASA President Sally Morton appointed the working group on meetings about a year ago and asked it to propose a plan to develop significant new meetings as a member benefit and revenue source. Revenue from other sources (such as publications) has been declining. Given the ASA’s expertise in managing meetings that are successful from the standpoints of content and revenue, it was thought that consideration of new meetings would be fruitful. The working group was instructed to focus on in-person meetings, although a ‘virtual’ component also could be considered for those unable to attend in person.
The working group, whose members have been involved in planning many meetings of the ASA and other associations, understood the need for the ASA to be a financially self-sustaining—albeit nonprofit—organization so it can serve its members, the profession, and humanity as described in its mission. Given our interest in meetings, we also enjoyed the opportunity to think about possibilities for additional meetings that would serve the membership and profession. Finally, we strove to consider objectives of the ASA strategic plan that are not solely financial objectives.
Nathaniel Schenker (leader)
Members of the Statistical Practice Conference Planning Committee
Stephen Porzio (staff liaison)
Maura Stokes (chair)
We conducted several conference calls to discuss ideas for types of meetings that could be held, potential target audiences, and potential times of year and locations. We also considered the ASA and other associations’ current meetings portfolios and researched the history of the ASA’s former winter meetings, which were held from the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. From these deliberations, the idea of a conference on applied statistics emerged. We elicited feedback from the Committee on Applied Statisticians, the Council of Sections Governing Board, and the Council of Chapters Governing Board, and the reactions were generally positive. Our discussions with these groups also made clear that a planning committee with broad representation of applied statisticians would be able to come up with many good ideas for the conference.
At the spring 2009 meeting of the ASA Board of Directors, the board approved our recommendation to pursue plans for an annual conference on applied statistics, with the first conference targeted for 2011 or 2012. Also approved was our recommendation that a planning committee, with appropriate representation, be appointed. The Statistical Practice Conference Planning Committee was subsequently appointed and held its first meeting during the 2009 Joint Statistical Meetings. Although the planning committee will ultimately specify the characteristics of the conference, below are questions and answers that describe initial notions of the working group.
Why Hold a Conference on Statistical Practice?
Serving the needs of applied statisticians is mentioned in three sections of the ASA strategic plan: Membership Growth, Meetings, and Publications and Information Needs. The working group hopes the proposed conference will help serve such needs, strengthen ties between the ASA and current members, and attract new members, in addition to providing revenue for the ASA.
Who Is the Target Audience for the Conference?
The working group envisions a conference that will target statisticians working primarily on applications of statistics, including, but not limited to, statisticians in industry and government, consulting statisticians in academia, statisticians at the master’s and bachelor’s levels, and statistical programmers. The conference also could target students interested in applied statistics and career placement.
How Would the Conference Differ from the Joint Statistical Meetings?
One of the issues with the former ASA winter meetings was that, despite their being highly regarded, they were viewed by some as having evolved into “mini-JSMs.” The intent is for this not to happen with the newly proposed conference. Besides its having a primary emphasis on statistical practice, the conference would be much smaller than JSM. The size envisioned by the working group is 400–1,000 attendees. Moreover, the conference would likely be held at a different time of year and in a different location than the adjacent JSMs, perhaps in a smaller market than is typical for JSM. Finally, it is hoped that the conference will have fewer structural constraints than does JSM, so those planning the conference will have as much flexibility as possible.
How Would the Conference Relate to Other Existing Conferences?
The intent is for the proposed conference to avoid competing with existing conferences, such as those held by ASA sections and other statistical societies. Occasionally, it might be possible for the conference to be held jointly with an existing conference. The conference on statistical practice could benefit from the specific expertise built into the existing conference, and the existing conference could benefit from the size and/or exposure offered by the conference on statistical practice.
What Are Possible Content Emphases Envisioned for the Conference?
Based on its own deliberations and discussions with other entities, examples of emphases discussed by the working group include the following:
Statistical leadership (i.e., how statisticians can provide leadership and expand their roles in applied projects). This could involve, for example, discussions of case studies emphasizing not only statistical skills used, but other important skills as well. It could also involve training on soft skills, such as communication and presentation.
Career development, especially for those early in their careers, and career placement for students. This could involve, for example, having panels of statisticians from different applied areas discuss their career paths and how to succeed in the field.
Pertinent sessions, short courses, and workshops. These could cover methodological themes, such as handling missing or “messy” data, which apply to many application areas, statistical issues in specific applications, and/or programming issues that arise in statistical practice.
Collaboration between statisticians and nonstatisticians. It would be useful to have nonstatisticians involved in covering this topic. Conducting the conference jointly with nonstatistical societies also could be a possibility.
Members of the working group and the Statistical Practice Conference Planning Committee are excited about the prospect of an ASA conference on statistical practice. We welcome your comments and suggestions. Please send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and Maura.Stokes@sas.com.