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Career Success Training for Statisticians: A Progress Update

1 October 2012 1,983 views No Comment

From left: Rebecca Nichols, Rebecca Brafman, Bob Starbuck, and Ofer Harel listen to Jeanine Buchanich during the Train the Trainer workshop at the 2012 Joint Statistical Meetings in San Diego, California.

From left: Rebecca Nichols, Rebecca Brafman, Bob Starbuck, and Ofer Harel listen to Jeanine Buchanich during the Train the Trainer workshop at the 2012 Joint Statistical Meetings in San Diego, California.


Robert Rodriguez

One of the presidential initiatives I described in my January column was the formation of a workgroup to develop career-building courses that enable statisticians to become more successful. In this column, the workgroup chair, Bob Starbuck, explains how this effort has evolved, how you can contribute, and how you will benefit.

The Need for Career Success Training

Early in 2011, I invited a group of business executives to meet at ASA headquarters for a discussion of the professional development needs of their statistical staffs. When these executives were asked how the ASA might meet those needs, their top request was training in career success factors such as communication, leadership, and teamwork. All of them said, “Our statisticians need the ability to explain the relevance and impact of their work to the rest of the organization.”

In recent years, many of our members have expressed similar needs for career success training designed specifically for statisticians. University programs in statistics are the ideal place for this training to begin. I encourage statistics departments to consider offering the types of courses described in “Preparing Biostatisticians for Leadership Opportunities” and “Scientific Course Strengthens Students’ Communication Skills”. Today, however, our association has the opportunity to offer training that will benefit the most members.

To develop this training, I asked Bob Starbuck to lead a workgroup whose current members are Karla Ballman, Jeanine Buchanich, Janet Buckingham, Ron McRoberts, Gary Sullivan, Erin Tanenbaum, and Jennifer Van Mullekom. For an update on their progress, here are Bob’s responses to some questions I recently asked him.

What courses are you pursuing?
The workgroup first met at the 2011 Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM) in Miami Beach, Florida. We created a list of 15 topics we thought had an important impact on the career of a statistician. Knowing we could not simultaneously tackle all these topics, we narrowed the list to the following four courses:

  • Presentation Skills
  • Influence and Leadership Skills
  • Personality Training and Team Building
  • Career Planning

Who is the audience?
The target audience is ASA members who are in the early to middle stages of their careers and who stand to gain the most from these courses. When a course is conducted on a university campus, we also expect students in the audience. And when a course is conducted at a business facility, we expect statisticians who are not necessarily ASA members.

How do you plan to deliver the courses?
The course on presentation skills has been developed for a classroom setting. For other topics, a webinar or webcast might be a good medium.

Will the courses be affordable?
We are planning with ASA staff to make the courses affordable and accessible to the target audience. To minimize the cost of courses taught in classrooms, we are training a cadre of ASA volunteer instructors who are located in regions where many ASA members live and work. That will allow one-day courses to be offered locally, and it will reduce registration fees when instructor travel is not needed.

Because the courses will be taught by ASA volunteers, they will cost substantially less than corresponding commercially available courses and deliver content that is tailored for professional statisticians.

How are you creating course content?
Our original workgroup realized that, collectively, we did not possess enough material to create the courses on our own. We decided to look outside of our group for people who could contribute course content. After we became aware of a course on presentation skills taught at the University of Pittsburgh by Jeanine Buchanich, we enlisted her participation.

We also became aware of a leadership development program created at Eli Lilly for their Statistics and Advanced Analytics group. Gary Sullivan of Eli Lilly joined the workgroup and is providing significant input for the influence skills course.

We are still searching for material for courses in personality training, team building, and career planning. If you have experience in these areas and would like to contribute, please contact me (Bob Starbuck) at RRS49@nc.rr.com.

How are instructors being trained?
Course instructors will come primarily from the ASA membership. For each course, we will prepare a train-the-trainer course conducted periodically to create a cadre of volunteer instructors.

The first train-the-trainer course, delivered at JSM 2012, focused on teaching presentation skills. Twenty future trainers participated in this one-day course, which was led by Buchanich and Van Mullekom (DuPont).

Participants were highly enthusiastic about the value of the material they learned to present. One described the content as “well prepared, very informative, with a large amount of useful information.” Because the participants, themselves, were highly experienced presenters, they contributed to the training by suggesting ways to improve teaching presentation skills.

Jennifer Van Mullekom during the Train the Trainer event at the 2012 Joint Statistical Meetings in San Diego, California

Jennifer Van Mullekom during the Train the Trainer event at the 2012 Joint Statistical Meetings in San Diego, California

In addition to preparing participants to be volunteer instructors, the training will pay off in their own work. One attendee concluded, “This session has given me excellent ideas for how to teach my MS and PhD students in statistics to be better communicators.”

What is the process for hosting a course?
ASA staff is preparing a web page that will indicate geographical areas in which course instructors are available. The web page will provide steps that ASA chapters, sections, and other groups—such as companies and university departments—can follow to host a course in their area. It also will announce train-the-trainer opportunities.

Host groups will be responsible for finding training rooms, covering the cost of refreshment breaks and lunches, and publicizing courses to their members. ASA staff will provide support for online registration, downloading course materials, and publicizing the course outside the local area.

If you would like to attend a course in your area, contact the leaders of your local group or chapter and ask them to host the course.

Will courses be available at conferences?
A course on presentation skills will be offered at the Conference on Statistical Practice in New Orleans this coming February. We are considering ways to offer courses at future conferences.

A Successful Start

I am grateful to Bob Starbuck, the members of the workgroup, and the initial volunteer instructors for launching our career success training. Please sign up for this training and encourage others to participate. It will make a difference in your career and the careers of many others!

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