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Not Everything That Counts Can Be Counted

1 March 2013 795 views No Comment
This column is written for statisticians with master’s degrees and highlights areas of employment that will benefit statisticians at the master’s level. Comments and suggestions should be sent to Megan Murphy, Amstat News managing editor, at megan@amstat.org.

JeanadamsContributing Editor
Jean Adams is a statistician with the U.S. Geological Survey – Great Lakes Science Center and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, both headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She earned a master’s degree in statistics from the University of Wisconsin – Madison and gained many valuable life lessons from two years with the Peace Corps in Papua New Guinea.

“I can’t not write,” a friend once told me. She was a full-time student and had never earned a dollar from writing. Nonetheless, she was a writer in the truest sense of the word. I wondered what it felt like to be an artist filled with such passion.

Although math was always my favorite subject in high school, I studied zoology in college, hoping for a job that would let me spend time outdoors. I ended up working in a laboratory processing samples collected by field biologists. Each biologist had a particular focus. Each was an expert in his or her chosen field. Their passion was evident, but not contagious. I wondered what it must feel like to be a scientist driven by such focus.

Then, I met the statistician who worked with these biologists. Everything about his job appealed to me. He spent time on a variety of projects, rather than focusing on just one. He tried to answer questions by searching for patterns in data. He used math as part of his job. He even spent time out in the field with the biologists. It sounded like a perfect fit for me. I went back to school for a master’s degree in statistics and everything fell into place. I had discovered my passion.

Have you found your passion yet? If not, keep looking. It’s in you, somewhere, itching to grow. Really.


Humans. They’re a strange bunch. Incredibly varied and unbelievably complicated. Like it or not, these creatures will play a huge role in your life and in your career. Anything you can do to understand them better, do it. In school? Take a psychology course. On the job? Take a management course on personality types or communication skills. Been there done that? Please. Don’t make me laugh. When it comes to human nature, there’s always room to learn more.

Connect with the people around you. Consciously put yourself in situations in which you will interact with the members of your community, be it at school or work. Is someone approaching you in the hallway? Look him in the eye and say hello. Is your room or office located at the far end of the building, near a remote entrance? Make a habit of entering the building at the main entrance. Is there a group that goes bowling every Friday? Go with them. Have a question for a colleague down the hall? Ask her in person. Is there a brown bag group that eats in the break room? Eat with them. Think of it as an optimization problem. You want to maximize your daily face time.

Unless you are gregarious by nature, these suggestions may take you a bit out of your comfort zone. That makes it all the more important. And it’s okay to experience some discomfort. You will get better with practice. And let me tell you a secret. Connecting with the people around you will do wonders for your career. It will open doors; it will bring you joy. It will reward you with an intangible quality that no one verbalizes, but everyone perceives.

Find your passion. Connect with people. That’s my recipe for a long and happy career.

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