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CSP Attendee Finds Place in ASA’s Big Tent

1 April 2014 247 views No Comment

Ashleigh Rhodes Ashleigh Rhodes will graduate with her MS in mathematics and statistics from the University of West Florida in May, when she’ll be relocating to the Philadelphia area. She has an MAT from American University and a BS in metallurgical and materials engineering from Colorado School of Mines.

When I tell people I’m about to finish my master’s degree, they often ask, “Doesn’t it feel good to be almost done?” Until recently, I shook my head, because I was so unsure of the next step. All I knew about statistics was from my online courses, and the only statistician I knew personally was my graduate advisor.

Last fall, I started searching for opportunities to meet statisticians face to face. I wanted to see whom these people are and get an idea about what they like or don’t like about their professional situations. That’s how I found the Conference on Statistical Practice in Tampa. I particularly liked that it was designed to “strengthen relationships … for those practitioners not necessarily part of an academic community or a large statistical organization.” That certainly was how I felt. It didn’t hurt that it was a reasonable day’s drive from my home in Destin, Florida.

I signed up, telling myself if everyone I met were a PhD or well into his career, at least I’d get a feel for what my future might look like. In case all the presentations were over my head, I started the conference with an introductory short course on R. That way, I would feel as if I had learned something marketable during the weekend.

As the conference unfolded, I was surprised by how well I blended in. The short course was clearly too short to even get started on programming in R, but it inspired me to go home and self-study—inspiration I sorely needed. It also made the R code I saw in many presentations much friendlier. As I expected, many of the presentations were over my head, but many weren’t. I was pleased to find an interesting presentation in every time slot, and frequently I had to make a hard choice between more than one. There was even one directly useful to my current graduate research.

The small size and layout of the conference meant that even though I felt a bit awkward and alone at the beginning of the conference, I found I knew a lot of faces and names by the end. Even better, I felt I was starting to get a feel for the kinds of people who called themselves “statisticians” and which parts of the field I might explore to find the flexible, remote work I want. I met people working in large statistical organizations, like SAS, along with many more people who were the only statisticians in their companies, or one of only a few. There seemed to be as many master’s as PhDs. I met a few professors early in their teaching careers and people who focus mainly on programming.

I went to CSP worried I would feel overwhelmed and inexperienced. Instead, I left feeling confident and inspired to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and with tools in hand to start working on those gaps. I also have a few names of people I can turn to when I am stuck.

I had not heard the term “Big Tent” before this conference, but I now know it’s an important idea at the ASA. I find this reassuring as someone who definitely does not fit into any standard model of a statistician or academic and as someone not exactly sure of her ultimate path. I joined the ASA because it was required at registration, but I suspect the ASA has shown me, through this conference, that it is large enough for me to find value in being a lifetime member.

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