Home » Additional Features

Q&A with Largest, Fastest-Growing Undergraduate Statistics Departments

1 April 2015 2,443 views One Comment
Download the PDF for the complete list of 130 universities that have granted bachelor’s degrees in statistics.

Download the PDF for the complete list of 130 universities that have granted bachelor’s degrees in statistics.

Statistics is the fastest-growing STEM major for the period 2010–2013. With a 95% increase in degrees granted from 2010 to 2013, it outpaced computer/information technology and administration and management environmental/environmental health engineering.

In the February issue of Amstat News, heads of four of the largest and fastest-growing departments responded to five questions. This month, we hear from five more departments about their growth.

 

University of California, Berkeley

aniadhikari

Ani Adhikari is chair of the undergraduate and MA program committees of the department of statistics at the University of California, Berkeley. She developed and taught the department’s first MOOC and is part of Berkeley’s new campus-wide data science education initiative.

 

Q: What do you believe is driving the growth in the number of statistics majors in your department? What are you doing (if anything) to recruit majors? How much longer do you expect such growth?

A: The main reason for the increase in our statistics majors is that many industries and academic disciplines now recognize they have a flood of data and need to be able to work with it sensibly. This has led to the practical consequence that students with skills in data analysis are highly sought after as employees. However, it has also led to a broad realization that statistics is an area filled with exciting intellectual challenges for students with quantitative skills, either in pure mathematics or in computing. Thus, we are seeing an increase in students who want to enter the field not only because they think it will help them get a job, but also because they have simply become interested in statistics.

Many of our statistics faculty members have joint appointments in other departments, so it is no surprise that more than half of our students are double majors. Most of them come to us through their interest in statistical applications in their other major, which could be any one of a varied list: computer science, economics, applied mathematics, and molecular biology, to name just a few.

Berkeley’s statistics department has always had a close connection with the department of mathematics through the lively and energetic probability group. In recent years, several Fields Medals have been awarded to mathematicians with an interest in probability theory. This has led to an increased number of mathematics majors becoming interested in probability and subsequently adding statistics as a major.

We have not needed to do much to recruit majors, apart from participating in university-sponsored events such as Cal Day, an annual open house for the entire Berkeley campus.

The need for good data analysts is not going to disappear, though the details of exactly how data are analyzed might change. Thus, we expect the growth to continue for a few years. It’s also worth noting that our internal data show even larger degrees numbers than the NCES data in the table: 2011: 100; 2012: 151; and 2013: 167.

Q: What kinds of careers or graduate programs are your graduates moving on to? Who are the top recruiters?

A: Approximately 10% to 20% of our undergraduates go directly to graduate school. MA and PhD programs in statistics are typical destinations, though graduate programs in other disciplines are also common among our double majors. These disciplines include physics, electrical engineering, biomedical engineering, artificial intelligence and robotics, and MD/PhD programs.

Berkeley statistics undergraduates who go directly to industry are typically employed in sectors such as IT, banking and finance, insurance, and human resource consulting. Companies that hire our graduates range from small start-ups to giants like Google, Oracle, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Liberty Mutual, and Citigroup.

Q: How have you changed your curriculum to adapt to the data science era, and how will you use the ASA Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Programs in Statistical Science? Have you considered starting a professional MA program?

A: Though our students acquire a substantial knowledge of theory in all our courses, the upper division electives are almost all centered on data analysis. The department’s undergraduate course in statistical learning theory is a popular choice of elective, as is the undergraduate seminar course in reproducible and collaborative data science, developed within the past two years. Along with the department of computer science, the department of statistics is spearheading Berkeley’s new data science education initiative, from a freshman-level data science course to a new data science major program.

Our undergraduate major program is well aligned with the ASA guidelines. The core consists of probability theory, statistical methods and theory, and data manipulation and computation; these are among the fundamental skills listed in the guidelines. In addition, students take several electives, most of which include project-based work designed to develop skills in statistical practice and communication. Finally, all students are required to take a “cluster” of courses in an area of application to develop domain-specific knowledge necessary for appropriate applications of statistics in that area.

Three years ago, we launched a one-year professional MA program for full-time students, replacing our former two-year program for half-time students. As a result, the number of MA students admitted to our department each year has risen from about five to about 40. The MA program has its own team of advisers, and the students receive career guidance from the department’s industrial alliance program. Graduates of the program are now employed in a variety of sectors, including IT, finance, insurance, and marketing, as well as in government departments such as public health.

Q: How have you managed the growth in the number of majors? Has the university allocated more resources (e.g., finances, space, personnel) to your department?

A: We have recently introduced more stringent entry requirements for the statistics undergraduate major to try to control the numbers. However, classes and waiting lists continue to be at capacity, with statistics majors and students in other disciplines clamoring for enrollment. To meet this demand while maintaining an excellent quality and variety of courses, the department must regularly request increased undergraduate teaching resources from the university. This includes the appointment of several teaching faculty, as well as ladder-rank research faculty, to replace recent retirees and still further increase the number of FTEs.

The new professional MA program has led to a significant increase in the number of graduate students, as well. We are increasing the number administrative staff and rearranging responsibilities so both the undergraduate and graduate programs are managed efficiently.

Large numbers of students can lead to programs becoming impersonal or intimidating. To maintain the department’s sense of community in spite of growing enrollments, we have been attentive to our students’ physical environment. Labs have been refurbished to easily accommodate group work, as well as traditional classroom formats. Undergraduates have their own common room, as do the MA students.

Q: What recommendations do you have for students considering a major in statistics? Any advice for students already committed to a major in statistics?

  • Get started early. You will be studying statistics, mathematics, and computing, as well as acquiring expertise in an area of application.
  • Mathematics and computing are essential tools for data analysis. Become proficient at using both, and really good in at least one.
  • Don’t limit yourself. Acquire as broad a range of skills as possible, both classical and modern.
  • Communicate. You should expect to work in multidisciplinary teams with people whose backgrounds are quite different from yours.
  • Learn how to learn. The field is evolving rapidly, and you must be able to pick up new ideas and techniques by yourself after you graduate.

 

Purdue University

RebeccaDoerge

Rebecca Doerge is the Trent and Judith Anderson Distinguished Professor and head of statistics at Purdue University. Her research program is focused on statistical bioinformatics, a component of bioinformatics that brings together many scientific disciplines to ask, answer, and disseminate biologically interesting information in the quest to understand the ultimate function of DNA and epigenomic associations.

 

Q: What do you believe is driving the growth in the number of statistics majors in your department? What are you doing (if anything) to recruit majors? How much longer do you expect such growth?

A: The department of statistics at Purdue University has approximately 400 undergraduates at any given time. We are at capacity with respect to size due to our course/section seat limit (40 students per section). With respect to recruiting, many of our undergraduate majors transfer into statistics from other majors (engineering, computer science, etc.) after taking a course and liking it. Others are double and triple majors with actuarial science, computer science, mathematics, biology. A popular dual degree is actuarial science (an equally shared and administered degree-granting program from the department of mathematics and the department of statistics).

Most importantly, we have an active chair of the undergraduate program, Mark Ward, who goes out of his way to meet with students and their parents to talk about options and future employment opportunities. Further, Ward recently received a Living-Learning Community grant from the National Science Foundation to recruit and retain statistics undergraduate majors. This grant recruits 20 students a year in each of five years and is expected to be instrumental in moving Purdue statistics undergraduate education to a new level.

Finally, many of the faculty at Purdue statistics work with undergraduates on research projects, and often give undergraduate seminars to expose undergraduate students to the many areas of statistics.

As far as how long we expect the growth in statistics majors to last, no one really knows. If we look to the future, I doubt very much there will be a slowdown in data generation, organization, or asking questions of these data using statistics. I predict that the folks collecting data and asking the questions will realize the power of experimental design coupled with statistical analysis and computing and that the growth we are experiencing in educating the future generation of statisticians will continue.

Q: What kinds of careers or graduate programs are your graduates moving on to? Who are the top recruiters?

A: The majority of sole actuarial science majors who graduate are hired by insurance companies (State Farm, Allstate, etc.). Those students who are sole statistics majors (or multiple degree majors) typically go to graduate school in computer science, economics, epidemiology, biostatistics, statistics, or computational finance. For those statistics majors who join the workforce, employers are a broad range of companies that need SAS programmers, data analysts, critical thinking, and/or consultants.

Q: How have you changed your curriculum to adapt to the data science era, and how will you use the ASA Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Programs in Statistical Science? Have you considered starting a professional MA program?

A: We have developed a modern experimental design course for undergraduate majors, and we have a new Big Data course. Further, we are discussing requiring a programming language (C, Python, Java, etc.), but are challenged by the credit requirements of the university. Finally, we are adapting our courses to include team projects, communication skills (written and spoken), and presentation skills.

With respect to starting a professional master’s program in statistics, Purdue statistics has, and historically has had, an extraordinary applied statistics master’s program that is considered a professional degree by the university.

Q: How have you managed the growth in the number of majors? Has the university allocated more resources (e.g., finances, space, personnel) to your department?

A: Yes, this is a challenge, especially with our undergraduate program(s). All of our required courses for undergraduate statistics majors are taught by PhDs, with the exception of one lecturer who has a PhD in statistics. This means our undergraduate statistics majors are taught by tenure-track faculty. Given that our courses are full, we are in a position to limit the number of majors. For example, we have around 400 undergraduate majors, and this is maximum capacity given our faculty number.

Interestingly, even though we are limiting growth of our undergraduate program in statistics, we are experiencing enrollment pressure from non-majors (e.g., engineering) who are required to take statistics courses as part of their core curriculum. If there are no seats for non-major required statistics classes, the graduation rates are negatively affected, and this has negative ramifications on the university rankings. It is due to the enrollment pressure from non-majors that we have experienced a growth in faculty (e.g., six faculty; 5.25 FTE hired for the 2014–2105 academic year).

Finally, because of the consistent growth in our faculty (professors and lecturers) numbers and graduate program, we have significant space issues. The majority of our lecturers share offices, and our graduate offices are at maximum capacity. We do borrow space from other departments, which is a problem when they need their space back to house their own people. The upper administration is unsympathetic to our needs.

Q: What recommendations do you have for students considering a major in statistics? Any advice for students already committed to a major in statistics?

A: The best advice I have for people considering a major in statistics is “do it.” Another piece of advice is to consider co-majoring with a compatible degree that makes you unique to the job market, or uniquely qualified for specific graduate programs. For example, statistics and biology are compatible for computational biology or bioinformatics. Economics and statistics are terrific for finance. Computer science and statistics are fantastic for Big Data and/or data analytics.

My advice for current majors in statistics is to take as much computing as possible. Gain skills in handling Big Data (e.g., manipulating data, pulling data, transferring data, and exploring data graphically). Take care to not become dependent on software packages for analyses (i.e., learn a real programming language). Take an algorithms course and make the connections between computing, machine learning, and statistics.

 

University of California, Davis

Müller

Müller

Aue

Aue

Hans-Georg Müller is professor and chair of the department of statistics at the University of California, Davis. He is a fellow of the ASA, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and American Association for the Advancement of Science and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute. Alexander Aue is associate professor and vice chair for undergraduate affairs in the department. He is a member of the ASA, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and Econometric Society.

 

Q: What do you believe is driving the growth in the number of statistics majors in your department? What are you doing (if anything) to recruit majors? How much longer do you expect such growth?

A: The majority of our students enter the statistics program either by being admitted with a different major and then switching to statistics after taking one of our introductory statistics courses or by adding statistics as a second major. UC Davis has a significant number of students who are double majoring in statistics and economics and statistics and mathematics. Due to the Data Science Initiative on campus and the current rise of the theme of Big Data, we might experience additional growth in CS/stats double majors in the future.

The growth in the number of majors is driven by two larger trends. The first is jobs. Students with quantitative, data-analytic, and statistical skills tend to get higher-paying jobs. This has been highlighted repeatedly in the mainstream media and students are aware of it. The second is that many disciplines on campus are becoming more data oriented and students see the need to acquire statistical tools to succeed in their field of study.

We do not actively recruit majors into the program, but we participate in campus-wide events such as Decision Day for students admitted to UC Davis, where we have partnered with mathematics in the past two years to give TED-style talks about our major to interested students.

Since 2011, we have more than tripled our undergraduate student population. The number of majors topped 200 for the first time in the spring of 2014 and just recently exceeded 300. We expect growth to continue for a while, albeit at a less steep rate, as the underlying trends that drive it continue to play out. As long as our graduates continue to find well-paying jobs in industry and are admitted to top graduate programs, statistics will be an attractive major.

Q: How have you managed the growth in the number of majors? Has the university allocated more resources (e.g., finances, space, personnel) to your department?

A: The growth in the number of majors was initially not met by allocation of more resources. On the contrary, due to budget shortfalls at the state and university levels, the number of ladder-rank faculty in our department has decreased by more than 25% during the time period in which the number of majors has tripled. The administrative decision not to fill FTEs vacated through departures and retirements added strain for both staff and faculty advisers—and increased workload for all faculty and instructors.

Currently, we have 14.25 faculty who serve 300 majors and 150 graduate students (PhD and MS combined and including the biostatistics graduate program housed in our department). This is in addition to a large number of students who take introductory statistics in service courses. These service courses have been mostly taught by ladder-rank faculty, but we are now in the process of hiring lecturers whose main task will be the teaching of these courses. Faculty workload also has increased due to the recent start up of a revenue-generating MS program that enrolls about 50–70 students per year.

More recently, we have managed to communicate the urgency of faculty hires to the administration, and there are concerted efforts underway with support from the dean and higher university administration to increase personnel at all levels. We are recruiting several tenure-track faculty, visiting assistant professors, lecturers, and postdocs through the NSF-funded Research Training Group that we have in the department.

The dramatic increase in the number of students taking both our major-required and service classes has led to a significant increase in class sizes across the board. In the near future, we aim to cap major-required classes at a maximum of 80 students and service classes at 120 students. We are basing our requests for additional faculty positions on a target size for upper-division classes of 60. We have occasionally also experienced problems with classroom quality and availability.

Q: What kinds of careers or graduate programs are your graduates moving on to? Who are the top recruiters?

A: Our graduates have gone on to a variety of careers. More than one-third enter graduate school, for example, in statistics, economics, or finance. The remaining graduates find jobs in industry or government. With the proximity to Silicon Valley, some of our graduates work for companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and smaller start-ups. With the California state government located in close-by Sacramento, students also have found work at one of the many state agencies. Other careers include jobs as actuaries and, more recently, health services. Finally, a small fraction of our students pursue careers in teaching.

 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Simpson

Simpson

Unger

Unger

Glosemeyer

Glosemeyer

Douglas Simpson is professor and chair of the department of statistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. David Unger is an instructor and undergraduate program adviser in the department. Darren Glosemeyer is an instructor and professional development adviser.

 

Q: What do you believe is driving the growth in the number of statistics majors in your department? What are you doing (if anything) to recruit majors? How much longer do you expect such growth?

A: At our university, we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of newly admitted freshmen declaring statistics as their major on the application, so it is clear high-school students are becoming more aware of the field. The growth of AP Statistics and K–12 statistical education is surely a factor, as is the recent media coverage of data science opportunities in the job market. Much of our recent growth, however, has been due to an increase in the number of students transferring into the major, declaring the statistics minor, and declaring statistics as a second major. Part of this may be driven by their exposure to our courses and part by the increasing need for students in many other fields to understand statistical ideas and to perform proper analyses of their data.

As a department, we made the undergraduate major a priority more than a decade ago, introducing a new first-year survey of statistical methods and data analysis and developing further course opportunities at the undergraduate level. We also are increasing our efforts to reach out to newly admitted freshman early through email and advising. There appears to still be considerable room for growth in the major, if we are able to continue to expand the department to meet the large demand we are seeing.

Q: What kinds of careers or graduate programs are your graduates moving on to? Who are the top recruiters?

In recent graduating classes, roughly 45% of students for whom we know outcomes went directly into a graduate program. The programs were predominantly statistics master’s programs. Bachelor’s graduates also have gone on to PhD programs in statistics, applied math, computer science, and economics, as well as JD programs. In addition to statistics MS and MA programs, students have entered accounting, financial math, data science, public health, computer science, public administration, and agriculture and applied economics master’s programs.

Graduates often take analyst positions with major companies in insurance, finance, market research, consumer products, engineering, and manufacturing. Typical roles include business intelligence, analyst, and data science positions at major corporations; actuarial, risk analysis, and financial positions at insurance and financial institutions; analyst positions in market research; and some software engineering positions. Insurance, finance, and market research continue to be strong recruiters of our undergraduates. Consumer products and manufacturing have shown increasing interest, as have tech companies interested in data scientists. Many of our students who enter industry consider the possibility of pursuing, or are already planning to pursue, a graduate degree after gaining some industry experience.

Q: How have you changed your curriculum to adapt to the data science era, and how will you use the ASA Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Programs in Statistical Science? Have you considered starting a professional MA program?

A: Several years ago, we developed new analytics courses emphasizing data management and statistical analysis of databases. More recently, we have developed several new courses with greater computational and data science components, including a course emphasizing Big Data methods, and a new statistical programming course at the undergraduate level. We have a sizeable professional master’s degree program in statistics and analytics, with more than 60 MS graduates per year in the last two years. The ASA development of guidelines for undergraduate programs is great for helping us plan for the future of the field.

Q: How have you managed the growth in the number of majors? Has the university allocated more resources (e.g., finances, space, personnel) to your department?

A: The dramatic growth of the undergraduate statistics major, the development of a large high-quality MS program, and the overall increase in our teaching for the university have created a solid foundation for growth of the faculty and PhD program. In recent years, we have been able to grow both the tenure-track faculty and the specialized teaching faculty (lecturers and instructors), and we see room for further growth in the faculty to help with the large demand for statistics instruction. Further, we have expanded our PhD program in response to both the opportunities for PhD students and the increasing need for teaching assistant support of our courses. As we managed this growth, it was critical to bring in new instructors with student advising as part of their portfolio. Students benefit greatly from experienced advisers to help them navigate through the curriculum and focus their career plans for the future.

Q: What recommendations do you have for students considering a major in statistics? Any advice for students already committed to a major in statistics?

A: Statistics is a great major for quantitatively oriented college students, giving them a solid foundation for many possible career paths, whether they plan on graduate studies going straight to the job market upon graduation.

Our advisers highly encourage students to take our statistical survey course early and simultaneously focus on their calculus and linear algebra skills in their first two years. Once they take a mathematical statistics course, they begin to see the intersection of theoretical and applied topics.

For more advanced majors, we encourage them to explore a variety of our advanced-level electives building their mathematical, computational, and analytical repertoire. Further, they are encouraged to pursue internships or undergraduate research in unfamiliar areas when possible.

The University of Illinois Research Park offers many opportunities for students to gain industry experience doing internships with the companies that have research facilities in the park. Statistical methods and skills are highly transferrable, so we recommend students focus on honing their own abilities so their talents can shine in any number of environments.

 

University of Florida

presnell20150302

Brett Presnell has served as chair of the department of statistics at the University of Florida since August 2012. His research interests include nonparametric methods, directional data analysis, and model selection and testing.

 

Q: What do you believe is driving the growth in the number of statistics majors in your department? What are you doing (if anything) to recruit majors? How much longer do you expect such growth?

A: Not too many years ago, statistics was almost entirely a “found major” for undergraduates at the University of Florida: Students took a statistics course or two to fulfill a requirement in some other program, developed an interest in the area, and decided either to change their major to statistics or to add it as a second major. This has changed in recent years with the growth of AP Statistics in high schools and the positive publicity the field has received in connection with analytics and Big Data: The number of statistics majors has grown steadily; a larger proportion of our undergraduate majors now enter the university as declared statistics majors; and, while the number of students pursuing statistics as a second major also has grown, such students constitute a smaller proportion of our majors than they did prior to 2006.

This growth has occurred in spite of our department not actively recruiting undergraduate students to the major. Some of the growth we experienced in the late 2000s could be attributed to the personal efforts of Ron Randles, who was popular among our undergraduates as both a teacher and undergraduate coordinator. However, the major has continued to grow rapidly since his retirement in 2012, and we expect this growth to continue and even accelerate for the foreseeable future.

Q: What kinds of careers or graduate programs are your graduates moving on to? Who are the top recruiters?

A: Unfortunately, our university does not seem to collect data of this sort, or if they do, it is not made available to the departments. As a department, we have begun to survey our graduating students informally, but the response is voluntary and the data so far are limited. The data we have collected, along with a fair amount of anecdotal data, suggest many of our undergraduate majors continue on to graduate and professional studies in statistics and other fields. These students are able to gain admission to good programs and universities, and a background in statistics is seen as a competitive advantage, even for those applying to programs in other areas.

Students who choose to enter the job market upon graduation find positions in a variety of industries. Our department also offers a minor in actuarial science, which has grown rapidly in recent years. Many statistics majors also complete the actuarial minor; those students seem to do well in the job market and command relatively high salaries.

Q: How have you changed your curriculum to adapt to the data science era, and how will you use the ASA Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Programs in Statistical Science? Have you considered starting a professional MA program?

A: Because of faculty losses incurred during the Great Recession, we have not made any changes to our undergraduate program in recent years and we are not currently considering a professional MA program. We hope to add substantially to our faculty in the near future, and we will look to modernize our curriculum as we do. The ASA’s original guidelines served as a template for our major as it was formed, and we will refer to the new guidelines as we move to update our offerings and requirements. Our survey data show that nearly all of our undergraduate majors feel the need for a dedicated course in statistical computing, and I expect we will look first to increase the depth and breadth of our coverage in that area.

Q: How have you managed the growth in the number of majors? Has the university allocated more resources (e.g., finances, space, personnel) to your department?

A: We certainly have not seen any new resources as of yet; indeed, as mentioned previously, our overall faculty numbers are down. Last year, we were able to add a full-time lecturer to our ranks, and we have been fortunate to have two retired faculty in the area who serve as adjunct instructors on a course-by-course basis.

The university’s budget has begun to turn around in the last couple of years, and we are in the process of adding to our tenure-track ranks. George Michailidis just joined the University of Florida as a member of our department and founding director of the university’s Informatics Institute, a campus-wide initiative. We expect to continue rebuilding our faculty, with some of that hiring coming in connection with the Informatics Institute. As we do, we will be able to devote more effort and resources to all our academic programs, including the undergraduate major in statistics.

Q: What recommendations do you have for students considering a major in statistics? Any advice for students already committed to a major in statistics?

A: I don’t think your readers will find my answers to these questions very surprising. One of the best predictors of success in any STEM field is success in calculus, and certainly students who do well in calculus and linear algebra seem to have an easier time in our major. So, at great risk of confusing correlation with causality, I would encourage prospective statistics majors to take those courses seriously. Students who intend to pursue graduate studies in statistics would also be well advised to take as many “hard” math courses as they can manage, including a rigorous course in real analysis.

Most students of statistics also would be well served to gain a solid foundation in computer programming, both through coursework and self-instruction. It helps to have a project in mind to focus one’s programming efforts, and fortunately for statistics students, there is no end to fun projects to be generated by scraping and combining data from the web for further analysis.

It’s also a good idea to develop a substantial interest in a particular field of application, perhaps by pursuing a minor or a second major. These days, there are very few areas in which statistics does not play a role, so finding something you enjoy should not be difficult.

Finally, learn to write and speak well, and take every opportunity to practice and improve in these areas. Your ability to communicate effectively will set you apart from the crowd and increase your enjoyment of your work and studies.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Loading...

Comments are closed.