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Looking Back on 2015

1 December 2015 99 views No Comment

I start this last of my President’s Corners by “passing the pen” to Jessica Utts, who on January 1, 2016, will start serving as your next president—the 111th. Having worked for several years with Jessica on the board, I have come to know her as inspiring, dedicated, and tireless—a volunteer who will continue as she has in the past, serving the ASA community. I hope many of you will take the time to welcome her and offer her your appreciation for the huge give-away it can take to represent the association and to offer her, as you offered me, your support.


There are a number of memories of this experience serving you I will cherish. (Listen to the theme from “Cats” as you continue).

David Morganstein

David Morganstein

Invitations to Visit. The ASA receives many invitations for speakers to make presentations to chapters, give keynote talks at conferences, and visit universities. Often, these go to the president first, and if he or she is unable to attend, the president-elect, the past president, the vice presidents, or other board members are asked. I was able to honor the ASA’s founding with a talk to the Boston Chapter. I offered my thoughts about the practice and profession of statistics in a keynote presentation at the Non-Clinical Biostatistics Conference 2015, a University of Kansas Medical Center-sponsored conference, and Statistics Career Day—sponsored by Grand Valley State. Of course, the trips to meet faculty, students, and graduates at North Carolina State University, Florida State University, and Arizona State University were both memorable and invigorating. Talking with graduate students and discussing their challenging questions was, without a doubt, one of the greatest pleasures of this experience! These visits were thoroughly enjoyable. My hosts always extended a warm welcome and offered great hospitality.

The Board. Having been part of the ASA Board for the past four years, what comes through clearly is the sense of shared purpose and common ground. These very active ASA volunteers put in a lot of time to serve the membership. They are dedicated to moving the association forward, growing it, making it more visible in the world, and supporting professional development opportunities. They are concerned about statistics education and how we can get our vital viewpoint into the media. Importantly, they enjoy working together, addressing the challenges we face, and finding and implementing solutions. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to chair these meetings this year.

The ASA Staff. Our membership is extremely well served by our executive director and the staff he has assembled and manages. They have the experience and professionalism to do the job and do it well, as well as to advance our strategic plan. They really enjoy their work, and they continue to search for ways to do it better.

Past Presidents’ Support. Last January 1, I found in my inbox emails from several past presidents, all welcoming me into this new assignment and offering their support. Simply offering to be there. Their wise counsel and presence has been and remains greatly appreciated! This is just one more gift for the future volunteers willing to take on this role. I suspect I met some of those future leaders in the visits I’ve been fortunate to make on behalf of the ASA.

Moving Forward

Some of our greatest opportunities fall into the following areas: finding and welcoming tomorrow’s statisticians; stepping up to the challenge offered by Big Data; focusing our values on solving the world’s problems; and helping mentor our colleagues and honoring those who have been effective at doing so.

Tomorrow’s Statisticians. Our profession’s future lies in the hands of young statisticians and statisticians-to-be. Those young people who have yet to realize they will be our future colleagues and leaders in our profession are guided and influenced by high-school teachers, community-college instructors, and undergraduate faculty in math and statistics. The ASA does a great deal and can do more to support and encourage the people who are so critical to enlisting and teaching the next generation.

STATS 101. We all have had that experience of meeting someone who, upon learning what we do, showed that “look” on their face. The look that says, “I took a statistics class once. Terrible instructor.” Or “I couldn’t do that for a living,” because that one and only statistics class was a boring recitation of formulas. Dick De Veaux and his committee are developing a life raft of exciting case studies, possibly with accompanying video—materials that can be used by a first-time instructor or someone without any data analysis experience to make that one (and hopefully eye-opening) course more interesting. The challenge ahead is to promote this material and make it accessible to anyone teaching an introductory stats course.

This is Statistics. Our This is Statistics program is aimed at high-school students and college undergraduates. It’s designed to plant the seed that our profession could be the right profession for them. We need to keep sending the message and supporting the teachers, instructors, and counselors who work with these students.

Utts’ Initiative. One of Jessica’s initiatives is to deliver information about careers in statistics to high-school statistics classes. This is a perfect complement to the ASA’s This is Statistics program and one that can help inspire that next generation of young statisticians!

Big Data and Data Science. The explosion of data from numerous areas is both a challenge and an opportunity for our profession. From genomics to web to the Internet of things, there is high demand for people with data-analytic skills. Many of us may think we have been excluded from important discussions about these recent changes (e.g., the talk given by Terry Speed). The recent ASA Board Statement is a call to action.

To meet the demand, data science programs have been initiated at many universities but, unfortunately, too often outside of and with no connection to traditional statistics departments. The University of Michigan, for example, just announced a $100 million data science initiative that may grow to include 35 new faculty. The initiative is led by members of the electrical engineering and computer science departments and the school of medicine. Here’s a map showing how many of these new programs are distributed globally.

While many of us may have an impression that the term “data science” is relatively new, a few prescient members of our profession have been urging that we broaden the training offered by academic programs for quite some time. In his presentation at the John W. Tukey 100th Birthday Celebration at Princeton University, Dave Donoho presented the long history of pioneers who were aware of the need for changes we are now seeing. More than 50 years ago, he noted, John Tukey identified a future “science” that involved learning from data. Almost 20 years ago, John Chambers, William S. Cleveland, and Leo Breiman independently advocated expanding statistics beyond theory. Data preparation, presentation, and prediction—not just inference—were identified as growing in importance.

The term “data science” was coined by Cleveland long before it gained its current popularity. In 2001, he suggested data science consist of the following interdisciplinary mix:

  • Multidisciplinary investigations (25%)
  • Models and methods for data (20%)
  • Computing with data (15%)
  • Pedagogy (15%)
  • Tool evaluation (5%)
  • Theory (20%)

There remain many ways in which departments can expand into the areas urged by these early visionaries. Some departments have begun offering both certificate and master’s programs, while quite a few maintain an emphasis heavily focused on theory. Hopefully, more in academia will see these programs as opportunities while they observe how other disciplines are already addressing these needs.

What else can we do? The Washington Statistical Society (WSS) has a link on its home page to Data Community DC and is trying to build a connection with its member community. The ASA organized meetings between academia and industry representatives to identify business needs so curricula might be modified to better address upcoming needs for data-analytic skills. The ASA is planning for joint conferences with data science organizations to try to create alliances that serve both memberships. What else would you suggest the ASA consider?

Mentoring Our Colleagues. We’ve made great strides in working to improve the professional connections among us and in outreach to our colleagues moving through their careers.

Colleague to Colleague. Almost a decade ago, the ASA decided to offer a greatly reduced membership rate to students. In the ensuing years, the association has added close to 5,000 student members. While a notable accomplishment, only a small portion of these members convert to full membership after they graduate. If you’ve been a member for long, you know we have a lot to offer new graduates. However, we clearly aren’t making a compelling case. If we make a connection between these young graduates and experienced members who can offer career advice and support, and if we can connect them with a local chapter or a section that is relevant to their specialty, both we and they would gain. The ASA is calling this new effort Colleague to Colleague. It’s being developed by ASA staff and the Committee on Membership, Recruitment, and Retention.

Mentoring programs in chapters and sections. As I’ve visited chapters or met with the councils of chapters and sections, I’ve offered the notion that a mentoring program could be beneficial to both the council and its members. The Biopharmaceutical Section and WSS have found this works for them and have instituted their own programs. They have been aided by the materials the Committee on Applied Statisticians has developed to make the start-up process easier. Would your chapter or section benefit, as well?

Recognition of outstanding mentors. I consider an important accomplishment working with the ASA Board to establish an annual award for an outstanding, career-long mentor. I think we can agree that people who take on the role of mentor do so because it is part of who they are and of what they see as their professional work. Our association makes an important statement of what we are about by those members we choose to honor and recognize.

Thank you for this unique opportunity to represent our community. Please join me in offering support to our 111th president, Jessica Utts!

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