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From ‘You Can’t’ to ‘I Did’: Master’s-Level Statistician Puts Experience to Work for Others

1 October 2016 293 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.

masters_marie-oldfield_100pxMarie Oldfield is a principal statistician for the UK Government. She has worked as a contractor for most of her career, but has been with the Ministry of Defence for the past two years. Previously, she worked in finance and management consulting. She is involved in local community efforts and Statistics without Borders. She is also a conference leader for the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications.

I was always told I wasn’t good enough to do math, as I got a C in my general certificate of education at 16. Always one to take up a challenge, I thought, “Why take an easy degree when I can challenge myself?” So here I am with a degree and a master’s in mathematics and statistics.

Because of my experience, I have worked to help others who want to go into math and statistics overcome the obstacles they might find in their way. This has led me to work as a STEM ambassador to promote math and statistics as a member of the Early Careers Mathematicians Committee for the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications and within Statistics without Borders.

STEM ambassadors go into schools, colleges, and universities to promote science, technology, engineering, and math. This area of education is suffering because there are not enough teachers and, therefore, the uptake of math-related subjects in schools is falling. As ambassadors, we explain our own careers, talk through our experiences, and encourage people into this area of education.

The Early Careers Mathematicians Committee is an offshoot of the Institute of Mathematics and Its Applications. It is for all those within the first 15 years of their careers and offers conferences and networking opportunities.

As conference lead, I organize the biannual conferences. Past conferences have been career and industry focused. The spring conference hosted Hannah Fry, an amazing speaker on the subject of math. She can take the most complicated theory and make it easy to understand.

Moving forward, I am looking to secure sponsors for our upcoming conferences and speakers who will grab everyone’s attention. The speakers provide excellent advice about careers and show the fun side of mathematics. Also, members of the careers committee attend and can provide more tailored advice on careers.

I also volunteer for Statistics without Borders, an all-volunteer organization that does pro-bono work for clients. I have led and managed a global team of statisticians with varying skill levels and worked on valuable projects such as the Ebola Project. Additionally, I have worked with the UN, Map Action, and NetHope.

MapAction is a humanitarian mapping charity that works through skilled volunteers. Specialist teams help save lives and minimize suffering by making the response to humanitarian emergencies as targeted, efficient, and effective as possible.

NetHope is one of the world’s largest nonprofits with technology innovators worldwide. It acts as a catalyst for productive collaboration, innovation, and problem solving to reimagine how technology can improve the world.

I produced maps in Tableau to show where the reception area was for different types of communications equipment so the Ebola aid teams could ensure they took the right equipment and could stay in contact with the base of operations. I also produced geographical and visual analysis for the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) to provide better crisis relief in Nepal after the earthquake. The DHN is a network of organizations that provide information-based response and relief services to communities affected by disasters and formal response actors directly servicing these populations.

Being part of Statistics without Borders has enabled me to have an impact on some of the most important issues in our world today and to indirectly help save lives. It is extremely rewarding, and I recommend anyone join, as all levels of statisticians, administrators, and writers are needed.

As someone who has risen to the various challenges of mathematics and statistics and then taught these subjects, I encourage everyone to give them a go. I think some changes need to be made to the educational system in order for everyone to be able to access the teaching material in their own way, and I certainly don’t think anyone should be told math is too hard or that they cannot do it, because everyone can access the material, just in their own way.

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