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Q&A with ASA President Barry D. Nussbaum: What Does a Statistician Do?

1 February 2017 325 views No Comment
A high-school student, working on a research project about careers in statistics, emailed ASA President Barry D. Nussbaum and asked if he would answer a few questions. We thought we would share the questions and answers here. Share these answers with a student you know.

How much does a person usually make in this career?

I’m happy to say that statisticians can earn a very nice income. As with everything else in statistics, there is variance in the number, so just giving you an “average income” would not be very useful. It also depends on many factors, such as where you work (academe, government, industry), how long you have worked, what position you have attained, etc.). A wide range of incomes between $80,000 and $300,000 exists. You can see the details based on two large surveys of income on the American Statistical Association’s website under career opportunities.

What kind of lifestyle does this career provide (working hours, family life, financial class)?

Most of the work is office work, roughly 9–5. Of course, there are “crunch” times on many projects that require extra time. This occurs in any field. Just about all statisticians take advantage of meetings, courses, seminars, and presentations that allow them to travel. Good statisticians also make it their practice to get up and get out of the office to see projects such as surveys as they are implemented. You should be able to spend time with family … or better yet, make a vacation and bring the family to statistical meetings.

What skills should I develop for this career?

I would recommend a solid background in mathematics, statistics, and computer science, as well as courses in a subject matter you are interested in applying statistics to. You also need the ability to communicate results to those who may not be as well versed in statistics as you are.

What are the day-to-day duties of this job?

Just like it’s hard to specify an “average income,” it is difficult to describe an average day. The activities that might be included in any day are analyses of data sets, helping devise sampling plans, presenting reports and suggestions, reviewing work of other statisticians, teaching classes, doing research projects, and attending meetings. I think you will find that the more varied the activities are, the happier you will be.

What education/training should I get to be better prepared than my competition?

Again, I would suggest a good solid backing in mathematics, statistics, and computer science. Also, most statisticians work on problems in which they collaborate with others to apply their work. As an example, my efforts were applied to environmental protection. So, some training in the subject matter (such as environmental science) helps you get ahead of the competition. Also, learning how to communicate your work to someone else is critical. Think of how important that is in a job interview. For some reason, the ability to communicate well is considered a “soft skill.” I don’t like that description. It might well be the hardest thing to learn.

What area of the world would have the most openings for this career?

There are many areas that require statisticians. Universities, of course, hire academic statisticians. Industry and government usually hire more applied statisticians.

So, having just said that, you should realize there are plenty of academic statisticians who do applied work and plenty of applied statisticians doing academic work.

And it might surprise you to know that statisticians are quite diverse. Look at This Is Statistics. They describe many of the types of jobs available. And they even have a quiz titled, “Is a career in statistics right for you?” Give it a try.

How much experience are employers looking for in a new candidate?

I think employers will be impressed if you have a good grounding in mathematics, statistics, and computer science and can express yourself well in an interview. New candidates can impress a potential employer if he or she can express some project they did for school. Even better if they can express it clearly and enthusiastically.

Do you see this career becoming more in demand or less?

The demand for statisticians is growing and growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 34% growth between 2014 and 2024. That is a very sizeable increase in demand.

This is the question you didn’t ask, but should have, so I will ask it. Is a career in statistics fun, interesting, rewarding, and satisfying?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

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