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Statistics Teachers Needed in Industrial Settings

1 November 2009 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 Keith Crank, ASA research and graduate education manager, at keith@amstat.org.

Contributing Editor
Mike Patetta is a senior instructor and course developer in the education division at SAS. He has taught more than 300 analytical and statistical courses during his tenure there and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Notre Dame University and a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina.

It is widely assumed that you need a PhD in statistics to teach applied statistics in an industrial setting. However, many teaching jobs in industrial settings require only a master’s degree in statistics. A career as a statistical instructor can be rewarding, as you continually learn new statistical methods and obtain personal satisfaction knowing you are helping professionals solve problems.

As a statistics instructor for SAS, I occasionally encounter professionals who have not had previous training in statistics. I also teach students with advanced degrees in statistics and other quantitative fields. One of the challenges, then, is to communicate effectively with people of various technical backgrounds and relate statistical concepts and applications to nonstatisticians. Most of my students would not appreciate a course that relied entirely on mathematical formulas and proofs. As a result, many of the statistical courses at SAS use graphics and computer simulations to explain high-level statistical concepts. Furthermore, the courses use computer-based exercises so students apply the statistical concepts to new situations.

One of the responsibilities of statistics instructors is to take information found in textbooks and scholarly articles and translate it into PowerPoint slides. You quickly realize you have to thoroughly understand the statistical concepts and applications to create a slide illustrating these concepts. You also have to illustrate the concepts with interesting stories that appeal to students with a variety of backgrounds.

Coming up with data sets to show in demonstrations and exercises is another challenge. However, the very process of creating a course in a particular statistical topic enhances your understanding of it.

Statistics instructors at SAS travel to many of their course engagements, experiencing various cities, eating at fine restaurants, and interacting with people from different geographic backgrounds. As travel budgets tighten, we also teach courses over the Internet. Our web courses offer the same slides and demonstrations as our face-to-face courses, but require no travel.

Because statistical instructors are applied statisticians, the most useful courses to take in graduate school involve a large amount of practical statistics applications in various fields. Some of the courses I recommend include linear models, categorical data analysis, time series, survival analysis, data mining, and multivariate data analysis. It is also important to gain knowledge in statistical programming languages such as SAS, S-Plus, SPSS, and Stata.

To the graduate student, I would highly recommend taking advantage of any internship programs that are available. When I was in graduate school, I took my courses in the morning and interned at the North Carolina State Health Department in the afternoon. I gained valuable experience working with large data sets, applying statistical methods to real-world problems, and interacting with people from different backgrounds and with different statistical abilities. The internship experience also gave me plenty of stories to tell as a statistics instructor.

To be an effective teacher, interpersonal and communication skills are critical. A graduate student can obtain these skills by working as a teacher’s assistant. Teaching statistical software workshops in computer labs is an excellent way to gain teaching experience. I also recommend joining Toastmasters International to hone communication skills.

In conclusion, a career as a statistics instructor can be intellectually stimulating because you are constantly learning new statistical methods and ways to apply them to real-world problems. There is also job satisfaction in knowing you are helping other professionals solve their business and research problems. The people you meet and the places you go also contribute to job satisfaction in this rewarding career choice.

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