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Jobs for Statisticians

1 October 2010 6 Comments
Keith Crank, ASA Research and Graduate Education Manager

Keith Crank has a BS in mathematics education and an MS in mathematics from Michigan State University and a PhD in statistics from Purdue University. Prior to joining the ASA as research and graduate education manager, he was a program officer at the National Science Foundation, primarily in the probability program.

I recently received two emails from people on opposite sides of the job search continuum. The first came from a recruiter:

    I recently read your May 2010 article in Amstat [News] on “counting statisticians” and was wondering if you received any additional clarification from your readers. I currently work with a CRO [contract research organization] as a recruiter and definitely agree with your comment, “Given the high demand and low unemployment, evidently there are not enough.”

    I am currently developing a work force plan for our biostatistics group to address both current and future openings and would like to include some realistic projections of the available talent pool over the next 2–5 years.

The second came from someone who recently graduated with a master’s degree in biostatistics and is on the job market:

    I want to applaud you, Mr. Crank, on your wonderful and inspiring editorial in the August 2010 issue of Amstat News. You presented a career in statistics as a secure and relatively recession-proof field, where a current graduate should not have any trouble finding a job. Actually, you mentioned verbatim, “As far as I can tell, graduate students in statistics and biostatistics, at both the master’s and doctoral levels, do not have much difficulty finding jobs.”

    I have always felt this way, also. Look at any applicable job-search website and there are hundreds of postings for analysts, statisticians, and programmers. So, as far as any person could tell, there should be no problem in a fresh graduate finding work. I’m here, as a recent graduate, to enlighten you on the reality of this situation.

    As a statistician, I will first give you a few statistics to give you a picture of what my job hunt as been like since I graduated in May:

    • Number of jobs I have applied to: 26
    • Number of responses (including, “Hey we got your resume. … We’ll let you know!”) I have received: 12
    • Of these responses, the number of initial interviews: 8
    • Of these interviews, the number that resulted from job placement centers at conferences: 6
    • Of all the initial interviews, the number that resulted in onsite/follow-up interviews: 3
    • Of all the interviews, the number [of interviewers who] notified me that the job was no longer available/I didn’t get it: 2
    • Number of staffing places stalking me that offer no help whatsoever: 5
    • Number of thank-you cards/follow-up emails I have written: 32

    It may be noticeable what the trend here is, but let me clarify anyhow. NO ONE has the decency to respond to applicants anymore. For over half of my applications, I did not get a single response back. For all the time, effort, and thought I put into each and every one of those cover letters, at the very least, I deserve a “We got it, thanks!”

    But let’s forget about those people. What about the ones who responded, then dropped off the face of the planet? If you notice, of the people who bothered to respond, two-thirds went on to do an initial interview, and three actually did onsite interviews. However, only two, yes TWO, companies have notified me to let me know I didn’t get the job.

    So I want to paint this picture in your head of what is actually happening to fresh graduates these days: We email, you email, we interview, we write beautiful thank you letters, we email, we email, we never hear from you again. Where are the days of job-hunting etiquette? Is it only reserved for those with 5+ years of experience? I’m not alone in this frustration. My sentiments have been echoed by fresh graduates across quite a few disciplines.

    So, Mr. Crank, while a career in statistics may be secure and jobs may appear abundant, I can assure you things aren’t as easy as they appear. I think it is beneficial for you and everyone to understand the lack of respect fresh graduates are dealing with in these times. And, yes, I view blatant nonresponse as a lack of respect. Maybe your next article in Amstat News should be about employer hiring etiquette or how recent graduates can actually get one of these stat jobs.

There seems to be a disconnect here. Is there a problem finding jobs at the master’s level? (Is the PhD level better, or worse?) Are jobs available that students have difficulty finding out about? And what about the etiquette issue? What should be expected (from both sides) with regard to communication about the job search process? What can students and recruiters do to improve the job search situation?

Feel free to comment on this article, or you can send comments directly to me at keith@amstat.org.

I also want to correct some information I put in my August column about Bureau of Labor Statistics projections. Their surveys do include companies headquartered outside the United States that have offices here. And they define their job categories on their forms, rather than relying on job titles. They do agree that they would not pick up new and emerging industries that need statisticians.

Finally, let me identify the National Science Foundation statistics and probability program directors for this year. Gabor Szekely (gszekely@nsf.gov) and Grace Yang (gyang@nsf.gov) continue from last year. Haiyan Cai (hcai@nsf.gov), from the University of Missouri – St. Louis, replaces David Stoffer as the third program director in statistics. Tomek Bartoszynski (tbartosz@nsf.gov) continues as the program director in probability.

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6 Comments »

  • Michael M said:

    I have had a very similar experience in my employment search to that of the recent graduate. Last May I successfully defended my Ph.D. thesis in Statistics within a reputable statistics department in a reputable university, with several published papers and distinguished awards on my CV. I have not filed for graduation, however, because I have not had any success obtaining employment, not even as a post-doc. I have been submitting applications for a full year now, and while I haven’t tabulated the responses (and non-respondes) I’ve received, the breakdown would be about the same. Meanwhile I continue on as a graduate student being paid for doing research and assisting in teaching. Clearly the “high demand” for qualified statisticians is a myth, and the demand is so low that many employers do not feel it necessary to show proper etiquette to qualified applicants.

  • Michael said:

    My comments are in response to the recent graduate’s comments.

    I am the CEO of a corporation. Whenever we post a job, we get HUNDREDS of applicants. There just isn’t enough manpower, nor time in a day to write each one simply to say, “we got your resume.”

    For example, if it took only 7 minutes for each reply, and say we received 150 resumes; it would take one staff member dedicated to the task over 17 hours.

    By the way, it has nothing to do with the fact that you recently graduated. Stay the course son. In this economy, you may have to send out dozens and dozens of resumes before you land a job, but don’t get discouraged.

  • Anonymous Coward said:

    Keith, I can confirm that these issues are not isolated to the Master’s level job market. I consider the following most foul:

    1. Nearly all PhD level position advertisements require the applicant to submit three letters of recommendation. Having requested letters from respectable and busy statisticians, I find it extremely rude that a prospective employer would completely ignore the receipt of these materials. Yet this is the rule, rather than the exception in my recent experience. This practice is worst among academic employers.

    2. This last complaint might lead us to think that employers are swamped with applications. Indeed, I am aware that a recent Master’s level position at my institution drew no fewer than 60 applications. Despite this, there is evidence of _reposting_ for identical positions on popular Statistics Jobs websites. I can state with certainty that some academic institutions have no problem committing foul number 1 immediately followed by foul number 2.

    This is all very discouraging to a recent graduate.

  • Isabella Ghement said:

    Dear Keith,

    Reading the letter of the disillusioned biostatistician hunting for an ellusive first job reminded me that finding a job is really about finding a good fit with a potential employer. And if you can’t find an employer who resonates with your own values and needs, then you are better off to create your own employment opportunities and perhaps consider consulting, training or teaching while working for yourself as potential alternatives.

    Has your reader considered approaching the various members of ASA for advice on finding or creating a first job? I think the wealth of advice he would receive would point him in the right direction and spare him some of the frustration he’s experienced to date. When finding a first job, anyone must overcome the obstacle of lacking experience.

    One of the things we all need to learn is that we cannot control what other people do and how they react. All we can do is to control our own actions and reactions. I think your redear needs to re-frame his thinking in a more positive and empowering way to avoid getting trapped in a situation where he keeps railing against the potential employers. For instance, has your reader asked why he wasn’t offered the jobs he applied for? Maybe there is something to be learned from these rejections, something that can help him move forward.

    I hope your reader will be able to re-group and refine his job search based on input from ASA members in order to get that deserved first break.

    Isabella Ghement

  • Vincent Granville said:

    I once paid the fee to be listed at the top of the candidate list at the Seattle JSM conference. Despite my 10+ years of industry experience (Internet and Finance), Ph.D., postdoc from Cambridge University and from the National Institute of Statistical Sciences, I did not land one interview, and I did not even receive one email from the hiring companies. Zero, nada, the money was totally lost. At least, I did not waste my time in lengthy interview processes leading to nowhere.

    Note that at that time (Seattle JSM), there was no recession.

  • Aaron Galluzzi said:

    Dear Keith,

    I think your column here, and the responses from both the recently graduated student and the recruiter, both provide an accurate picture of the job market for statisticians, despite the apparent contradiction. The apparent source of the contradiction lies primarily in experience.

    Even by taking a sample of the job ads in the ASA job website shows that a majority of positions listed require that the candidate have some practical work experience in their given discipline, preferably in a specific application area (e.g. analysis of clinical trials, market data analysis, etc), and typically, recruiters typically active seek people who have an identifiable level of work experience.

    Because recent graduates of the masters program typically do not have much work experience, I suspect that recruiters are not likely to pay as much attention to them (the situation may be different with PhD level graduates, as the PhD level research could qualify as work experience). Furthermore, since employers are also more often seeking individuals with experience that could be utilized right away, they may be hesitant in hiring fresh, untested graduates.

    My advice to the recent graduate is not to give up, but keep trying. When I graduated from my masters program, I had sent out a total of almost a 100 resumes, out of which I had about 11 initial interviews before eventually landing my first job, so patience is important. As a general rule, companies do not reply back to applicants who did not get the position, but they may still nonetheless keep your resume on file, so I would recommend following up with them and ask for feedback.

    I would also advise the graduate to not rely too much on just passively sending out resumes, but instead to seek and network with others in the statistics community through the ASA or through social networking tools such as LinkedIn or even Facebook (there are communities of statisticians and consultants on LinkedIn that could be valuable as contacts).