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Aligning Goals for Success

4 January 2024 556 views No Comment

Bonnie Ghosh-Dastidar

Warmest wishes to everyone in our ASA community and hopes for a peaceful, healthy, and productive 2024!

I am both honored and humbled to be your ASA president in 2024. One of my first tasks—and a great pleasure—was to select a theme for the 2024 Joint Statistical Meetings, known to many as simply JSM. The theme I chose—Statistics and Data Science: Informing Public Policy and Countering Misinformation—reflects my passion for evidence-based public policy. In our era of mushrooming data with a simultaneous increase in pervasive misinformation, statistical science is essential to generating the reliable information on which a healthy democracy depends. Since statistics is an interdisciplinary science with applications to every field imaginable, we are very much on the front line as statisticians. I know it’s a role we take seriously.

I am a statistician at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that seeks to improve public policy and decision-making through research and analysis. I lead RAND’s statistics group, an exceptionally talented and dedicated group of individuals who nurture an inclusive and intellectually stimulating community. A consistent focus of my work has been to understand the mechanisms that drive health and social inequality using the interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving that is a RAND hallmark.

I think the essential thing if you want to be a good statistician … is to talk to people and find out what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
– F.N. David

“I think the essential thing if you want to be a good statistician … is to talk to people and find out what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.” F. N. David offered this advice in a 1989 interview with Nan Laird published in Statistical Science. It’s sound advice for an ASA president who is developing her initiatives because successful and sustainable initiatives are those that strengthen or complement ongoing programs. The fundamental import of those concepts is clearly reflected in the themes of the ASA’s strategic plan: Enhancing the Diversity and Breadth of our Association, Increasing the Visibility of our Profession, and Ensuring the Future of our Profession.

A sound strategic plan serves as a road map, but the challenge lies in the implementation. We can pursue the ASA’s strategic plan by focusing on three principles: collaboration, community, and opportunity. Let me talk briefly about them.

Collaboration

It will require nuanced collaboration across disciplines to address society’s greatest challenges. In an era of data ubiquity and rapid analysis, statisticians are positioned to play an essential role in this collaboration, as our work contributes to analysis in nearly every scientific field.

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Leveraging my experience and building on 2022 ASA President Kathy Ensor’s leadership initiative, I plan to work with members of the Committee on Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, Scientific and Public Affairs Advisory Committee, sections, and interest groups to showcase statistical innovation on current pressing topics. The recent White House Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence provides a unique, timely opportunity for the ASA to demonstrate leadership and influence national discourse and policy.

Following the success of the IDEA Forum, one of my goals is to host another on this topic and initiate a hybrid ASA lecture series to focus on important policy issues highlighting statistical innovation and leadership.

Opportunity

As a first-generation immigrant working in statistics and data science, I know opportunity can change your life and career path. I want to enhance the diversity and breadth of our profession by strengthening our commitment to mentoring.

During his ASA presidency, David Morganstein focused on mentoring. As a result, we have conference mentoring programs, chapter- and section-led mentoring programs, and an ASA award recognizing individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to supporting the career development of others. Dionne Price, the ASA’s 2023 president, initiated the StatsForward program to encourage early-career members of our community to become stewards of our profession. And StatFest and the Diversity Mentoring Program, coordinated by the Committee on Minorities and Statistics, are examples of existing initiatives that have demonstrated success.

I want to continue to support these successful programs and bring new opportunities to our community. As a first step, I plan to do an environmental scan to both understand what successful programs are doing and identify potential gaps.

Community

People around the globe experienced a real loss of community during and following the pandemic. The resulting isolation and stress underscored the importance of interpersonal connections and relationships, as well as the value of belonging. The value of affiliation is no less real for our ASA community, which connects us through our shared interests. Building on 2021 ASA President Rob Santos’s initiative, I urge you to participate in activities held by ASA chapters, sections/interest groups, and committees such as mixers, hackathons, and conferences. Participation equals engagement.

The strength—and potential outgrowth—of a community is often assessed by metrics such as number of members and meeting attendance. Both are down across professional societies! How can we increase the strength and influence of our society?

The ASA represents our interests and ensures our collective voice is heard at the national, state, and local levels. Your active membership helps make this critical work possible. I have been an ASA member since graduate school because it has provided exceptional opportunities for professional and intellectual growth. I urge you to renew or join today. If you are a student, an early-career scholar, or an individual from a developing country, you can join at a discounted rate.

Meeting attendance is also lower than in pre-COVID times. I believe the interruption of in-person meetings has disrupted habits. This past year, I enjoyed my first full year of meetings, starting with the Conference on Statistical Practice, then the Nonclinical Biostatistics Conference, Joint Statistical Meetings, Women in Statistics and Data Science Conference, and San Francisco Chapter’s holiday event. At each, I felt palpable energy and joy and witnessed many opportunities to learn, network, or mentor. There is something for every career stage. I invite you to join me at an ASA meeting in 2024.

Over the next 10 years, statistics and data science are predicted to be among the fastest-growing occupations. This is an exciting time to be a statistician and data scientist. The potential for personal and professional growth is unprecedented. Let’s work together to grow our ASA community by broadening our collaborations and opportunities. I hope to welcome you in person to JSM this summer. Please consider contributing an abstract by February 1. Program chair Debashis Ghosh and the entire committee are putting together an exceptional program. And August is a beautiful time to visit Portland and the Pacific Northwest!

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