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ASA at 175 – Building a Career in Statistics

By Ronald Wasserstein posted 03-14-2014 17:09


Tomorrow, Saturday, March 15, I have the privilege of speaking to the participants, mostly masters degree students in statistics, in the Careers Day event hosted by the Orange County-Long Beach Chapter of the ASA.  Here, in brief, is what I am going to tell them about careers in statistics. 

It is a great time to be preparing to be a statistician.  First of all, jobs for statisticians and other quantitatively trained people are readily available.  (See, for example, this article in the February 2014 Amstat News)  They pay well, too.  Jobs in statistics are meaningful, challenging and rewarding.  Statisticians work in a vast array of fields within business and industry, government, and academe.  We often work in teams and are important contributors to scientific advancement, business prosperity, and better informed policy.

All of that is important, but is really about jobs in statistics, not a career in it.  A career is much more than a series of jobs.  A career involves increasing skill development, increasing responsibility and opportunity, increasing leadership.  A professional career means being continually in the process of becoming a better professional.  The training these students have received and their work experience thus far will get them their first job in statistics.  Everything that happens after will set the tone and pace for their careers.

To be successful, they will need to continue learning.  Continuing professional development has never been more important.  As I talk to statisticians around the country, especially those working in emerging areas of practice, it is clear that after only a few years most of what they are doing has been learned on the job.  Their education provided the platform from which these new skills would be learned, but it is only the foundation.

Further, it is clear that much of what these new statisticians will need to learn will be non-statistical.  That is, they will need to develop computational and data management skills well beyond what they have experienced in their educational settings.  Not only that, but the most important skills they will have to develop are non-technical.  To be successful, they will need to become good collaborators, strong communicators, and effective leaders who understand the needs of their organization and how their data skills can be brought to bear to meet those needs.

Ultimately, to be successful, especially in business and government settings, they will need to learn to make it to the middle.  In many organizations, there are people who are highly technically skilled on one side, and those deft at business or policy on the other.  The people who make the most important contributions to the organization are those who start on one end but are eventually able to operate in between, as a bridge, having the ability to effectively communicate and work with both groups.  Those people are enormously valuable and, by making it to the middle, they are often the ones who make it to the top.

Unfortunately for our profession, it is far more common at this point for those with business/policy acumen who are able to make it to the middle.  Perhaps those non-technical skills I mentioned earlier are often not as well developed in the highly technical people during their formal education.  I will encourage these new statisticians at the Careers Day event to work on those skills with the same diligence that they have given to their technical expertise

Finally, I will emphasize that membership and participation in a professional society is a key factor for professional success.  Professional societies like the American Statistical Association provide the means to stay relevant and to stay connected.  Joining their professional society and joining in on its activities is an investment in themselves and in their profession.

Do you know or work with young statisticians or people preparing to be statisticians?  Perhaps you will encourage them along the lines that I will try to encourage the participants in the ASA OCLB Chapter Careers Day.  Are there other messages I should be sharing with young people entering our field?  Let me know -

In 2014, the American Statistical Association is celebrating its 175th anniversary.  Over the course of this year, this blog will highlight aspects of that celebration, and look broadly at the ASA and its activities.  Please contact ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein ( if you would like to post an entry to this blog.