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ASA at 175 - Forming Communities

By Ronald Wasserstein posted 03-27-2014 11:37


An interest group in Astrostatistics recently formed in the ASA.  Recent decades have witnessed a steady and sustained increase in collaborative research efforts between statisticians and astronomers, leading to astrostatistics, a dynamic new subdiscipline that is rich in data, sophisticated models, and interdisciplinary activities.  A group of astrostatisticians has organized itself under the auspices of the ASA.

This new group is a great example of the many types of communities that can and do form within the ASA.  I’ll highlight communities in today’s blog, and hope to persuade you to join one or, even better, to form one that coincides with your statistically-related interests.

There are two traditional and venerable communities within the ASA: sections and chapters.

Sections are groups of members who have similar interests in statistics research or practice.  The ASA has 27 of these groups now, and new ones are forming regularly.  Sections are subgroups of the ASA.  To be a member of a section, you must be a member of the ASA.  Sections charge dues and provide services accordingly.  They have formally elected officers who provide leadership and direction for the section.  Sections vary in size.  Right now, the smallest section has about 300 members, the largest has over 2200.  Section activities vary, but include conferences, awards and scholarships, newsletters, and more.

Interest groups are similar to sections, but smaller in scope, are a bit more informal, and don’t collect dues.  Like sections, though, they provide statisticians the opportunity to interact, to encourage and stimulate creativity and collaboration.  There are four interest groups that have currently formed within the ASA.  Interest groups often grow into sections, but this is not always the case, nor does that approach always meet the needs of the group.

Chapters are regional communities of statisticians.  There are over 75 chapters spread across the US and Canada.  Chapters are semi-autonomous subgroups of the ASA.  People can belong to a chapter without being an ASA member.  The senior officers (president, chapter rep) of each chapter have to be ASA members, but all other members are free to join the ASA, or to not.  Chapters also have a rich variety of activities similar to those of sections, but the unique feature of chapters is their meetings, which serve the very important purpose of allowing statisticians to interact face-to-face with colleagues.  Many chapter members find these gatherings the most important part of chapter membership and a key to staying connected to the profession.

Recently, a newer type of community has formed within the ASA, which we call outreach groups. These are communities of statisticians with common interests but that don’t fit into any of the other categories.  Like sections, these communities are full subgroups of the ASA, but like chapters their membership can include people who are not ASA members. There are currently four such groups, and another is about to launch.

Sections, chapters, and outreach groups are the formal communities of the ASA.  However, ASA members can form their own communities of whatever size and for whatever purpose through the ASA Community.  For example, there is a “Funding Community” to allow members to communicate with one another about research grant opportunities.  ASA staff members Lynn Palmer and Steve Pierson regularly distributed information to this community from grant funding organizations.

Creating a community is really easy.  Go to the ASA Community, click on “Communities,” then on “create a community.” You’ll be asked to provide a description of the purpose or mission of the community, to select who can join or view your community, and to specify what sort of features you’d like access to (website, an eGroup (for discussions and other communications), and a library for file sharing).  Once you’ve set up your community, you can immediately begin inviting people to it.

Community is an important part of our lives as individuals and as professionals.  The ASA provides resources so that communities of statisticians can grow and thrive, thereby helping the profession to grow and thrive.  That’s why the ASA is the Big Tent for Statistics.

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.