What Would You Tell Your Grad School Self?

By Elizabeth Mannshardt, CCD Chair 2022 & Meg Ruyle, AmstatNews

"What would you tell your grad school self?" 

Knowledge comes with experience; Hindsight is 20/20; Wisdom comes with age.  As you look back on your academic schooling and career path - with all their challenges and twists and turns - what would you want to tell your grad school self as you began your learning journey?

ASA’s Committee on Career Development has worked with many experienced statisticians and mentors over the years via events such as Guided Professional Networking (2019, 2020, 2021, 2022) and "Along Your Career Path in Statistics and Data Science" webinars including “Distinguished Careers in Statistics and Data Science”.  These CCD participants' engagement in career development topics has offered amazing advice and impactful guidance for ASA’s community.  As they have helped us explore a variety of career paths and experiences, CCD asked them to look back and explore their own insights into "What would you tell your grad school self?"

EstherPearsonEsther Pearson, Statistician and Researcher, Adjunct Professor,
Franklin University

Use real-life scenarios to practice what you are learning in grad school classes. You don't have to depend on the course projects and assignments to gain experience. Create projects and assignments for yourself with real-life scenarios that benefit you personally.

ASA’s Past-President offered his thoughts, no holds barred:  Everything you need to have a fulfilling, successful career is already inside you.  Your superpower will always be your whole self: your life experience, your culture, your technical knowledge from classes/work experience, even your personal traits (yes, I mean shyness/imposter syndrome, a passion for helping people, personal resilience, curiosity, creativity, etc.).  Your weaknesses really can be transformed into strengths, just as your threats can be transformed into opportunities.  Beyond all the technical skills you will learn, by far the most valuable personal skill to develop is your critical thinking. Cradle it, nurture it with activities and hobbies not related to your field of study (e.g., photography, live music, hiking, fishing). That includes allowing yourself to fully embrace your superpowers that I mentioned above.  And finally, know that you will have to take risks to have fortune smile upon you.  That means becoming vulnerable and accepting and learning from failure.  Failure is perfectly ok if you learn from it.... it makes you stronger and smarter.  In fact, it is human nature to learn from our failures!  So embrace going beyond your comfort zone.  I promise, you'll thank yourself later in life RobSantosRobert L SantosDirector 
U.S. Census Bureau
ClaireBowenClaire McKay Bowen, PhD; Principal Research Associate; Statistical Methods Group Lead, Past CCD Chair

If you have a significant other, schedule time together once a week (or some regular cadence) and stick to it. Unless I had a major deadline, I had date night once a week with my spouse. We set this up at the beginning of my graduate program, because we wanted to be sure we spent quality time together. My spouse has always been my support, so I cherished the moments we spent time together. - To this day, we still have date night or date day (brunch) once a week.  If you do not have a significant other, schedule time for yourself. That scheduled time could be taking yourselves out to the movies, getting a nice meal, etc. Self-care is important.

* Don't assume your first job will be your last job

* Your graduate degree is a license to learn. Much will change over a career. Enjoy a lifetime of learning.  (R didn't exist when I was in grad school and random digit dialing still worked since all phones in a geographic area had the same area code)

*  You can't predict what will give you the most joy in your work - be open to unexpected opportunities. 

JohnBailerJohn Bailer Emeritus Professor, Dept. of Statistics, Miami University, PStat® ASA Accredited Professional Statistician, Stats+Stories

    ElizabethMannshardtElizabeth MannshardtDirector, Statistics Methods and Innovation Program, NCSES NSF
    CCD Chair 2022

    • Ask questions: You are not expected to know everything nor to be infallible; over time you will become an expert in some things (and more so by asking questions!). I used to be afraid to ask questions (see CCD’s podcast on Imposter Syndrome) but now I value the opportunity to learn and explore.
    • Take chances & fail: It is ok to try and to not succeed – to take that tough course but fail the test (statistics is hard!), to explore a new idea but not have that paper published (it has happened to everyone), to apply for but not get that (seemingly) amazing job (I have since realized these instances in my journey were not great fits for me!)  You will go new and possibly unexpected places. Your career, just like life, is a journey with many choices on chances to take.

    It is never too early to Network:  Your current set of grad school friends is your future professional network.  Value the time you have together to collaborate, engage, discuss life, laugh together, and find connections.  They will be your colleagues, collaborators, coaches, and personal cheerleaders throughout your career.  I am also inspired by my former grad school friends’ amazing achievements; and I appreciate how we have continued to learn from and offer guidance and support to each other throughout our careers. And I love reconnecting at stats conferences!

    • get a mentor
    • do internships or work in a statistical consulting laboratory
    • understand that, unlike school, all writing at work is collaborative
    • do the basic, understandable analyses along with the "right," state-of-the-art one, or
    • understand what decisions leadership is going to make with your analyses,

    but what would have been more helpful is embarrassing--don't cover my tracks.  My clearest example was not in statistics but while working in a Limnology lab.  The procedures for filtering and clearing the slides, so I could count the algal species on 500 slides, did not work.  I spent 95 percent of my time trying to fix the procedures.   I never did, so I counted slides with hardly anything showing, and submitted the counts and garbage analysis to my supervisors.  To my relief, it was not used.  Later, with some statistical analyses that we usually had to program ourselves and could never get to work, I was too unsure of myself to admit my failures.  Finally, after some leadership training and reading about trust and learning from failure, I faced up to the shame of failing and not knowing what to do.  Those admissions led to cooperative work, all trying to figure out the problems.  They were not the condemnations I feared.  I felt more trusted and certainly less anxious not having to watch my back.  Now, that has led to trying harder things, expecting to fail at times but finding the best way forward with my group.  Also, while leading, it has become important for me to create a safe environment for people to try, fail, and not feel they have to even apologize for it.  Thank you, ASA for that training that changed my career and life.

    Also, Jonaki Bose helped me with mine and had a nice thought herself, If there's something you are scared to do, then that is probably what you should do because there is a lot to learn there.  Jonaki Bose


    Mark Otto, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Patuxent Wildlife Research Refuge in Maryland.
    30 years as Statistician at US Census

    Asking ASA’s CCD "What would you tell your grad school self?" has led to some great insights.  And a couple of common themes to allow yourself space for exploration and creativity, along with self-care and openness to new opportunities.  Join CCD’sFriends of the CCD” list-serve to receive notifications about upcoming career development events at ASA!