Hack College Presents: How To Become A Statistician

applied statistics

Before the age of big and easy-to-come-by data, the most exciting statistical work was mostly relegated to government agencies, universities and multinational corporations with high research budgets. Today, even small firms are realizing that applied statistics is crucial for modern data analysis and the demand for statisticians is rising rapidly.

So whether you’ve always dreamed of running playoff statistics for the National Football League or you want to use statistical models to inform policy analysis in healthcare, you may want to consider taking coursework in applied statistics. What you learn will empower you with the ability to take a large and otherwise meaningless dataset and turn it into a versatile data interpretation tool.

It isn’t easy, but if you enjoy learning really cool and really useful math and drawing data-based conclusions to solve problems, a degree in applied stats is probably for you.

Part I. The Statistics Industry

Remember to keep an open mind to your employment opportunities — numbers and statistics are everywhere and our ability to collect and track these figures is only going to improve.

An Overview of the Field

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most statisticians enter the field with a master’s degree in statistics, mathematics, or survey methodology. A bachelor’s degree is enough for entry-level jobs, but you will need to go back to school to earn the big bucks. Research and academic jobs generally require a Ph.D.

It is wise to consider coupling your bachelor or master’s degree in a related field of interest such as finance, biology, engineering or computer science since statisticians in these fields are in the highest demand.

There are tons of undergraduate and graduate degree programs in statistics at colleges and universities across the country. To get into graduate school you don’t necessarily have to have a bachelor’s degree in statistics, but it is important to get some pretty hefty mathematics training early in your education career — you will need it. Your course load from a typical undergraduate program is likely to include differential and integral calculus, statistical methods, mathematical modeling, and probability theory, according to the BLS.

As part of any program you will get training in computer programs that will help you complete your calculations. Software packages such as Minitab, the R-project, and SAS Business Analytics software are really common, popular programs to learn. Understanding or undergraduate courses in computer science will clearly be helpful.

Try to do a little brainstorming early in your career. If you are interested in agriculture, for example, then you may want to structure your curriculum to include classes in biology or the life sciences. If you think you’d like to work in manufacturing or quality control then courses in engineering and the physical sciences will supplement your coursework best.

Salary and Career Outlook

The median salary of statisticians was $72,830 in 2010. The lowest 10% earned less than $39,090 and the top 10% earned more than $119,100. A 2009 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey found that the top 15 highest earning college degrees all have math skills and training in common.

Statistician employment is expected to increase 14% between 2010 and 2020, which is close to the average job growth for all professions. The use of statistical analysis is growing and a primary reason is because the Internet continues to increase the amount of data available for many different sectors to use and study. Every time an Internet user uses a search engine, they are generating a large amount of data. More and more businesses are using this data pool as a way to organize, analyze and sort consumer needs and demands for commercial purposes.

According to the BLS there are certain fields that are likely to see the most growth. Government agencies are increasing their data uses and using technologies to improve their policy analysis. Engineering and the life sciences are employing more statisticians’ to build research and help design tests and assess results. The pharmaceutical industry also uses staticians to develop new treatments and medical technologies. Biostatisticians are a sub-group in the profession that are used heavily to do research and conduct clinical trials.

Part II. Top U.S. Applied Statistics Programs

Here is a short life of the kinds of statistics programs available. The online options are growing, and many top tier universities now offer competitive programs for students at both the bachelor’s and the master’s level.

Stanford University

“Life is one big data mining problem. The knowledge that I obtained is applicable to both the industry I work in and everyday life as well.” — Earl Wong, Graduate certificate in Data Mining and Applications

  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Specialized degrees: Participate in online Stanford statistics courses, seminars, and webinars online from the School of Engineering. Through the Stanford Center for Professional Development, students can take online individual graduate or professional courses and work toward a graduate certificate, professional certificate, or master of science degree. Courses include predictive models and analytics, strategic decision-making, algorithmic trading, and biostatistics.
  • Industry perception: As a member of the Ivy League, Stanford boasts world-renowned faculty including members of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. The networking opportunities are of a world-class level.
  • Tuition: There are a number of free online seminars and webinars on a wide variety of statistics courses. Tuition for credit courses costs $1,320 per credit unit.
  • Financial aid: Financial aid ranges from scholarships, loans, work-study and grants.

University of Illinois

“The instructor was highly committed to engaging the students. I found her openness to “learning alongside the students” to be refreshing and encouraging – and the real life examples she brought to the discussion were helpful and enlightening.” — U of I Online student, 2012

  • Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Specialized degrees: The Bachelor of Arts in Mathematical Sciences is designed to prepare students for careers using mathematics, operations research, and statistics in the fields of teaching, research, industry, insurance, and management or for graduate study in Mathematical Sciences or related areas.
  • Industry perception: Established in winter of 1997, the University of Illinois Online is a university-wide initiative providing coordination and support to the three campuses of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield. The overall goal of the initiative is to increase the number of high-quality online education programs available to all prospective students in Illinois, the U.S. and around the world.
  • Tuition: Illinois residents pay tuition of $271.25 per credit hour and non-residents pay $564.00 for a total of 60 semester hours to complete the bachelors program. The Guaranteed tuition program guarantees that students will have an unchanged tuition schedule for four years — this takes some worry away about tuition hikes while you are in school.
  • Financial aid: Eligible students can apply for federal, state and institutional programs including grants, loans, scholarships, tuition waivers and work-study financial aid options.

Penn State University

“The instructors I have had so far are all super-good; they responded to my emails very quickly and always provided very helpful instructions. They are very knowledgeable about the courses they are teaching.” — Yan Chen, Applied Statistics online student

  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Specialized degrees: The Penn State World Campus offers an online master’s degree and an online Graduate Certificate in Applied Statistics, which are both based on the resident on-campus program and are taught by many of the same faculty.
  • Industry perception: As one of the highest ranked public universities Penn State has a reputation for high-quality education programs, and the university is going to great lengths to ensure that its online portfolio of courses are just as academically worthwhile.
  • Tuition: $736 per credit, with the Master’s degree requiring 30 credits and the certificate requiring 12.
  • Financial aid: World Campus makes many options available to help you pay for your education through the financial aid department. Full- and part-time degree-seeking students are eligible for federal student aid.

Southern New Hampshire University

“[SNHU online] taught me to be self-motivated and plan ahead and how to stay organized. It was good practice on managing my time efficiently.” — Christopher Perry, 2011 online student

  • Accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the New Hampshire Postsecondary Education Commission.
  • Specialized degrees: The Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, focuses on analysis, algebra and statistics as they relate to business, natural sciences and the social sciences.
  • Industry perception: The private, not-for-profit SNHU was featured on Fast Company’s “World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” for its smart uses of online technologies to grow opportunity while providing quality education. Online students are well taken care of — professors track everything from the length of student discussion posts to email response time to make sure students don’t fall behind.
  • Tuition: Tuition for the 120 credit undergraduate program is $38,000 or $960 per credit.
  • Financial aid: SNHU recently announced that they are increasing their financial aid in an effort to provide students with high school GPAs of 2.5 and higher to be eligible to receive up to $18,000 in grants and scholarships. The financial aid handbook can give you all the specifics.

Part III. Launching a Career

Don’t leave the job hunt for the end of your education career — acquire skills and build your resume as you go so that you are a competitive applicant right out of the gate. That will be especially important if you’ve gone right from your bachelor’s to a master’s degree. There are two cardinal rules to positioning yourself for the statistics career of your dreams while you’re still in school:

1. Maintain an excellent academic record.

Your GPA, or grade point average, is important in this field! Many recruiters hold a high minimum requirement, and won’t consider applicants unless they meet that standard. So don’t let the transition into college ruin your GPA for those critical young years in the field.

Look into presenting your research at academic conferences. Check with your professors or advisors to see if there are any options. Though you may not be ready for this until graduate school, you can always attend as an undergraduate to get a taste for what the conference environment is like. Some universities even have a graduate student research symposium, which is another good way to practice talking about your work in front of like-minded peers.

Tutoring is another way to really master the materials you are working with, and get some teaching and leadership experience. A short course or a weekly tutoring hour is a great way to meet others, look for collaborators and get experience.

2. Gain experience in the field.

Look for opportunities to do pro bono statistics work or to volunteer within the statistics community at your university or in the greater community. There are departments within your university that use statistics, and volunteer work is one way to find a mentor. See if you have a local chapter of Statcom or Statistics in the Community — a student-run volunteer organization that was started in 2001 at Purdue University’s Department of Statistics that provides pro bono statistical consulting to local nonprofit, governmental, and community service organizations.

Internships are another great way to get experience, and you can get some help trying to find an opportunity by contacting the career service department at your university. The American Statistical Association has a great list of internships that are updated every year.

Be assertive! Meet with professors in office hours and communicate your interest in applying or participating in grants and fellowships. This is also important if you want to apply to a master’s program since you are likely going to need a recommendation as part of any applicant process. Even if you don’t have the experience to do this things yourself — your professors or advisors can put you in contact with someone who can.

Bookmark the website [email protected], and visit often! A product of the American Statistical Association this site is created for new stat professionals and is full of resources like interviews with sports statisticians to job advice and webinars on a wide variety of professions in the field.

Survey Says: a Great Career

The field of statistics is rife with career opportunities that encompass a wide range of employment sectors, from political science and economics to sports broadcasting and web media. Detail-oriented students who don’t mind long hours spent perusing data will certainly reap the rewards — namely, a desirable salary and the chance to play an integral role in tracking and maintaining public records.