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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
“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
“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
“[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
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:
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.
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.
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.