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Statisticians - What They Do


Statistics is the scientific application of mathematical principles to the collection, analysis, and presentation of numerical data. Statisticians apply their mathematical and statistical knowledge to the design of surveys and experiments; the collection, processing, and analysis of data; and the interpretation of experiments and survey results. Opinion polls, statements about the accuracy of scales and other measuring devices, and information about average earnings in an occupation are all usually the work of statisticians.

Statisticians may apply their knowledge of statistical methods to a variety of subject areas, such as biology, economics, engineering, medicine, public health, psychology, marketing, education, and sports. Many economic, social, political, and military decisions cannot be made without statistical techniques, such as the design of experiments to gain Federal approval of a newly manufactured drug. Statistics might be needed to show whether the seemingly good results of a drug were likely because of the drug rather than just the effect of random variation in patient outcomes.

One technique that is especially useful to statisticians is sampling—obtaining information about a population of people or of a group of things by surveying a small portion of the total. For example, to determine the size of the audience for particular programs, television-rating services survey only a few thousand families, rather than all viewers. Statisticians decide where and how to gather the data, determine the type and size of the sample group, and develop the survey questionnaire or reporting form. They also prepare instructions for workers who will collect and tabulate the data. Finally, statisticians analyze, interpret, and summarize the data with the use of computer software.

In business and industry, statisticians play an important role in quality control and in product development and improvement. In an automobile company, for example, statisticians might design experiments in which engines are run until failure and breakdown in order to determine the failure time of engines exposed to extreme weather conditions. Working for a pharmaceutical company, statisticians might develop and evaluate the results of clinical trials to determine the safety and effectiveness of new medications. At a computer software firm, statisticians might help construct new statistical software packages to analyze data more accurately and efficiently. In addition to designing experiments for product development and testing, some statisticians are involved in deciding what products to manufacture, how much to charge for them, and to whom the products should be marketed. Statisticians also may manage assets and liabilities, determining the risks and returns of certain investments.

Nearly every government agency employs statisticians. Some government statisticians develop surveys that measure population growth, consumer prices, or unemployment. Other statisticians work for scientific, environmental, and agricultural agencies and may help figure out the average level of pesticides in drinking water, the number of endangered species living in a particular area, or the number of people afflicted with a certain disease. Statisticians also are employed in national defense agencies, determining the accuracy of new weapons and the likely effectiveness of defense strategies.

Because statistical specialists are employed in so many different kinds of work, specialists who use statistics often have different professional designations. For example, a person using statistical methods to analyze economic data may be called an econometrician, while statisticians in public health and medicine may hold titles such as biostatistician or biometrician.

Work Environment
Statisticians generally work regular hours in an office environment. Sometimes, they may work more hours to meet deadlines.

Some statisticians travel to provide advice on research projects, supervise and set up surveys, or gather statistical data. Although e-mail and teleconferencing make it easier for statisticians to work with clients in different areas, there still are situations that require the statistician to be present, such as during meetings or while gathering data.

Education & Training Required
A master's degree in statistics or mathematics usually is the minimum educational requirement for most statistician jobs. Research and academic positions usually require a Ph.D. in statistics. Beginning positions in industrial research often require a master's degree combined with several years of experience.

Jobs with the Federal Government require at least a bachelor's degree. The training required for employment as an entry-level statistician in the Federal Government is a bachelor's degree, including at least 15 semester hours of statistics or a combination of 15 hours of mathematics and statistics with at least 6 semester hours in statistics. Qualifying as a mathematical statistician in the Federal Government requires 24 semester hours of mathematics and statistics, with a minimum of 6 semester hours in statistics and 12 semester hours in an area of advanced mathematics, such as calculus, differential equations, or vector analysis.

Many colleges and universities offer degree programs in statistics, biostatistics, or mathematics, while other schools also offer graduate-level courses in applied statistics for students majoring in biology, business, economics, education, engineering, psychology, and other fields. Acceptance into graduate statistics programs does not require an undergraduate degree in statistics, although good training in mathematics is essential. There are a variety of ways to aid a statistician's growth in mathematics including tutoring, college courses, and text books. Seeking help from knowledgeable tutors can aid aspiring statisticians in being accepted into graduate statistics programs. Many schools also offer degrees in fields that include a sufficient number of courses in statistics to qualify graduates for some entry-level positions with the Federal Government. Required subjects for statistics majors include differential and integral calculus, statistical methods, mathematical modeling, and probability theory. Additional recommended courses for undergraduates include linear algebra, design and analysis of experiments, applied multivariate analysis, and mathematical statistics.

Because computers are used extensively for statistical applications, a strong background in computer science is highly recommended. For positions involving quality and improvement in productivity, training in engineering or physical science is useful. A background in biological, chemical, or health science is important for positions involving the preparation and testing of pharmaceutical or agricultural products. Courses in economics and business administration are valuable for many jobs in market research, business analysis, and forecasting.

Advancements in technology have made a great impact on statistics. Statistical modeling continues to become quicker and easier because of increased computational power and new analytical methods or software. Continuing education is important for statisticians, who need to stay abreast of emerging technologies to perform well.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Good communication skills are important for statisticians who seek a job in private industry, because these statisticians often need to explain technical matters to persons without statistical expertise. An understanding of business and the economy also is valuable for those who plan to work in private industry.

Statisticians - What They Do - Page 2

Academic Programs of Interest

Applied Mathematics
At some schools, there is a single mathematics department, whereas others have separate departments for Applied Mathematics and Pure Mathematics. It is very common for Statistics departments to be separate at schools with graduate programs, but many undergraduate-only institutions include statistics ...more
Biometrics/Biostatistics
Biostatistics or Biometrics is the application of statistics to a wide range of topics in biology. It has particular applications to medicine and to agriculture. Almost all educational programmes in biostatistics are at postgraduate level. They are most often found in schools of public health, affiliated ...more
Mathematics
The major disciplines within mathematics first arose out of the need to do calculations in commerce, to understand the relationships between numbers, to measure land, and to predict astronomical events. These four needs can be roughly related to the broad subdivision of mathematics into the study of ...more
Statistics
Statistics encompasses the collection, analysis and interpretation of data. Statisticians work with theoretical and applied statistics in both the private and public sectors. The core of that work is to measure, interpret, and describe the world and human activity patterns within it. It is common ...more