Statisticians break down mounds of mathematical data into digestible percentages and the "big picture." In other words, they look at numbers and draw conclusions about those numbers--finding out what those numbers mean. For example, it is the work of statisticians that tallies up Nielsen television ratings to determine whether Grey's Anatomy should call it quits. They do so by surveying TV-watchers to see how many of them are watching the show and then deciding whether enough of them are watching to keep the show on the air.
Statisticians work in such diverse fields as biology, finance, psychology, medicine and insurance. While sometimes statisticians' work is urgent--for instance, statisticians might assesses the likelihood that at outbreak of the Ebola virus might strike the United States--statisticians spend a great deal of time crunching numbers for manufacturers and other private companies to evaluate their products and to propose improvements based on experiments using statistical models. Statisticians can gather data for many different departments, and for different purposes; their conclusions influence many levels of the company, from product development and quality control to pricing and marketing.
Working with others
Statisticians do not have the luxury of working in a vacuum; they must constantly decode their statistical findings for their managers and other non-statisticians, many of whom are only concerned with the bottom line. Because of this, statisticians must recognize that numbers on a page mean little to many people. They have to be good writers and strong communicators to translate their data into concrete, simple ideas. The training involved in becoming a statistician should consist of at least 15 undergraduate hours of statistics, along with liberal arts and science courses.
About 30 percent of the almost 20,000 statisticians in the country work for the federal government. Among the largest employers are the Bureau of the Census, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. For its statisticians, the U.S. government requires 24 semester hours of mathematics and statistics with a minimum of six semester hours in statistics and 12 more in advanced mathematics.
Although a bachelor's degree in statistics is sufficient for some entry-level jobs, more and more employers are expecting statisticians to have master's degrees. Moreover, research positions in institutions of higher education and many positions in private industry require a doctorate--in statistics. A bachelor's degree in stats is not required for acceptance into a graduate statistics program, but a strong mathematics background is a prerequisite.
Many statistician positions do not have "statistician" in the titles, such as epidemiologist or biometrician. Usually these are just names for specialized statisticians; their work uses statistical methods on certain kind of data. Entry-level statisticians spend their time crunching numbers and assisting senior statisticians. After a few years, they may advance to positions that require more technical skills and management responsibility. However, opportunities for promotion are best for those with advanced degrees, and statisticians who hold master's degrees or PhDs enjoy more autonomy in their field and have the credentials to do research, develop new statistical methods or strike out as consultants, especially once they have earned a strong reputation in a specialized area.
Most statisticians recognize that they are in "one of the top few professions," with beginning salaries that are "second only to engineers." However, "there aren't really any special perks," except the option of joining the American Statistical Association (ASA)--"they have good conferences."
One of the benefits of being a statistician is the fact that the field isn't a hectic one. As one statistician puts it, "there aren't usually any statistical emergencies." Statisticians admit that "statistics can be really boring," but they can also be "extremely lucrative." One statistician reveals that she was "terrible in math, actually," and that the real key to being a good statistician is "understanding the relationship between numbers and [having] an ingrained passion for them--and a good stats computer package."
High salaries; Challenging tasks; Influential work
Long hours; Can be tedious
Analytical; Orderly; Deductive
Artistic; Shortsighted; Inattentive
Average about 40 per week
Average starting salaries: $65,720; Average salary for statisticians in the federal government: $85,690; Mathematical statisticians: $96,121
Bachelor's, master's or PhD