Nature of the Work
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.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
A master's degree in statistics or mathematics is the minimum educational requirement, but research and academic jobs generally require a Ph.D., while Federal Government jobs require at least a bachelor's degree.
Education and training. 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. 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 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.
Advancement. Beginning statisticians generally are supervised by an experienced statistician. With experience, they may advance to positions with more technical responsibility and, in some cases, supervisory duties. Opportunities for promotion are greater for people with advanced degrees. Master's and Ph.D. degree holders usually enjoy independence in their work and may engage in research, develop statistical methods, or, after a number of years of experience in a particular area, become statistical consultants.
Statisticians held about 22,600 jobs in 2008. About 20 percent of these jobs were in the Federal Government, where statisticians were concentrated in the Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services. Another 10 percent were found in State and local governments. Most of the remaining jobs were in private industry, especially in scientific research and development services, insurance carriers, and pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing.
Average employment growth is projected. Individuals with a degree in statistics should have opportunities in a variety of fields.
Employment change. Employment of statisticians is projected to grow 13 percent from 2008 to 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The demand for individuals with a background is statistics is projected to grow, although some jobs will be in occupations with titles other than statistician.
The use of statistics is widespread and growing. Statistical models aid in decision making in both private industry and government. There will always be a demand for the skills statisticians provide. Technological advances are expected to spur demand for statisticians. Ever-faster computer processing allows statisticians to analyze greater amounts of data much more quickly and to gather and sort through large amounts of data that would not have been analyzed in the past. As data processing continues to become more efficient and less expensive, an increasing number of employers will want to employ statisticians to take advantage of the new information available.
Biostatisticians should experience employment growth, primarily because of the growing pharmaceuticals business. As pharmaceutical companies develop new treatments and medical technologies, biostatisticians will be needed to do research and clinical trials.
Job prospects. Individuals with a degree in statistics have opportunities in a variety of fields. For example, many jobs involve the analysis and interpretation of data from economics, biological science, psychology, computer software engineering, education, and other disciplines. Additional job openings will become available as currently employed statisticians transfer to other occupations, retire, or leave the workforce for other reasons.
Among graduates with a master's degree in statistics, those with a strong background in an allied field, such as finance, biology, engineering, or computer science, should have the best prospects of finding jobs related to their field of study.
Median annual wage-and-salary wages of statisticians were $72,610 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $52,730 and $95,170. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,740, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $117,190.
The average annual salary for statisticians in the Federal Government was $92,322 in March 2009, while mathematical statisticians averaged $107,015.Back to Top