“Statistics are the heart of democracy.”— Simeon Strunsky, essayist and editorialist, NYT 1944
In the information age, as the volume of digital and electronic data increases exponentially, the field of statistics is enjoying its heyday. In honor of Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month in April, it’s time to take a fresh look at statistics, which not only plays a pivotal role in modern society but is also a pretty great career choice!
What is the field of statistics?
Statistics is the field of learning from data. Statisticians use math to collect, analyze, organize, interpret, and present data to answer questions or solve problems.
Statistics is a window to the world. Once you learn how to look through that window, you’ll be a more critical thinker, able to question what you read or hear (including statistics!) rather than accept information at face value.
Cool Stat: There are far more trees on Earth (about 3 trillion) than there are stars in the Milky Way (about 100 billion). — WorldAtlas.com
People use statistics every day to improve society, have fun, satisfy curiosity and make money. But statistics isn’t just about crunching numbers. Like math, it’s a tool and a method for understanding the world. Every time you check the weather, read about business or elections, buy a retail product or take medicine, statistics played a role in making that information or product available and in determining its price. Want to fight for human or animal rights? You’ll need stat for that. Want to solve a global health crisis, cure cancer or save the environment? You’ll need stat for that, too.
We read or hear statistics all the time, often without realizing it. Source: Statusbrew.com
Where do statisticians work?
Most science, technology, business or government organizations use statistics (and statisticians) to solve problems and improve decision-making. Statistics-specific jobs are available in wide array of fields, from astrostatistics, which analyzes astronomical data, to statistical finance, which applies statistics to financial markets.
Most people who use statistics in their job aren’t necessarily called “statisticians.” Job titles include manager, engineer, professor, researcher, and analyst, among others. There are hundreds of cool statistics jobs, such as
- chief data scientist for a presidential campaign
- animal health statistician
- machine learning developer for a cloud-computing company
- marine life data analyst
- director of analytics for a professional sports team
Cool Stat: There are 293 ways to make change for a dollar. — Mathematical Association of America
Students interested in becoming full-time statisticians typically obtain a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, economics, computer science or another quantitative field. They often go on to earn a master’s degree in a quantitative field or in another area, but with a focus on statistics.
Is being a statistician a good career?
The job of statistician consistently makes “best jobs” lists. In its ranking for 2020, U.S. News and World Report ranked statistician as:
Why is statistician such as great career? The expected salary, work/life balance, room for career advancement and skills required for the job compare very favorably to other careers. (Mathematician was also highly ranked, at #3, #9, and #14, respectively.)
Because statistical analysis has become so central to making informed business, healthcare or policy decisions, jobs for statisticians are expected to grow much faster than average occupations: 31% from 2018 to 2028. That dramatic statistic comes from … wait for it … the (very important) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Cool Stat: The U.S. leads the world in time spent watching television, with an average of more than 4.5 hours each day. — The Nielsen Company
How does statistics analyze data?
Descriptive statistics describes data, for example, in a chart or graph. A baseball player’s batting percentage is a descriptive statistic. (Known as sabermetrics, the analysis of baseball statistics became widely known through the book and movie, “Moneyball.”) These descriptive statistics are certain, without room for doubt.
Inferential statistics uses data to infer — make generalized predictions — to a broader population. With inferential statistics, the results are uncertain, because you’re using a sample to understand a larger group.
For example, let’s say you ask a sample of 100 guests attending a theme park if they eat cotton candy. You could make a bar chart of “yes” or “no” answers (descriptive statistics) that would be true for those 100 people. Or, you could use your research (and inferential statistics) to estimate that around 60-65% of the population (all guests in all theme parks) eat cotton candy. Both types of statistics would be helpful to the theme park’s owners.
It’s easiest to remember that statistics answer questions that don’t have a single answer. For example, “How much do you weigh?” is not a statistical question. But “How much do the students in your school weigh?” is.
Statistics can find trends and, in presenting them to the public, change behavior. Source: www.plg-pllc.com
Statistics in U.S. schools
Cool Stat: On average, teachers affect more than 3,000 students during their career. — We Are Teachers
From 2007 to 2017, 4th and 8th grade students’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in mathematics fell significantly on problems related to data analysis, statistics and probability — a decline that helped drive overall dips on the math test in 2017 (Education Week, May 2018). With the advent of data science, some educators are now pushing to add statistics classes that don’t require a calculus prerequisite or to integrate statistics and data literacy into classes such as science or history, sometimes as early as middle school.
For now, only a minority of students will take a statistics class in high school. In college, though, a long list of majors require one or more classes in statistics, including engineering and any science (including all agricultural, medical, and social sciences). Business and many humanities majors may also require statistical understanding for such wide-ranging fields as education, urban or ethnic studies, linguistics, and law.
“Chart” Your Own Path
Whatever your or your child’s passion, statistics used in that area to identify trends and present information that makes a difference. Although many students (and their parents) are intimidated by statistics, a good teacher, book or website can illustrate not only the “how to,” but also the “why” of statistics. We hope you’ll click on some of the recommended links below to learn more about how statistics work, the many ways they’re being used, and enjoy some really fun facts!
What’s Going On In This Graph?, a weekly New York Times’ feature
Some “Cool Careers” that incorporate statistics:
Written by Joanne Helperin