Statisticians at Work
BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY
Industrial statisticians help build products and deliver services that satisfy customers and increase their company’s market share and profit margin. Statisticians help design the best product, guide the transition from design to manufacturing, ensure a consistently excellent product, manage customer satisfaction, and ensure a financially beneficial bottom line. Industry professionals use statistical models for quality control and quality assurance in nearly all manufactured goods.
Statistics is used to quantify the extent of variation in customer’s needs and wants. Statisticians design experiments for new products, conduct focus groups and sample surveys to gather customer feedback, and perform field experiments in test markets to determine produce viability and marketability. Statistics and data mining also are used to analyze sales data and predict future trends.
Engineers work in electronics, chemicals, aerospace, pollution control, construction, and other industries. They may be responsible for leading large projects with significant costs, technical complexity, and responsibility. Statistical methods allow engineers to make a consistent product, detect problems, minimize chemical waste, and predict product life.
Reliable and accurate statistical software is arguably the most important tool available to statisticians in every field. Developing code that is both user-friendly and sufficiently complex is a challenging task, as is exploiting the rapidly occurring improvements in hardware platforms, graphics, and algorithms. Opportunities in this field include software design and development, software testing, quality assurance, technical support, education, documentation, marketing, and sales.
HEALTH AND MEDICINE
Epidemiological statisticians work on projects such as calculating cancer incidence rates or the rates of chronic and infectious diseases, monitoring and reporting on disease outbreaks, and monitoring changes in health-related behaviors such as smoking and physical activity. Fields of practice include nutritional, environmental, genetic, and social epidemiology, as well as pharmacoepidemiology.
Public health statisticians work on preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health through organized community activities. These include sanitation, control of contagious infections, hygiene education, early diagnosis and preventive treatment, and adequate living standards. This field requires understanding of epidemiology, nutrition, antiseptic practices, and social sciences. In many developed countries, public health is studied and coordinated on a national level by a government agency, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States and internationally by the World Health Organization.
Statisticians in pharmacology work in pharmaceuticals, animal health, and government research. They are key to all aspects of drug discovery, development, approval, and marketing. They work in preclinical research, clinical trials, epidemiology, health economics, and market research. Statisticians are essential in the drug development process because they ensure the validity and accuracy of findings at all stages of the process.
Statistics has been used in human genetics to create automated methods of labeling possible indicators of genetic abnormalities, such as birth defects and early aging. Statistics also has been used in animal and plant genetics to breed desirable characteristics in offspring. Using complex statistical models, statisticians help formulate sound decisions by distinguishing between environmental and genetic effects.
Education is a leading worldwide industry, and the tasks educational statisticians can choose to undertake are diverse. Statisticians teach students from kindergarten through doctoral programs. They may help assess teacher effectiveness, analyze a large database to understand a particular issue, or develop better statistical models to represent the amount of learning attained by one student or all students in a school district, state or province, or an entire nation.
Science Writing and Journalism
Science writers are employed by the mass media, universities, and corporations to produce news briefs, articles, news releases, and other reports. Writers with scientific backgrounds are especially in demand because of their ability to explain complicated statistical or scientific data in easy-to-understand articles for nonstatisticians and the general public.
Statistical methods are used in government regulation on topics such as stock trading rules, air purity standards, and new drug approvals. Statistics also are cited in court proceedings, parliamentarian or congressional hearings, and lobbying arguments. Politics involve statistics in the form of approval-rating surveys, voter registration, campaigning, and election predictions. Statisticians participate in government agencies and assist in national, provincial, or state government decisionmaking and policymaking.
Statisticians work on surveys in government, the social sciences, education, law, forestry, agriculture, biology, medicine, business, and e-commerce. A survey statistician might study efficient survey design, experimental methods for increasing response rates, accounting for nonresponse and undercoverage, or how to release data to the public while maintaining the confidentiality of respondents. Other important issues include questioning wording and design and deciding where and how to take samples that will include traditionally under-represented groups.
Independent statistical consultants work on many of the same projects as other statisticians, but they usually are hired on a temporary basis to solve a specific problem that requires statistical expertise not available within the hiring company. Since the field of statistics is so broad, many statistical consultants specialize in some area, such as quality improvement or pharmaceuticals. Consultants may be hired with grant money to work on short-term projects in medicine, agriculture, engineering, or business.
Statistics are becoming more important as court cases address increasingly complex problems. Sometimes the statistician analyzes data that can help the jury or judge decide whether someone is guilty of a crime or must pay damages for causing injuries. Court cases involving statistical analyses include DNA testing, salary discrepancies, consumer surveys, and disease clusters.
Statisticians have teamed up with experts in agriculture to study a number of challenging questions, including chemical pesticides, hydrogeology, veterinary sciences, genetics, and crop management. Statisticians are involved in studies ranging from small laboratory experiments to large projects conducted over many hundreds or thousands of square miles. They work on data from the smallest scale of organism to plants, insects, animals, and humans. They also work with scientists from fields such as bacteriology, genetics, biochemistry, dairy science, environmental studies, entomology, plant sciences, rural sociology, veterinary medicine, wildlife, and ecology.
Statisticians play a major role in addressing questions about the Earth’s natural environment, including animal populations, agricultural protections, and fertilizer and pesticide safety. Most states employ wildlife statisticians. Statisticians are employed by state and federal environmental agencies, as well as companies that collect environmental data. Increasingly, companies need statisticians to help assess how a new product or plant will affect the surrounding environment. Scientific researchers also work with statisticians, often at universities, to design experiments that will answer basic questions about the environment.