Statisticians have long played a role in research and academia. Recently, however, there has been a spike in demand for statisticians in business, due to the proliferation of data generation and collection across industries and because businesses are now realizing the value of data-driven decision making.
With this increased demand in mind, it’s understandable that more and more professionals are considering careers as statisticians.
Unfortunately, the term “statistician” is rather vague, and many people are unsure what, exactly, these professionals actually do. Here, we explore the responsibilities of a statistician, the education and skills typically required to excel in the role, and offer some alternative career paths for those who want to work with data.
What is a Statistician?
At a high level, statisticians are professionals who apply statistical methods and models to real-world problems. They gather, analyze, and interpret data to aid in many business decision-making processes. Statisticians are valuable employees in a range of industries, and often seek roles in areas such as business, health and medicine, government, physical sciences, and environmental sciences.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which groups statisticians with mathematicians, the job outlook for the industry is positive. Overall employment for mathematicians and statisticians is expected to grow 33 percent from 2016 to 2026—nearly five times as fast as growth for all occupations.
Much of this projected growth will result from businesses collecting an increasing amount of data from an ever-widening number of sources. In order to analyze and interpret this data, businesses and organizations will need to hire more people specifically trained in such analysis.
The BLS also reports that the median annual wage for statisticians was $87,780 per year as of 2018, or roughly $42.20 per hour.
Roles and Responsibilities of a Statistician
The specific tasks that statisticians are expected to complete on a daily basis will naturally vary and depend on the specific industry and organization in which they work.
Generally speaking, in the private sector, statisticians often work to interpret data in a way that can inform organizational and business strategies; for example, by understanding changes in consumer behavior and buying trends. In the public sector, on the other hand, analyses will often be focused on furthering the public good; for example, by collecting and analyzing environmental, demographic, or health data.
Regardless of whether a statistician works in the public or private sector, their daily tasks are likely to include:
- Collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data
- Identifying trends and relationships in data
- Designing processes for data collection
- Communicating findings to stakeholders
- Advising organizational and business strategy
- Assisting in decision making
Required Skills for Statisticians
In order to be successful, statisticians typically have a unique combination of technical, analytical, and leadership skills. These include:
- Analytical Skills—First and foremost, statisticians must be experts in statistical analysis. They must have a keen eye for detecting patterns and anomalies in data.
- Technical Skills—To effectively collect and manipulate the data that informs their actions, statisticians must leverage computer systems, algorithms, and other technologies, meaning technical proficiency is critical.
- Communication Skills—Although statisticians are experts in mathematics and statistics, they must also exhibit strong communication skills to effectively communicate the findings of their analysis with others in their organization. This includes both verbal and written communication, as well as the ability to present data in easy-to-understand, visual ways.
- Leadership Skills: Truly effective statisticians must be able to think critically about the data that they are analyzing through the lens of key stakeholders and executives. Learning to think like a leader can help statisticians identify trends and data points that can make a big difference in their organizations.
Education for Statisticians
Many entry-level statistician roles require candidates to hold a master’s degree, usually in statistics or mathematics.
However, those who demonstrate proficiency in both statistical analysis as well as another subject area—for example, economics and econometrics, computer and material science, or biology—can have a distinct competitive advantage when seeking employment in a specialized industry.
Students are encouraged to take classes in computer sciences as well, which has important applications on the job. Those specifically considering a career in research or academia are typically required to earn a PhD.
An Alternative Career Path: Becoming a Data Analyst
For individuals who enjoy working with data or who exhibit all of these skills but don’t want to become a statistician, there are similar career paths that will still allow you to put your skills and passions to use. One possible alternative career path is to become a data analyst.
Similar to statisticians, data analysts identify and communicate data-driven insights that allow business stakeholders to make better-informed decisions. Nearly all industries have a need for skilled data analysts, at least to some degree. Industries with the greatest demand tend to be sales, marketing, healthcare, and various sciences.
Data analysts typically work with teams to complete projects or address problems as needed. Since most work is done on a computer, there are possibilities to work remotely in this field.
What’s the Difference Between Statistics and Data Analytics?
Although at first glance it may seem statistics and data analytics are one and the same, there are some major differences that set these careers apart.
According to Dr. Thomas Goulding, professor for Northeastern University’s Master’s in Data Analytics program, statisticians are more immersed in the mathematics and computational aspects of data. Data analysts should also have a strong feel for statistics, but their real skills focus on being able to use tools to extract information from the data. He points out that analysts are charged with cleaning, formatting, and integrating data so that it can be input into software to be analyzed.
“Someone with a strong background in computer science that is very comfortable using complex software to extract meaningful information from data is more suited to analytics,” he says.
In contrast, statisticians must be devoted to the computational nature of their work and be highly confident in their ability to solve complex mathematical equations.
The demand for data analysts is similarly high, as it is for statisticians. Recent projections by IBM estimate that there will be more than 2.7 million job openings by 2020, with nearly 40 percent in advanced data analytics requiring a master’s degree or higher. By comparison, the aforementioned 33 percent growth rate for statistician jobs in the U.S. translates to 13,500 additional openings by 2026.
The earning potential for these roles is also promising. Entry-level data analysts earn an average salary of around $60,000, while more senior-level positions can approach salaries of up to $100,000.
Choosing Your Right Fit
If you’re considering earning an advanced degree to further your career, it’s important that you choose the degree that will best prepare you for the career that you want to pursue. Consider your personal and professional goals to determine which path you want to follow.
Northeastern’s MPS in Data Analytics prepares students for a successful career in this field by offering courses in statistics, mathematics, analytics systems technology, business intelligence, advanced analytics, business process and management, business analytics agility, communicating with data, and more. Upon graduating, students possess a portfolio of professional samples that demonstrate their range and depth of skills through their participation in Northeastern’s renowned experiential network.
The data analytics program is suitable for people who are analytical thinkers and problem solvers and can be valuable to those with virtually any background. Dr. Goulding says, “the College of Professional Studies is very focused on working with professionals who want to develop new skills and capabilities in ways that will help them add value to their organizations.” As such, the program provides students with the tools and experience needed to jump-start their careers.