How to Become a Statistician – A Complete Career Guide
Statisticians use the concepts of applied statistics to analyze large sets of data, interpret this data, and extrapolate meaning from it. Statisticians collect data via methods such as polls and experiments, and present conclusions to other members of their organizations. There are numerous employment opportunities for statisticians, such as in research, academia, government, healthcare, and manufacturing.
It may be easy to confuse being a statistician as synonymous with a mathematician — after all, statistics is a discipline of mathematics, and both careers are going to involve working primarily with numbers and theorems. However, while a career in mathematics will often lead to a career in the government or in academia, statisticians are generally employed by private companies, creating models in order to understand the data and stats that can help their employers drive their businesses.
What is a Statistician?
A statistician works in the field of applied or theoretical statistics. While many theoretical statisticians work in academia, applied statistics is necessary to solve problems in business, which is the field we’re focusing on here.
Applied statisticians must:
- Obtain accurate data
- Process vast amounts of raw data
- Analyze these complex data sets with specialized software
They then present their conclusions about their findings to colleagues, employers, and other shareholders to inform business strategy.
What Does a Statistician Do?
Statisticians work with data from start to finish.
First, a statistician must gather data necessary and relevant to their research. Often, the statistician must design the surveys, questionnaires, and experiments that leads to this data collection, including decisions about sample sizes and method of polling.
The statistician then analyzes this data using technical software, and identifies trends and patterns, while also making sure that the data is reliable.
Finally, a statistician creates ways to visualize this data, such as in the form of graphs, charts, reports, and so on, and presents this information to others. The statistician may need to acknowledge any sampling errors and suggest further lines of inquiry or provide ways that the data supports certain recommendations for an organization to take to improve some aspect of the business.
Five Steps to Launching a Successful Career as a Statistician
Step 1: Obtain your Undergraduate Degree
A bachelor’s degree in an applicable subject is essential to becoming a statistician.
The most relevant degree is in statistics, of course; beyond your coursework in statistics, you’ll want to take courses in calculus, linear algebra, and computational thinking.
Several other degrees can also lead to a good foundation in statistics, including:
- Mathematics (especially applied math)
- Computer science
Many scientific degrees often include coursework in statistics, which you may want to pursue if you know that you want to use your training in a specific field, like biostatistics.
Step 2: Gain Experience Through Internships and Data Analysis Competitions
There are many ways to prepare for your career as a statistician while still in college.
Experience is necessary to get a job as a statistician, so begin looking for internships that give you both real-world training and college credit while working on your undergraduate degree.
You can also find data analysis competitions that give you opportunities to test your skills with real world data, such as through Kaggle, DrivenData, and KDnuggets. These competitions offer challenges that are not as structured and neat as many of the problems you get in a typical undergraduate course.
Step 3: Earn an Advanced Degree
Most professional statisticians have master’s degrees in applied statistics or mathematics, and many go on to complete their doctoral degrees as well.
Doctoral degrees are necessary for individuals who want to go on to teach at a university, while master’s degrees can be enough for employment in private and government sectors.
Step 4: Add Professional Certifications to Your Resume
Several different certification tests and portfolio reviews offer ways to prove your skills.
The American Statistical Association offers a title of accredited professional statistician through review of a professional portfolio. There are two levels of certification: the entry-level GStat—for those who have completed a graduate degree—and PStat, which also requires letters of recommendation and work samples. Check out which of these two certifications is the right one for you.
For those statisticians who want to show their proficiency in SAS, the SAS® Certified Statistical Business Analyst is a good option.
You can also consult the requirements for job listings that interest you to determine which certifications will be most impressive and ultimately valued by potential employers.
Step 5: Specialize in a Field
Professional statisticians can find work in many fields, but to really stand out to an employer, you’ll want to show how your education and experience perfectly suits you for a job.
Statisticians work in the fields of:
- Marketing and product development
- Government at all levels
Government positions are likely to increase for statisticians, as are jobs working for pharmaceutical companies.
Statistician Job Description
- Determine the problem to be solved, and what data is needed to solve it
- Choose appropriate methods to acquire data, at times designing new data collection tools
- Carry out the process of collecting data, or train others to do so
- Prepare data for analysis, including monitoring data quality and find ways to improve data collection or analysis for future projects
- Interpret complex data sets using analytical tools, including software, algorithms, and models
- Identify trends in the data through a combination of technical skill and business understanding
- Report conclusions via data visualization to shareholders, often including non-technical audiences
Skills Needed to Become a Statistician
Statisticians need a wide variety of skills in order to be successful.
These skills include not just technical prowess but business acumen as well, plus interpersonal strengths when working on a team. Statisticians must also possess keen problem-solving and critical-thinking skills to best utilize all these other necessary abilities.
Technical skills include:
- Expertise in applied and theoretical statistics, including hypothesis testing and summary statistics
- Mathematics, including calculus, linear algebra, and probability
- Data mining, cleaning, and visualization, including expertise in technical programs for all three
- Proficiency in languages, especially R and SAS, as well as programming languages Python, C/C++, Java, Perl
- Hadoop-based analytics, such as Hive and Pig, for big data
- Using databases such as NoSQL and cloud computing
- Machine learning
Statisticians must have strong communication skills in order to present findings to diverse groups of shareholders, including colleagues and external clients who may not have a technical background and find complicated technical or mathematical jargon difficult to penetrate.
Statisticians must also be able to logically assess the strengths and weaknesses of their own data and methods, requiring objective reasoning skills.
Finally, statisticians must understand the industry in which they are analyzing data in order to understand trends both in one’s own company and in the field at large.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a statistician is $108,100 as of May 2021. However, there are a great many factors that can alter a statistician’s salary including experience, location, skills, and the sector in which the individual works. Per BLS data, some of the best paid statisticians have jobs in San Francisco and San Jose where there are many Silicon Valley-based tech companies. Boston, Washington D.C., and New York City also rank high on the list.
Though the job title might not change much for a statistician, pay does increase significantly with experience. Some of the best-paid statisticians earn salaries of $157,300 or more according to the BLS. Above-average pay correlates with skills in machine learning, data modeling, data mining, and the programming language Python.
Statistician Job Outlook
The amount of job growth projected for statisticians is looking incredibly positive. In fact, employment opportunities for statisticians are expected to grow by 31% through 2031, which the BLS notes is significantly faster than the average career track.
A projected 4,100 jobs will be added for statisticians every year. This, of course, is related to the trend in all big data jobs, as more and more organizations are finding that staying on the cutting edge of data analysis is the only way to be competitive in today’s world. To take advantage of this growth surge, statisticians should be sure to remain up to date with the latest technologies and feel competent and comfortable with all aspects of data analysis.
Gain the knowledge and necessary degree to pursue your career as a statistician. Explore what is the difference between data science and statistics, statisticians in the sports industry or your guide to career with numbers and take the next step in your journey. Your future as a statistician awaits you!
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for statisticians reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.