Next stop, graduate school?

Bob Rodriguez, SAS

Bob Rodriguez wants students to think about statistics in three important ways: as a skill, a tool and a profession.

“Too many people think about statistics as a ‘bunch of numbers’,” said Rodriguez, Senior Director, Advanced Analytics in R&D and immediate past president of the American Statistical Association, speaking to a group of college students who visited SAS last week.

Rodriguez gave the students three ways to view statistics and an action item for each:

  • As a thinking skill for everyone, so exercise it.
  • As a problem-solving tool in high demand, so expand your understanding of it.
  • As a profession with unlimited opportunity, so explore it.

The students were part of the Summer Institute for Training in Biostatistics (SIBS) program. Sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, the program is designed for quantitatively oriented students who might be interested in a career in biostatistics.

This is the 10th year that SAS has participated in the six-week program operated by NC State University that includes classes and field trips to find out what statisticians do. NCSU is one of nine schools that host the summer program.

Maura Stokes, SAS

Rodriguez was part of a SAS contingent brought together by Maura Stokes, Senior Director, Advanced Analytics in R&D.

The event is part of SAS efforts to promote the profession of statistics and encourage more people to get into the profession. “It’s always fun. It’s neat to see the enthusiasm of kids in college,” Stokes said. “We look forward to it every year, and we always go home feeling like we’ve had a boost.”

In welcoming remarks, Stokes provided an overview of SAS, noting that the founders of SAS came out of the Statistics Department at NCSU where they developed a “general purpose statistical software for agricultural research.”

Statisticians work in a variety of areas at SAS, including software development and testing, documentation, tech support, education, and marketing and sales support. Often they attend trade shows and present papers at conferences. “You get to go places you wouldn’t normally go,” said Stokes, who encouraged the students to get involved in professional organizations related to their career.

For a more detailed look on the work of a statistician, Pushpal Mukhopadhyay spoke on “Life as a SAS Statistical Software Developer.”

Pushpal Mukhopadhyay, SAS

Mukhopadhyay, who holds a PhD in statistics from Iowa State University and has been at SAS for seven years, is a Principal Research Statistician Developer.

Mukhopadhyay said he was very excited to get a job at SAS. “The job title of survey software developer attracted me greatly,” he said. “It completely matched what I wanted to do.”

The diversity of SAS is also attractive. “I went to lunch with colleagues recently and there were six different countries represented at the table,” he said. “But in common we all have technical expertise, we love programming and we are willing to learn new things.”

Due to big data, the demand is increasing for problem solvers who use statistical tools. “Not everyone calls himself or herself a statistician, but enormous numbers of people want to use statistics to solve problems,” Rodriguez told the students in his presentation.

The SIBS program encourages students like these to go on to graduate programs in statistics.

“One of the most interesting aspects of my job is seeing the variety of data that our customers need to analyze,” said Rodriguez, citing an example of talking with an aircraft engine manufacturer about data collected by sensors in jet engines.

Besides listening to presentations, the students got a chance to learn more, first during one-on-one conversations at super demo stations with SAS developers. The students also posed questions during a panel discussion moderated by Stokes that brought together a developer, a testing manager, a training consultant and a technical support engineer to illustrate the variety of careers available to statisticians.

“It’s good to see the different areas that statisticians are working in at SAS. I didn’t know the many faces of SAS.” Neal Grantham, SIBS Mentor

Among other questions, Stokes asked the panelists how they got started in statistics, what accomplishments are they most proud of and what a typical day is like.

SIBS Co-Director Renee Moore said she really enjoyed the afternoon. “I liked the format,” she said. “I liked how Maura conducted the panel, and there were lots of opportunities for interacting with developers.”

John Castelloe discusses sample size and power calculations.

Neal Grantham, one of the SIBS mentors, is a student in the graduate program in statistics at NCSU. “We often hear about SAS. We’re taking courses in SAS Hall, so there is a big connection between State and SAS,” he said. “It’s good to see the different areas that statisticians are working in at SAS. I didn’t know the many faces of SAS.”

Max Segal is a rising senior at Cornell University, majoring in biometry and statistics, said he got a new impression of SAS after the visit. “I saw SAS as a stand-alone program. I didn’t realize the scope of SAS.”

The visit to SAS had its desired effect on Max. “At the beginning of my junior year, I would have said there was a 10 percent chance I’d go to graduate school. Now I definitely want to go for my masters, and I wouldn’t rule out a PhD.”

Christopher Castro, who is majoring in applied mathematics at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago said it was great to gain exposure to fields he’d like to go into.

“Everything we’ve learned today has been brand new to me,” he said. He’ll be looking to narrow his career focus, possibly looking into working in epidemiology and the study to how infectious diseases spread.

“I enjoyed the way the panel was set up and the questions that were asked,” Castro said. “The program pushed me in the direction of graduate school. Now it’s a decision between a masters and PhD.”

Follow the Read More link or scroll down to see more photos from the SIBS day.

tags: international year of statistics, statistics, students, Summer Institute for Training in Biostatistics, university programs

One Comment

  1. Doc Muhlbaier
    Posted July 31, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    What a great opportunity for them. Could I come too?

    SIBS is a great program, but I'm biased; I teach a lecture for it too.

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