Becoming a Statistician: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A statistician's median annual salary is about $80,000, but is it worth the education requirements? Get the truth about the job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Statistician

As a statistician, you'll apply your understanding of mathematical concepts and numerical analysis to a wide range of subjects, such as psychology or national census studies. However, travel and unconventional hours may be necessary. Read below to find out about the pros and cons of a statistician career.

Pros of a Statistician Career
Higher-than-average median annual salary ($79,990 as of May 2014)*
Many different areas of focus, such as public health, product testing, education and sports*
Technological advancement can allow for increased efficiency and ease of work*
Technology can allow for client communications via Web and teleconferences, instead of travel*

Cons of a Statistician Career
Deadlines may require you to work over 40 hours per week*
Some positions may require you to be away from home to visit clients*
Academic and independent research positions require a doctoral degree*
Much work is done on a computer, potentially leading to eye or wrist strain*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Descriptions and Duties

Statistician positions can be found in almost any field that requires numerical analysis. You could use your mathematical inclination to help improve business procedures, consumer perception, employee proficiency and sampling techniques. Alternatively, you might carry out studies to determine levels of environmental toxins or the ratio of endangered species to a particular location. Statistical work can be located in an office environment, but some clients may require you to visit their workplace for meetings and consultations. Positions can be found with private, public and government sectors. In fact, the government employs about a third of all statisticians, per the BLS.

As a statistician, you would be responsible for using various tools and methods to collect data, measure results, interpret the findings and provide insight. You can assist in the creation of surveys and the selection of research subjects to promote conclusive results. These results are then synthesized into charts, graphs, tables or reports to provide a visual or written representation. Computers are also used to analyze more data at a faster pace. Other duties can include analyzing and sampling information from target markets.

Areas of Specialization

There are several broad areas you can work in. As mentioned, the government is a top employer; you might study unemployment numbers, the efficacy of national defense plans or crop growth. Other possible employers are the Bureau of the Census and the National Agricultural Statistical Service. Working in health studies, to examine disease outbreaks or the effects of drugs, is another popular route. Analyzing new products, like weather-resistant mechanical systems, or determining the price that customers are willing to pay, makes up another large portion of statistical jobs.

Career Outlook and Salary

The BLS predicted that this field would have much-faster-than-average job growth of 27% between 2012 and 2022. Growth potential was attributed to the availability of Internet data and the continuous need for statistical analysis, particularly in areas regarding policies, medical procedures and pharmaceuticals. As technology improves, the cost of statistical analysis can go down, so more clients may seek these services. With improved technology, you may also be able to take on more projects with increased efficiency. As of May 2014, the BLS estimated that statisticians earned a median annual salary of $79,990.

Education Requirements and Career Skills

The education of a statistician is a main factor in the hiring process. The BLS reported that a bachelor's education is sufficient for entry-level positions, though many jobs require a master's degree or doctorate (and academic jobs most often mandate a Ph.D.). You could earn a statistics degree at the undergraduate and graduate levels, though programs in general mathematics or survey methods can also get you started in the field. You need to develop strong understanding of statistical methods, probability, calculus and modeling. If you are interested in gaining hands-on experience prior to graduating, higher-level degree programs may offer opportunities for professional research experience.

Since your work can be applied to so many different industries, some job-specific experience is also important. So, if you're planning on applying your statistical talents to food or drug industries, you might want to take some health and biology courses. Likewise, you would benefit from some physics or engineering training if you plan on entering a manufacturing or product studies career.

Useful Skills for Statistician

Wherever you work, you must possess data analysis skills, have a strong sense of linear thinking and be able to interpret numbers as positives or negatives for the company. Fact checking, synthesizing raw data, validating resource reliability and tracking trends are crucial abilities you need to develop. The following list of general skills was gathered from national job postings in March 2012:

  • Ability to work on your own and with a team
  • Ability to work on several different projects at the same time
  • Leadership
  • Clear communication
  • Ability to come up with creative alternatives
  • SAS or R programming knowledge

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers often prefer someone with a doctoral degree, but may hire potential employees that have a combination of experience and a master's degree education. Being able to carry out all aspects of statistical research, from developing trials and analyzing data to writing up reports, is commonly required. The following information is from the same national job board sampling in March 2012:

  • A medical institute in Indiana was looking for someone to work in biostatistics design and analysis. The candidate would need to understand clinical research procedures, adaptive design strategies and SAS programming. A Ph.D. was required.
  • A consulting group in Florida advertised for a biostatistician that has experience in applied statistics and understands experimental design. The candidate must have understanding of laws that apply to clinical studies. A master's degree and four years of experience were minimum requirements.
  • A staffing firm in North Carolina looked for someone that can work with a large amount of data sets and knows how to translate statistical jargon to people outside of the field. Work was related to bioinformatics and industrial statistics. Two years of experience and a master's degree were necessary, though a Ph.D. was preferred.
  • A loan and accounting firm based in South Carolina needed someone that can collect business and financial data as well as build statistical models. A master's degree, experience with experimental design and an entrepreneurial inclination were requested.
  • A healthcare company in Chicago was looking for someone that is efficient at database interpretation and can reference information sources. Knowledge of healthcare and epidemiology was necessary. Candidates must have five years of experience and a master's degree.

How to Beat the Competition

Standing out in this field may require graduate studies and cross-specialization in related areas. Consider laying some educational focus on computer science courses to become efficient with field-related software applications and to learn how to develop statistical analysis computer programs; the BLS suggests that knowledge in these areas can be helpful.

Per online job postings, employers often prefer candidates with knowledge of various industry-specific software programs, like Latex Sweave, StatET, Eclipse and SQL. Depending on the employer, you may need knowledge of various programs, so learning as many different ones as possible could qualify you for more jobs.

Other Careers to Consider

Economist

If you would like to focus your career on resource distribution from statistical research instead of developing a means to compile statistics, you may want to start a career as an economist. Economists can choose to focus on supply and demand methods, competitor methods, historical trends and demographics. If you would like to closely relate your career to statistics, econometricians use similar statistical mathematics to explain research data. According to the BLS in May 2011, economists earned a median salary of $91,000. Keep in mind that slower than average growth of 6% was forecast for the 2010-2020 decade.

Actuary

If you only want to earn a bachelor's degree but you still want to work with numbers, you may be interested in a career as an actuary. Actuaries look at statistical research to determine and analyze the risk involving in a person, product, service or business endeavors. Work is usually found with insurance agencies, consultation firms and financial services. You may be required to earn credentials from the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) or the Society of Actuaries (SOA) prior to landing a job.

As of May 2011, the BLS estimated that the median salary of an actuary was around $91,000. Faster than average employment growth of 27% was projected for the period 2010-2020, so the positive salary and career outlook prospects might be something important to consider.

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Grand Canyon University

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