Advice from Prospective Employers on Training BS Statisticians

Article excerpt

"Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write."

H. G. Wells

National Science Board, Overview, Science and Engineering Indicators, 1998.


The time envisioned by H. G. Wells has arrived. Statistical thinking is a necessity for educated citizens. Educational institutions, especially liberal arts institutions, have been rethinking their curriculums and the need for teaching statistical and quantitative thinking skills.

The American Statistical Association has initiated work to prepare a set of recommendations for undergraduate education in statistics, both for undergraduate statistics majors and for the statistics component of other degree programs. A three-stage effort began in May of 1999, with a small group of statisticians who met at ASA headquarters in Alexandria, VA. They planned to develop a set of short discussion papers on the important issues in statistics education; these papers would then form the basis of a larger symposium to be held in conjunction with the Joint Statistical Meetings in August 2000.

This article, which summarizes advice from prospective employers of BS statisticians, arose from one of the workshop papers. The purpose of this article is threefold:

1. To provide input to the design of BS Statistics degree program requirements;

2. to give information useful for the career and academic counseling of ES-Statistics students; and

3. to offer assistance to students considering statistics as an undergraduate major.

This article refers to BS-Statisticians. By this we mean both undergraduates majoring in statistics and undergraduates in other majors who study statistics with the aim of using statistics to improve their immediate employability following graduation.

The statisticians who contributed to this article are not academicians--they are employed by business, industry, consulting, and pharmaceutical firms and government. The advice in this article is aimed at preparing students for nonacademic employment using their training in statistics and it is based on the contributing statisticians' own observations and experiences.


Statistics degrees are widely thought of as professional degrees with an emphasis on graduate rather than bachelor's degrees. Statistics Ph.D. holders have well-recognized career opportunities in academia, government, and industry. MS-Statistics degrees are understood to be appropriate preparation for careers in government and industry, although not usually for university teaching positions. However, a surprisingly large number of BS-Statistics degrees currently are awarded each year to individuals, many of whom do not pursue graduate study immediately.

Table 1 lists the universities that granted ten or more degrees in 1996-1997, the last year for which data are available. These 15 institutions together graduated 256 BS-Statisticians. Sixty-three other institutions granted an additional 248 BS-Statistics degrees for a total of 504. During the same period 1,490 master's degrees in statistics were granted. It is interesting, and surprising to some, that the BS-Statistics degrees (504) were 34% of the MS-Statistics degrees.

Individuals receiving these degrees have several options at the end of their undergraduate studies--they may go on to further academic study, seek immediate employment, start their own businesses, or they may attend professional school, such as medical or law school. Each of these options requires further decision and definition. For example, continuing academic study might mean continuing statistics education or a change to another field, such as operations research; it might mean an additional year of study for a master's degree or four or more additional years for a Ph.D.

Making these decisions and the ones leading up to them requires information. …