Why Study/Major in/Minor in Statistics?

"The sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. Because now we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data. So the complimentary factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it."
Hal Varian
Chief Economist, Google
January, 2009

From medical studies to research experiments, from satellites continously orbiting the globe to wind turbines placed strategically along a windy corridor, from political polling organizations to United Nations observers, information is being collected everywhere and all the time. Knowledge in statistics provides you with the necessary tools and conceptual foundations in quantitative reasoning to extract information intelligently from this wealth of data.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the top three jobs are

  1. Mathematician,
  2. Actuary, and
  3. Statistician.

Of course, an actuary is simply a statistician who specializes in measuring risk, usually for an insurance company, a career that can be achieved by obtaining a statistics degree (by the way, check out our Actuary preparatory courses!). An applied mathematician can work in many areas but often ends up as a computer programmer, an engineer, or as a statistician. Therefore, of 200 professions studied, the top three are all for statisticians!

If you don't trust the Wall Street Journal maybe the following reasons will help you understand why the study of statistics can be important.

  • The first reason is to be able to effectively conduct research. In the 1980's, the average starting salary of a geography student graduating from the University of North Carolina was well over $100,000 a year. Impressive! It almost makes you want to transfer until a statistics major comes along, points out that the most famous UNC geography major was Michael Jordan and then informs you to consider the median as well as the mean.
    Knowledge of statistics gives you the ability to make educated decisions
  • Secondly, the study of statistics further develops critical and analytical thinking skills. To do well in statistics a student must develop and use formal logic thinking abilities that are both high level and creative.
  • Lastly, statistics lie, or to put it a little less harsh, some people can mislead with statistics, maybe purposely or accidentally (as shown above). If you know some of the basic statistical concepts, you will be in a better position to evaluate the information you have been given. At the very least, having an understanding of statistics will enable you to understand why you may need to hire a statistician. Conducting research is time consuming and expensive. Recognizing when you may be over your 'statistical head' can mean the difference between success and failure of that research.

Still not convinced? Well, where would an argument about Statistics be without some statistics? Consider,

Job satisfaction1 rankings from the past 4 years (as determined by CareerCast and ordered by their 4-year average),

 2013201220112010
Actuary1231
Software Engineer3112
Mathematician2181026
Statistician3201848
Physicist21251427
Petroleum Engineer28162436
Mechanical Engineer82666271
Electrical Engineer98737864
Chemist125946954
Attorney4117878280

1Job Satisfaction calculated based on 5 key categories: Physical Demands, Work Environment, Income, Stress and Hiring Outlook
2Applies mathematical theories and formulas to teach or solve problems in a business, educational, or industrial climate.
3Tabulates, analyzes, and interprets the numeric results of experiments and surveys.
4We've included this one as a frame of reference, since no one likes a lawyer.


Finally, just for fun, the top 10 reasons to be a statistician (as compiled by WorkJoke.com).

  1. Estimating parameters is easier than dealing with real life.
  2. Statisticians are significant
  3. I always wanted to learn the entire Greek alphabet.
  4. The probability a statistician major will get a job is > .9999.
  5. If I flunk out I can always transfer to Engineering.
  6. We do it with confidence, frequency, and variability.
  7. You never have to be right - only close.
  8. We're normal and everyone else is skewed.
  9. The regression line looks better than the unemployment line.
  10. No one knows what we do so we are always right.

Want specifics for Mines students? View the Mathematics and Statistics document from the Career Center to see who's hiring our CS majors, what types of jobs are available, and starting salaries.

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