Comment on “What are you going to do with your Ph.D. in Statistics?” conference

This post is by Matt Schofield.

The conference consisted of two panels discussing various aspects of the working life of statisticians. The statisticians on the first panel were all currently working in academia, while the statisticians on the second panel were all working in industry.

Academic Panel

If we want to pursue a career in academia, research should be something we enjoy. Panelist mentioned that teaching, while often a burden, should not be something that makes our lives miserable. As Eric Bradlow said, the remuneration for being an academic is not enough compensation for hating teaching and being miserable.

The panelists agreed it was important to work in a department where the people valued and respected the research that you did. The panelist’s research ideas came from a number of different sources, including collaborators, seminars and conferences (and they encouraged us to attend the latter two).

The panelist’s discussions reminded me that perhaps the most important aspect in choosing potential academic departments is finding a good fit. An important part of working life (I think) is being valued and finding collaborators, not only in the department you work in, but also in other departments around campus.

Industry Panel

Communication is a big part of working in industry. Although teaching students is not usually required, consulting with collaborators and colleagues is. There is not as much flexibility in industry as with academia (research must be in the companies interests), however, the compensation is usually much better.

All industry panelists agreed that statisticians must be excited by data. Many of the big companies (such as google, AT&T, etc) have an abundance of data. In order to thrive in these environments data should challenge and excite you.

The reception after the conference was a good chance to meet and talk with the panelists and ask questions about jobs in both academia and industry. It was a good time for me (as a postdoc) to evaluate what direction I hope to take my statistics career. Congratulations should go to the Columbia post-graduate statistics students for organizing such a successful conference.