Coding is cool, too, but someone has to make sense of the growing amount of data.
In recent years, there’s been a big focus on computer science as a path to a top job after college. But the American Statistical Association would like students to know that statistics is also a hot field these days.
Even though more students are earning statistics degrees than ever before, there aren’t enough statisticians being trained to meet the demand.
There’s a vast volume of data available now to be analyzed, and statisticians are the ones who can make sense of it. “I think people are just recognizing the value of what statisticians do,” said Jessica Utts, the president-elect of the American Statistical Association and chair of the department of statistics at the University of California, Irvine. “You really need to know what you’re doing to be able to determine if a source of data is legitimate, how to ask the right questions, how to filter the data in a way to answer those questions.”
The types of jobs available to statisticians have expanded, as well. Statistics was once a narrow field that prepped students to work as actuaries, or interpret the U.S. Census. “But now, the job sector has opened up so wide, almost anything you can think of uses statistics,” Utts said.
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In the Seattle area, Amazon, Zillow, Redfin and Microsoft are among the companies seeking to hire statisticians. The mean annual salary for statisticians nationwide is $84,010, but reaches six figures in many large metropolitan areas.
Statistics is one of the fastest-growing degrees on college campuses, increasing by more than 300 percent since the 1990s, the statistical association said. By comparison, all science and engineering degrees grew 72 percent over the same period. Still, most statistics departments are relatively small, and the number of graduates nationwide isn’t enough to meet the demand, the association says. Each year, about 2,000 students receive a bachelor’s degree in statistics, 3,000 receive a master’s degree and 575 receive a doctorate degree.
On the bright side, high school students have become more aware of statistics in the last few decades because of the introduction of an Advanced Placement statistics class in 1997, Utts said. Last year, nearly 200,000 high-school students took the AP Statistics exam.
Utts said she encourages all students to take a statistics class, regardless of their major. Understanding statistics can help you know whether a political poll is truly offering good information– or whether it’s worth buying an extended warranty on a new purchase.
“It’s quantitative literacy for daily life,” she said.