I am sure many of us can relate to the term ‘statistics,’ albeit in different ways. Maybe the most notable way is in the form of football match statistics, from which enthusiasts get a snapshot of the game’s progress.
If we go by its definition, this is exactly what statistics, as a science, is meant to achieve; i.e. to tell a story, through (numerical) data. This extends significantly to areas that are crucial in our daily lives. Quite often in government, organisations and companies, crucial decisions have to be made based on information which is usually in form of numbers; statistical science is used to extract and make sense out of it, to help decision makers make well-informed decisions that have far-reaching effects on our lives.
Before a drug reaches the market, many studies are conducted, to assess its safety and effectiveness, resulting in the collection of a lot of data. The science of statistics comes in, to give a clear picture (tell a story) of the data in relation to the safety and effectiveness of that particular drug.
A natural question is whether this science tells a true story or it is just a story. Well, statistics is a well-established science, with sound theory on which any statistical sentiments are based. All credible statistics, which are the product of sound statistical practice, are associated with their corresponding level of accuracy. To be able to tell a credible story, one needs to be properly trained as a statistician.
Training in statistical theory requires a good mathematical background. In addition, good computation skills are necessary, since making sense of the data usually involves complex model-based calculations on computers. A degree with a major in statistics is a good start towards a career as a statistician. This should generally be followed by a good master’s degree in statistics, which focuses not only on the theoretical components of statistics, but applied ones, with careful attention on statistical software. Currently, degrees majoring in statistics are offered at Chancellor College and the Polytechnic.
John Tukey, a well-known statistician, once said: “The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone’s backyard,” in reference to the broad application of statistics. Indeed, statistics is applicable in almost every field; a few examples include: 1) In agriculture, when assessing the impact of different methods of farming or comparing varieties of seeds, 2) In banking and financial services, to predict the probability of loan default, based on customers’ demographic and background characteristics, 3) In marketing, to study the needs of customers, 4) In health, to determine whether one drug/therapy is better than the existing one, etc. Due to its wide application, there are a lot of choices for areas of specialisation within statistics.
Job prospects for statisticians, especially in places where their indispensable role is clearly understood, are excellent. Despite the fact that evidence-based decisions are the trend of the modern world, many companies and organisations in Malawi still do not recognise the important role that statisticians can play in improving their operations.
The American Statistical Association, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the International Biometric Society, the International Statistical Institute, and the Royal Statistical Society, have earmarked 2013 as a year to celebrate statistics. Professional statistical associations, universities, and other relevant organisations, are among other bodies which will be participating in this venture, called the International Year of Statistics. During this year, it is the responsibility of all statisticians to enlighten society on the important role that professional statisticians play, and widen career choices for the young generation at universities.– The author currently holds a doctoral position in biostatistics, at Hasselt University, in Belgium.