How to Become a Statistician in 2022
Statisticians apply statistical theories and methods to collect, analyze and interpret quantitative data. They may work for companies involved in market research and public opinion, for industries concerned with areas such as quality control and product development and for local, state and federal governments. Theoretical statisticians usually find themselves in research and academia.
Here are five steps you may want to consider if you’re interested in learning about how to become a statistician:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in a quantitative field such as mathematics, economics or computer science.
- Take courses in linear algebra, calculus, statistics, probability and survey methodology, as well as computer programming classes to familiarize yourself with data analysis software.
- Take related courses in an industry of interest, such as manufacturing or healthcare, to gain domain knowledge.
- Apply for an entry-level statistician job.
- Earn a master’s degree.
What Is a Statistician?
Find yourself wondering: what is a statistician, exactly? Statisticians use theories and tactics, like statistical modeling and data manipulation, to solve problems. They often work alongside stakeholders in other industries, from manufacturing to healthcare to agriculture, to assist with research and product development.
What Does a Statistician Do?
Statisticians design experiments, surveys and questionnaires to collect data. They may conduct surveys on the phone, through mail, online or in person. Conversely, they may use random sampling methods or poll entire populations of people. Once data is collected, statisticians analyze the results using statistical tools, algorithms, models and software. They look for trends within their data sets. Software is used to crunch large data sets and may even help find relationships or patterns. Some statisticians work on the development of new software to make crunching data easier.
Once they’ve completed their analysis, statisticians present their findings, accounting for anomalies or missing data. Presentations can be written, verbal or depicted with charts, tables or other visual elements. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) offers more information about what a statistician does.
Depending on their level of experience, statisticians may be asked to:
- Tackle data-related challenges assigned by management.
- Decide upon an appropriate strategy to collect data.
- Extract data from existing sources or instigate new procedures, including science experiments, opinion polls and more.
- Design new statistical models and data collection tools if needed.
- Provide strategic recommendations/predictions based on their statistical findings and highlight any data limitations.
- Develop and maintain statistical tools, databases and programs.
- Regularly monitor data quality.
- Work closely with key team members and subject experts such as computer engineers, scientists and IT support personnel.
When answering the question, “What does a statistician do?” answers can vary based on specific job titles. Entry-level statistical analysts and assistants may be tasked with standard data analysis and supervised by higher-ups. Depending on the role and industry, experienced statisticians may be able to propose projects to management, develop new products and processes, oversee statistical teams and work on their own research.
Degree and Skills for Statisticians
From statistical modeling to critical thinking, statisticians employ and leverage a combination of soft skills and technical know-how to successfully carry out daily tasks. Statistician skills may overlap with those used in related career fields like data science and can be developed on the job as well as in a degree program.
Before entering the field, statisticians are trained to:
- Identify the relevance of data.
- Determine whether the underlying model assumptions are valid for the data at hand.
- Prepare data for processing by adjusting and weighting the raw data, organizing information and checking for inaccuracies.
- Interpret and communicate the results of a statistical analysis so that diverse audiences, including those employed in other fields, can understand the findings.
As you prepare to enter the field, think through what competencies and experiences might help you stand out in the job market and do your work effectively.
Mikhail Popov, a data analyst at the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), breaks down what it means to be a statistician in an interview with Master’s in Data Science:
“The best statisticians don’t just throw their data into a black box (e.g., neural network) and rely on machine learning algorithms to do their work for them. Instead, they develop an understanding and intuition for the data they’re analyzing. The best statisticians are also great communicators. They can talk to their clients and collaborators through all the stages of an experiment or study. Those people may not be as well-versed in statistics but are usually experts in the subject matter, so it is crucial to work with them in unison. The best statisticians poke and prod at assumptions and aren’t afraid of being wrong. To see what I mean, play around with this interactive puzzle from The New York Times.”
What Kind of Degree Can I Pursue?
At minimum, statisticians will need a bachelor’s degree in statistics, applied math, computer science or a related field. Since you will be working with complex statistical software programs, a healthy balance between math and IT courses is recommended.
You may want to plan for a graduate degree. Certain companies looking to hire a statistician might prefer applicants to hold a master’s degree in applied statistics or math. They may also look for candidates with a background in a specific industry like finance, biochemistry or computer engineering.
What Kind of Skills Will I Need?
Some common technical skills include:
- Statistics (e.g. hypothesis testing and summary statistics)
- Math (e.g., linear algebra, calculus and probability)
- Machine learning tools and techniques
- Software engineering skills (e.g. distributed computing, algorithms and data structures)
- Data mining
- Data cleaning and munging
- Data visualization and reporting techniques
- Unstructured data techniques
- R and/or SAS languages
- SQL databases and database querying languages
- Programming languages such as Python, C/C++, Java and Perl
- Big data platforms like Hadoop, Hive and Pig
- Cloud tools like Amazon S3
You’ll notice that some of these skills are also relevant to data science roles. Advanced programming skills may help prepare you for “hybrid” data science/statistician careers.
Which Skills or Programming Languages Do Statisticians Most Frequently Use in Their Work and Why?
Statisticians can expect to use multiple skills and tools at any given time in their careers. Popov provides some insight:
“The primary language/environment I work in is R. We’re also huge fans of RStudio’s Shiny (a web application framework for R) and use it for our dashboards to give the teams easy access to daily metrics and KPIs. My enthusiasm for R is no secret as I am a co-host and producer of the R Talk podcast. A lot of my work at NRP and a good chunk of my work at WMF also requires me to write file/text processing pipelines, so scripting is key to my work.
“Data visualization is a tremendously useful skill to learn and maintain. The best plot tells a story and guides the viewer/reader to a conclusion that otherwise takes at least one paragraph to reach with text. And I want to emphasize how important it is to be able to interpret results to non-statisticians. Telling a biologist what the hazard ratio is from your survival analysis is useless if you don’t interpret it. … raw parameter estimates are useless without an accessible narrative (and an accompanying data visualization).”
Some common soft skills that may be helpful for statisticians include:
- Analytical Problem-Solving. This type of skill involves identifying complex challenges and employing the right mathematical approach/methods to make the maximum use of time and human resources.
- Logic and Reasoning.Through logic and reasoning, statisticians can assess the strengths and weaknesses of data and statistical methods. These skills also allow them to develop an understanding of the implications of new developments in technology and data mining.
- Effective Communication. With strong communication skills, a statistician is able to explain their mathematical techniques and discoveries to technical and non-technical audiences.
- Industry Knowledge. As a statistician, it can be useful to have an understanding of how your chosen industry functions and how data is collected, analyzed and utilized.
Professional certifications may be good additions to your résumé. Ask your mentors for advice and check job listing requirements to determine which ones employers will recognize and respect. You may find that certifications in data science are relevant to your job and career path.
Accredited Professional Statistician (PStat®)
The American Statistical Association (ASA) has two levels of accreditation. Candidates should attain the entry-level Graduate Statistician (GStat) certification before applying for the full PStat® accreditation.
PStat® certification is based on a professional portfolio, not an exam. Applicants must provide proof of educational credentials (typically a graduate degree in statistics or a related quantitative field), work experience and their commitment to professional development. Work samples and supporting letters from references are also required.
SAS Certified Statistical Business Analyst Using SAS 9
Run by SAS, this accreditation is explicitly aimed at professionals who use SAS/STAT software to conduct and interpret complex statistical data analyses (i.e. statisticians). In the certification exam, candidates must prove their knowledge of areas like ANOVA, regression, predictive modeling and logistic regression.
Different Statistician Careers
As a result of the number of industries and organizations that benefit from having a statistician on their team, there are a number of careers available for individuals who choose to enter this field. While the list below includes potential statistician career paths, the number of opportunities goes beyond what we’ve highlighted below.
There are two types of sports statisticians, including academic and recorder. Academic sports statisticians analyze data to look at trends and make decisions, while recorders attend sports events and record data in real time. The role of a sports statistician in general is to help players, team managers, coaches and fans better analyze data to make decisions.
How to Become a Sports Statistician
Sports statisticians may earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, statistical analysis, computer science or study a combination of these disciplines. An interest in and knowledge of sports is also important.
The role of an environmental statistician is to observe and analyze data to find trends related to environmental science, that helps explain different phenomena and lead to better decision making on behalf of environmental scientists. Information gathered by environmental statisticians is used to influence climate change research and environmental policies.
How to Become an Environmental Statistician
Those who choose this line of work may pursue a variety of paths. To become a statistician, many individuals earn at least a bachelor’s degree in statistics, computer engineering, mathematics or a related field. A background in environmental science is useful to this role, so those interested may want to take classes related to this field.
Medical statisticians play a key role in the clinical trial process related to new medicines and treatments. A medical statistician helps design, conduct and draw conclusions for clinical trials, using their math and science skills to make more informed decisions. They calculate how many participants are needed for a trial, randomize patients into the correct number of variable groups, determine which tools to apply to measure results, and finally, use those tools to draw conclusions and communicate results to the relevant parties.
How to Become a Medical Statistician
Individuals interested in working in the medical field may want to consider earning a medical degree, but a bachelor’s in statistics, mathematics, computer science or something related may suffice for medical statistician positions. Additional licenses or certifications may not be necessary for this job, but could be viewed as a plus by potential employers.
Similar Jobs to Statistician
Similar career options to statisticians include data scientist, data analyst and web developer. Jobs within data-heavy industries generally require a knowledge of STEM concepts. As such, those pursuing jobs in such fields may complete a full degree program or opt for online IT courses, data science bootcamps, data analytics bootcamps or online coding bootcamps designed for web developers to expand their expertise. You may find crossover between job descriptions for statisticians, data analysts and data scientists. While all of these fields deal with data, there are some subtle nuances.
Statistician vs. Data Scientist vs. Data Analyst
Using theories and methods, statisticians collect, analyze and report on large sets of data. A statistician deals with more theoretical aspects of data including mathematics and statistical modelling.
Data scientists think outside the structured box. They create their own questions/projects and use a wide range of tools — only some of which are statistical — in order to establish unique connections between big data. Many aspiring data scientists have strong software engineering, machine learning and predictive analytics skills. A master’s in data science program covers all of the basics one would need to launch a career as a data scientist.
Data analysts are primarily concerned with set tasks, from analyzing migration patterns to calculating average conversation times for call center agents. They are given parameters and do their best to collect and analyze information from conventional sources. With the rise of relational database systems like SQL, data analysts have more control over data sets and large quantities of data.
Statistician Median Salaries and Job Outlook
The BLS is forecasting employment of statisticians to grow 33% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. Businesses, financial firms, government agencies, pharmaceutical companies and research groups can use the help of qualified statistical experts to make sense of big data.
According to the BLS, the median pay for statisticians was $92,270 in May 2020. There is quite a range for this career, with the lowest 10% earning less than $52,700 and the highest 10% earning more than $150,840. Median salaries for statisticians will vary by level of education, experience, location and industry.
Professional Organizations for Statisticians
Planning to work as a statistician? Here are a few professional organizations to check out:
- American Statistical Association (ASA)
- Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS)
- International Statistical Institute (ISI)
- Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (SIGKDD)
- Institute of Mathematical Statistics
- American Mathematical Society
What Are the Pros and Cons of Being a Statistician?
Becoming a statistician can have its perks and downsides. As detailed above, employment for these professionals is projected to exceed the national average for all occupations. Statisticians can work in various industries—allowing them to build both critical and transferable skills—and according to the Princeton Review, those with 10 years of experience may enjoy job mobility.
On the other hand, studying to become a statistician may be costly for some, given that jobs may require candidates to have a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Additionally, working day in and out with complex data may be demanding.
When preparing to enter the field, consider your interests, goals, advice from practicing statisticians and related factors to help you determine if this career path is best for you.
Data analyst Mikhail Popov shares the following insights about his profession and the field as a whole:
As a statistician, you will likely be asked to provide your expertise to teams working in a wide variety of fields and subfields, so you will get to become a mini-expert in each problem you’re involved in. You engage the creative, analytical and social parts of your brain simultaneously on a daily basis. You translate boring numbers into interesting stories. You quantify uncertainty and when you find patterns and relationships, you are able to say, “This is real, this isn’t just random noise.” Human beings are super good at seeing patterns where there are none, and your role is to guard leaders and decision-makers against that.
Nobody knows what exactly you do (not their fault). The most popular response you’ll hear is, “Ugh, I hated the stats course I had to take in college.” Your peers in computer science are constantly inventing methods that have already been invented and published by your fellow statisticians 50 years ago.
At a minimum, individuals interested in pursuing a career as a statistician will need a bachelor’s degree in mathematics or an IT-related field. Having a master’s degree and a strong background in the industry you want to work in may be useful as well.
The median salary for a statistician is $92,270, according to BLS data from May 2020, but the pay varies based on experience and the type of statistician an individual becomes.
The work environment for statisticians varies based on the type of statistician an individual chooses to become. They may work in government offices, health care facilities, universities and more.
Last updated November 2021.