Statisticians use mathematical techniques to analyze and interpret data and draw conclusions. Although they work mostly in offices, they may travel in order to supervise surveys or gather data. Sometimes they must work overtime to meet deadlines. About one-third of statisticians work for government; many others work for private businesses.
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Statisticians typically do the following:
Statisticians design surveys, experiments, and opinion polls to collect data. Some surveys, such as the national census, include data from nearly everyone. For most surveys and opinion polls, however, statisticians use sampling to collect data from some people in a particular group. Statisticians determine the type and size of the sample to be surveyed or polled.
Statisticians develop survey questionnaires or reporting forms for collecting the data they need. They also often write instructions for workers who collect and tabulate the data. Surveys may be mailed, conducted over the phone, or collected online or through some other means.
Statisticians analyze the data that are collected. In their analyses, they calculate averages, reliability, and other specifics of the data. They also choose and conduct tests to find out the data’s reliability and validity. They explain the limitations of the data to prevent inaccurate conclusions from being drawn, and they identify trends and relationships.
Statisticians use computers with specialized statistical software to analyze data. Some help to create new statistical software packages to analyze data more accurately and efficiently.
Statisticians write reports to explain their findings and the data’s limitations. They may present their reports to other team members and to clients with tables, charts, and graphs. They also recommend how to improve the design of future surveys or experiments.
Many colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs in statistics. A bachelor’s degree in statistics is not needed to enter a graduate program, although significant training in mathematics is essential. Required subjects for a bachelor’s degree in statistics include differential and integral calculus, statistical methods, mathematical modeling, and probability theory.
Because statisticians use and write computer programs for many calculations, a strong background in computer science is helpful. Training in engineering or physical science is useful for statisticians working in manufacturing on quality control or productivity improvement. A background in biology, chemistry, or health sciences is useful for work involving testing pharmaceutical or agricultural products.
About a third of statisticians work for government, mostly at the federal level. They are sometimes called mathematical statisticians. These workers develop advanced statistical models for several purposes, such as filling in gaps from nonresponses to surveys.
Many statisticians work for private businesses, such as pharmaceutical and insurance companies, and often work in teams with other professionals. For example, in pharmaceutical companies, statisticians may work with scientists to test drugs for government approval. In insurance companies, they may work with actuaries to calculate the risks of insuring different situations. Because statisticians in business provide advice on research projects or oversee the gathering of data, they travel occasionally for face-to-face meetings with team members.
The median annual wage of statisticians was $72,830 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $39,090 and the top 10% earned more than $119,100.