Why Study Statistics

The field of statistics provides the scientist with some of the most useful techniques for evaluating ideas, testing theory, and discovering the truth.

Statistics ... the most important science in the whole world: for upon it depends the practical application of every other science and of every art; the one science essential to all political and social administration, all education, all organisation based upon experience, for it only gives the results of our experience. - Florence Nightingale

Statistical Thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write. - H.G. Wells

From medical studies to research experiments, from satellites continuously orbiting the globe to ubiquitous social network sites like Facebook or MySpace, from polling organizations to United Nations observers, data are being collected everywhere and all the time. Knowledge in statistics provides you with the necessary tools and conceptual foundations in quantitative reasoning to extract information intelligently from this sea of data.

Who needs statistics in the 21st century?

Anyone who wants to be able to look critically at numerical information and not be misled. Anyone who has problems to solve, problems they won't be able to solve until they find out a little more about the world and how it operates. Such problems include finding ways to make a business more profitable right through to improving living standards and fighting cancer. Investigative questioning, designing ways to collect data to answer those questions, collecting data, and making sense of what that data says to produce reliable answers - this is the subject matter of statistics.

We live in an information age.

Computers allow us to collect and store information in quantities that previously would not even have been dreamed of. What is this information? It might be costs, values, sales volumes, measurements, ratings, distances, prices, percentages, counts, times, or market shares. But raw, undigested data stored on computer disks is of no use until we can start to make sense of it. Statistics is the human side of the computer revolution, an information science, the science (and art!) of extracting meaning from seemingly incomprehensible data. In your future life and career, you will need to be able to make good use of such information to make sound decisions.

The study and practice of statistics is exciting.

In one week, a practicing statistician may help to design an experiment to evaluate the effects of a new treatment for a disease, analyze a set of data gathered by an ecologist, and help a freight carrier to study work processes to find ways of making the company more profitable.

Statistics in the News

According to the Wall Street Journal, the top three jobs are (1) Mathematician, (2) Actuary, and (3) Statistician. Of course an actuary is simply a statistician who specializes in measuring risk, usually for an insurance company, a career that can be achieved by obtaining a statistics degree. And an applied mathematician can work in many areas but often ends up functioning as either a computer programmer, an engineer, or as statistician. Thus we see that of two-hundred professions studied, the top three are all for statisticians.

Another article in the Wall Street Journal, this time in the San Francisco Bay Area Edition, says that " Region's Employers Seek Statistical Experts Over Computer-Science Generalists".

A recent article in the New York Times titled " For Today's Graduate, Just One Word: Statistics" outlines many reasons why statistics is an up and coming field, including the quote from Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, who said "I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians".


Graduates with good quantitative skills are in high demand throughout the world. There are excellent career prospects for graduates who combine a degree in statistics with knowledge of other subjects such as engineering, business, science, social sciences, the arts and virtually any other field that you can imagine. All of the statistics degrees offered in the mathematics department at San José State University offer the student not only the opportunity to advance their statistical skills, but to take courses in a field of application of the student's choosing.

We prepare our graduates for a diverse range of careers including:

  • Ecologists (environmental monitoring, water quality control, species management)
  • Image processing (computer vision, face detection, remote sensing)
  • Biostatistician (designing and analyzing clinical trials and epidemiological studies)
  • Financial analysts (designing investment strategies and managing risks in banks and other large businesses)
  • Actuaries (in the insurance and superannuation industry)
  • Market researchers (conducting surveys and experiments, identifying market opportunities, testing consumer perceptions, choices and the effectiveness of advertising, and predicting market trends)
  • Econometricians (investigating the economy at all levels from individual businesses through national economies)
  • Epidemiologist (examine patterns in health and sickness)
  • Quality managers (improving the quality of products and services in business and industry)
  • Operations research and optimization (finding how to make the most effective use of limited resources, e.g. stock control strategies for supermarkets and manufacturers, scheduling rosters, formulating cost efficient maintenance strategies for fleets of vehicles, determining the number of beds needed in hospital wards)
  • Bioinformatician (study DNA data)
  • Climatologist or meteorologist (weather forecasting is all about probability and historic data)
  • Demographer (studying the dynamics of human populations)
  • Programmer (statistical computing is a highly sought-after skill)
  • Psychometrician (educational measurement or psychological measurement)
  • Statistical physicist (use of statistical mechanics to study thermodynamics)
  • Any number of other career choices or fields which are of interest to the student

Sources For Further Research

The Council of Graduate schools gives a variety of reasons that student should earn a masters degree, especially a professional science masters degree like the MS Statistics offered at San Jose State University.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates, among other things, that the use of statistics is widespread and growing, that individuals with a degree in statistics have opportunities in a variety of fields, and that the median salary of statisticians is $80,110.

The American Statistical Association's careers page contains links to several pages of information about what statisticians do and the variety of fields that employ statisticians.

The Institute of Mathematical Statistics as well as the Royal Statistical Society's career page contain a wealth of valuable tools for statisticians world wide.