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What is statistics?

American Heritage Dictionary® defines statistics as: 

"The mathematics of the collection, organization, and interpretation of numerical data, especially the analysis of population characteristics by inference from sampling."

The Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary® definition is: 

"A branch of mathematics dealing with the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of masses of numerical data."

The steps of statistical analysis involve collecting information, evaluating it, and drawing conclusions. The information might be:

  • A test-group's favorite amount of sweetness in a blend of fruit juices
  • The number of men and women hired by a city government
  • The velocity of a burning gas on the sun's surface

Statisticians provide crucial guidance in determining what information is reliable and which predictions can be trusted. They often help search for clues to the solution of a scientific mystery, and sometimes keep investigators from being misled by false impressions. Statisticians work in a variety of fields, including medicine, government, education, agriculture, business and law.

Statisticians help determine the sampling and data collection methods, monitor the execution of the study and the processing of data, and advise on the strengths and limitations of the results. They must understand the nature of uncertainties and be able to draw conclusions in the context of particular statistical applications.

What is operations research?

Operations research (OR) is the professional disciplines that deal with the application of information technology for informed decision-making. OR professionals aim to provide rational bases for decision making by seeking to understand and structure complex situations and to use this understanding to predict system behavior and improve system performance. Much of this work is done using analytical and numerical techniques to develop and manipulate mathematical and computer models of organizational systems composed of people, machines and procedures. OR draws upon ideas from engineering, management, mathematics and psychology to contribute to a wide variety of application domains; the field is closely related to several other fields in the "decision sciences"—applied mathematics, computer science, economics, industrial engineering and systems engineering. More information may be found at scienceofbetter.org.

OR is distinguished by its broad applicability and by the wide variety of career opportunities and work styles it embraces. OR specialists may be theoreticians or practitioners. They may work in academia, in industry, or in public service, teaching, doing research, consulting or implementing OR models. OR professionals may participate in just one phase of an OR study, such as modeling, analysis or implementation, or they may participate in all portions of a project. Within the field, some OR professionals remain generalists while others specialize in particular tools or problem domains. Some OR professionals move from technical positions into managerial functions. Because the concepts and methods of OR are so pervasive, OR offers very flexible .

Today thousands of individuals pursue careers in operations research, the management sciences and closely related professions. Their work has achieved an increasingly important role in both the public and private sectors. OR professionals inform public officials on such topics as energy policy; design and operation of urban emergency systems; defense; health care; water resource planning; and criminal justice. They also address a wide variety of issues in communication systems; computer operations, design, and networking; transportation; marketing; finance; inventory planning; manufacturing; and many other topics that aim to improve business productivity. In addition, recently some OR professionals have contributed to the physical sciences (in biology, chemistry and physics).