Statistics is the science of making inferences and drawing conclusions from experimental and sample information. Because such information necessarily represents only partial knowledge of the population or phenomenon under investigation, statistics can also be described as the art of making decisions in the face of uncertainty. Statisticians combine mathematical models, a probability-based logic and numerical information (data) to address problems that range from the immediate and everyday requirements of industrial production and government regulation to the most esoteric research questions of the social and natural sciences. In the course of their work, statisticians are often involved in the following activities:
- the design of experiments, sampling plans and surveys
- the process of gathering information and monitoring its quality
- the construction of numerical summaries and graphs, both to describe the results of an investigation and to "explore" for anticipated and unanticipated trends and relationships
- the development and application of appropriate statistical models and methods for assessing the meaning of the observed experimental or sample data and for generalizing from the data actually observed to the broader population or phenomenon of interest
- the mathematical study of the properties of the various statistical models and methods themselves
Because of the numerical character of their data, statisticians are frequently interested in developing and using computer software for accurate, efficient statistical computations and for flexible data management. In addition, the cross-disciplinary nature of statistical methodology often permits statisticians to become active participants in the search for new scientific knowledge and the extension of existing scientific theory.
Applications of statistical techniques arise naturally in areas like actuarial science, agriculture, bioinformatics, biology, chemistry, economics, engineering, medicine, physics, psychology and sociology, as well as in less obvious disciplines like history and linguistics. While many statisticians continue their education beyond the baccalaureate level, the widespread adoption of statistical methods by industrial, commercial and government organizations has dramatically increased the career opportunities for college graduates with an undergraduate major in statistics. In industry and government there are many positions in which experiments, surveys and investigative studies are conducted or in which building accurate, realistic numerical models is the goal. Government agencies employ statisticians to cope with the tremendous amounts of data collected to plan, organize and monitor government programs. Graduates of the statistics program can qualify for statistical positions in the federal government. Pharmaceutical companies use statisticians to design and analyze the results of the clinical studies required for the development of new drugs. Industry and business hire statisticians to help solve quantitative problems in product research, marketing, production and other areas. Insurance companies seek mathematically and statistically trained persons who are interested in actuarial careers. Whenever and wherever numerical information is gathered for decision-making purposes, people knowledgeable in statistical reasoning are involved.
What type of education should a statistician have at the undergraduate level? We believe that a broad training in statistics, mathematics and science is most desirable. Within the program at VCU we strongly recommend that students take a minor in an area of application. Obviously, it is necessary to obtain a mathematical foundation as extensive as possible. The ability to use computers as tools in problem-solving has become more important; however, a highly-developed interest in solving real problems remains the central objective of the statisticians' education.