Celebrating Success: A Reflection on the Inaugural SSC 2013 Student Conference

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Nathaniel Payne, Research & Analytics, Overinteractive Media, Inc., Department of Statistics, Simon Fraser University and Mireille Schnitzer, Postdoctoral Researcher in Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health

Graduate and undergraduate students from across Canada gathered May 25 in Edmonton at the University of Alberta for the inaugural Statistical Society of Canada’s Student Conference. The event—made possible with support from the Statistical Society of Canada, University of Alberta, CRC Press, and PIMS—was attended by more than 70 students and exceeded everyone’s expectations. These students, and many supportive faculty members, came together to participate in sessions covering professional skill development, industry careers, and research.

The student conference kicked off with opening addresses by SSC President Christian Léger and conference chair, Mireille Schnitzer. Following lunch, students attended talks given by Ori Stitelman, a data scientist at Wells Fargo; Matthias Schonlau, a professor at the University of Waterloo; and Kathryn Mills, manager at Canada Border Services. During each session, students heard about the importance of communication, both written and oral. They learned how important networking is. They also heard about the success that can follow when one is persistent, proactive, enthusiastic, and dedicated to excellence. Finally, they learned how significantly teamwork, leadership, and time management can affect their long-term career success.

Following the career talks, students attended skills sessions focusing on either CV/résumé preparation (presented by the University of Alberta Career Centre) or the graduate student experience. During the well-attended graduate student experience presentation, students heard from the graduate student panel about the importance of setting goals and being self disciplined. They learned about the importance of presenting themselves as professionals, as well as the benefits of getting involved in national conferences and societies. Finally, the panel members discussed the various challenges they have faced, their most important decisions, and their mistakes.

After the keynote sessions, student work was front and center. First, students presented posters at a large session open to all conference attendees. Following this, students attended one of three contributed oral sessions chaired by a team of graduate students. During these presentations, students had the opportunity to share their research with their peers, answer questions, and propose future research ideas. Undergraduate students also were eligible to participate in a poster and oral presentation competition. Their work was assessed by faculty and senior student judges, with helpful feedback given after the conference. This experience and the resulting feedback helped many students prepare for forthcoming presentations at the SSC Annual Conference, which kicked off on May 26.

After the presentations were complete, the conference closed with a humorous, yet insightful, keynote address by Jeffrey Rosenthal from the University of Toronto. Rosenthal shared stories from his academic past and gave advice to students in various stages of their careers. Without question, his passion for statistics and his award-winning work inspired the audience. Moreover, his openness and curiosity paved the way for a phenomenal social evening attended by both faculty members and students.

The inaugural SSC student conference was a resounding success. Held in the International Year of Statistics, the student conference demonstrated what is possible when passionate students and faculty come together to build something for their peers. Furthermore, the success at this event has already paved the way for a second, larger conference in 2014 that will precede the 2014 SSC Conference at the University of Toronto. It also helped many student researchers prepare for presentations that took place at the 2013 Joint Statistical Meetings in Montréal.

After reading through the feedback forms and talking to students, it was clear that the attendees’ experiences were overwhelmingly positive. Sitting in Hudson’s Canadian Tap House, many students responded enthusiastically when asked whether the conference affected them personally. For some, the conference was an amazing personal and professional experience that enabled them to present research in a non-threatening environment. For others, it provided the opportunity to network with other student researchers and professionals from across Canada, gain insight into the job market, and build game-changing relationships with successful statisticians. Overall, the conference provided everyone who attended with the opportunity to develop relationships with future colleagues. These relationships, and the resulting work in both academia and industry, will undoubtedly change the face of statistics globally!