Student Spotlight: James Joseph

JAMESJoseph Amstat News asked James Joseph, student representative of the ASA Philadelphia Chapter, a few questions about why he decided to get involved in the chapter and why other students should do the same.

Why did you decide to join the Philadelphia Chapter?
After graduating from Penn State, having studied statistics along with some of its applications in health and engineering, I attended the Summer Institute of Training in Biostatistics (SIBS) at the University of Pittsburgh (UPitt) to more fully consider the career paths available to students like me in the “real world.” SIBS participants were offered a free ASA student membership.

Sally Morton, past ASA president and then newly appointed chair of UPitt’s public health graduate school, gave a welcoming presentation on key habits of successful professionals. After the presentation, I admitted to her that I was unsure of my own prospects, but enthusiastic about the opportunities available to statisticians. Morton recommended I volunteer with my local ASA chapter, ASA-P (P for Philadelphia), to understand the practice of statistics and meet players in the field. I reached out to the chapter officers on her advice and they invited me to attend the local events they hosted throughout the year. Being a student and an ASA member allowed me to attend these events virtually free of charge.

How did you become the student representative for the chapter?
I attended short courses and presentations after work and school, especially when they pertained to clinical research. I engaged younger students on their use of statistical methods at science fairs alongside other chapter members. These engagements allowed me to meet new people and understand a variety of career paths, ultimately giving me more confidence to shape my own. I realized I had a lot in common with fellow members despite being a newcomer to both the chapter and profession.

The next summer, the chapter created a new charter that introduced the student representative position on the executive committee. They sought to attract more quantitatively oriented students to chapter activities. Having shown interest in becoming more active in the statistical community (and being the only student at most of the chapter’s events, admittedly), I was invited to serve as the chapter’s first student representative.

Describe your role as student representative.
Because student representation was a relatively new initiative that summer in 2012, the role was loosely defined and still continues to evolve. Our charter simply states that student representatives are to:

  1. Be a representative of student members on the executive committee
  2. Liaison to student members

In essence, my duty is to foster new relationships between the chapter and local students. It requires that I understand student needs and align our chapter’s resources accordingly.

When I began as a representative, I was continuing my own studies in statistics through an inventive graduate program offered by Texas A&M (TAMU). It is a distance program that pursued “equidistance” with TAMU’s in-class version. In both stylings, students had identical passing rules down to the assignments and deadlines—even the graders that evaluated them. Both had access to the same professors, lecture materials, live recordings, and office hours. Struck by the ways technology supported such working relationships, I initially took to the Internet to attract other students to the chapter events that I found so beneficial.

I knew the majority of students could be found on social media, so I established a presence that enlivened the homepage we had established. Beginning with Facebook and Twitter, I learned that these virtual platforms were more effective when they supported real-world chapter activities, and vice versa. For example, we used Twitter in conjunction with our chapter listservs to find candidates for a career panel we hosted last year in conjunction with my high-school AP Statistics teacher. We then broadcast a live video of the event to the Philadelphia Area Statistics Teachers Association (PASTA) and posted the recording on YouTube to extend the event’s reach. The options to ‘like’ our content and subscribe to our channels increased the likelihood that second- or third-degree connections bud from direct impressions made face to face. Last, we offered attendees the chance for a free one-year ASA student membership upon completing an online survey. The results qualified the perceived value of the event and revealed areas needing improvement. The career panel is now a growing, annual event for our chapter at the high-school and university levels.

Chapter officers have been fully supportive of these and other ‘social experiments,’ always assisting in any way they can. Nonetheless, the task of maintaining, streamlining, and continuously improving our outreach efforts has led me to recruit help from like-minded individuals. Today our student representative group is composed of six highly dedicated members from three universities. My position calls me to facilitate our group’s efforts and integrate them with our chapter’s current activities. Ultimately, we hope to share what we learn and create with other ASA chapters looking to increase student involvement.

Follow the Philadelphia Chapter online at:

Why do you encourage students to join their local chapter, or get involved with the ASA in general?
Choosing a career path can be daunting, especially when considering the impact of changing direction later, rather than earlier. The ASA offers a variety of ways to test the waters before diving in. And no matter how you like to sharpen your statistical tools and create your future, there is an ASA section comprised of like-minded individuals.

Being in touch with your chapter and the ASA sections will reveal countless opportunities to broaden your knowledge and apply your skills. For example, scholarships are often made available to students and young professionals who show interested in participating in conferences. These opportunities can provide a chance to increase the visibility of your work and finance your education.

Why is it important for students/young professionals to get involved now?
Roslyn Stone, SIBS coordinator and a professor at UPitt, surveyed the academic and professional pursuits of my fellow trainees and me after completing the summer training program. Perfecting the six-week course meant inspiring more and more students to pursue a career in biostatistics. Today, she is on the ASA Strategic Initiatives Committee, where she leads an annual effort to enhance awareness of biostatistics among quantitatively talented U.S. students. These efforts introduced me to the challenge of attracting students to the opportunities that demand them in our increasing data-driven world.

The potential of the Information Age creates a bounty of opportunity for quantitatively oriented students and young professionals in general. Moreover, there is growing demand for statisticians that, if left unfulfilled, threatens our global competitiveness. The gap is a realm of opportunities for those who can understand and serve it best.

In its grandest sense, the role of the student representative is to build the statistics pipeline. With the advent of social media, we become our best advocates. It is an important and relatively unclaimed duty that invites new leaders to emerge from the next generation of statisticians.

What if a local chapter does not have a student representative? What can students/young professionals do? What other opportunities are there?
Students and young professionals typically find industry-wide conferences such as the Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM) and Conference on Statistical Practice (CSP) eye opening and engaging. The executive committee of Pharmaceutical SAS User’s Group offers a junior professional scholarship opportunity that afforded me the chance to attend #PharmaSUG in San Diego (hashtag intended – go see what the rave was about). I encourage people to attend conferences for many of the same reasons I recommend chapter involvement.

Nevertheless, if you are interested in establishing student representation in your local ASA chapter, I’m sure your local chapter would appreciate your initiative and ours would be willing to assist you. Student representatives here have been experimenting with a variety of ways to channel more students to our activities. We compile our results and take notes to home in on best practices. Meanwhile, we archive the documents we produce or organize them in an online directory to help other chapters execute successful campaigns. So far, the tools we use are free, collaborative, and easily accessible (our video/voice/text/screen-sharing program does not require anything be downloaded to your computer and begins upon clicking a hyperlink). We’ve also been committed to executing projects in such a way that they require no more than one hour per week, per volunteer, regardless of how many student volunteers are available.

How can students/young professionals feel like they have a voice or say in their chapter?
Students know students best, and if there is one thing your local chapter needs, it is student involvement. This sentiment is characterized by the widening gap between the supply and demand of statistical talent and echoed in the ASA’s new public relations campaign. Student membership ensures the future success of the association and its activities.

As a student, you are part of the current pipeline of statisticians and represent the next generation of statisticians. If you seek to represent your own views and the views of other’s like you, your voice will be valued at all levels of our society.

Do you currently meet/Skype with student representatives from other chapters to discuss ideas or brainstorm?
Our student representative group meets in an online room to review, revise, and reiterate our communication strategy every other week. We brainstorm ways we can support chapter events and devise new initiatives to continue growing our audience. Recently, we’ve attracted more students to our mission. Their unique perspectives produce an unmistakable synergy that enables us to be more effective and innovative. We expect that collaborating with other chapters will produce a similar effect. We’ve recently established a blog to share our progress, and we invite others to participate. Cross-collaboration advances the mission of student representation.

How has social media changed the way the chapter interacts with its members?
Social media facilitates interpersonal communication. It is a two-way channel allowing us to share a wealth of information with a variety of audiences and learn from their activity: what content they enjoy, what causes they support, what questions and/or opinions they have about our offerings, etc.

We can also find new ways to extend the reach of our traditional offerings. We share live and recorded content with online followers. We’ve accrued new followers by inviting topical discussions to continue online in an infinitely more public forum. As our online audience grows, we garner feedback from a wider representation of our potential membership. In these ways, social media functions as a valuable decisionmaking and recruiting tool.

Explain how you use social media to reach members or those interested in statistics?
In “Building the Biostatistics Pipeline,” Sullivan et al. claim that “relevance is critical, introducing students to studies in the current news allows them to make the connection between what they learn in class (often perceived as highly abstract and impractical) and real life.”

Our engagement reports validate this claim—statistical musings on timely subject matter induce quantitatively oriented visitors to click, share, and participate. Still, the over-arching goal of using social media for outreach is to convert online visitors to active members. For instance, hosting a statistics trivia contest in the public domain and curiously tagging the open discussion (#ThisIsNotATtest, anyone?) can an attractive and instructive way to encourage visitors to explore our other offerings.

Why is it important for each chapter to have their own social media plan?
Social media, the number-one online activity in the U.S., presents new opportunities to connect with our broader audience, bolster chapter activities, and advance the immediate goals of the ASA (see “Launching a Public Relations Campaign for Statistics: What Better Time Than the ASA’s 175th Anniversary“).

Once your chapter reasons the use of social tools, it is ideal that objectives be represented as progressive, measurable goals. By pursuing targets, you carve a path that makes the most of failures and successes. Best practices reveal themselves, become incorporated into scheduled activities, and are shared with other chapters that may stand to benefit.

How are you reaching out to other students or those just starting out in their careers?
Every year, members of our chapter volunteer their expertise at the Delaware Valley Science Fair, where they formally serve as judges and informally as advocates for our science. As I mentioned earlier, we recently hosted our second annual high-school and university-level career panels after a very positive reception in 2013. A chief objective of the student representative group is to continue finding ways to extend career resources to students and recent grads. For instance, we’re considering the potential of sharing relevant job opportunities under the hashtag #STATJOBS. Every chapter could share the hashtag, thereby collectively branding while still enabling their own audiences to explore nearby openings (tagged posts are prioritized by time, date, and location of origination).

What is one thing you would like to see accomplished during your role as student representative?
I would like to see the role being more and more integrated with our chapter’s activities over time. Within our association, I’d like to see student representatives working across chapter lines to advance ASA missions.

If you are interested in being involved with an ASA Chapter, or would like more information about ASA Chapters, email Council of Chapter’s liaison, Rick Peterson, at