A Journey to Statistics, the ASA, and Accreditation

williamson_forrestForrest Williamson is a PhD candidate in the department of statistical science at Baylor University and research scientist at Eli Lilly and Company. He has been a student member of the ASA for more than four years and a member of Statistics Without Borders for one year. Recently, Williamson was the first to receive the ASA’s new Graduate Statistician designation, GStat.

Looking back, I believe taking statistics courses in other departments is what really encouraged me to become a statistician. Seeing that a common set of skills could be used so universally was incredible, almost liberating. With statistics, I did not have to choose between disciplines.

Before starting graduate school at Baylor University, I participated in the Summer Institute for Training in Biostatistics (SIBS) at North Carolina State University. The SIBS program director was ASA Past President Marie Davidian, who spoke about the ASA and the various opportunities it has for students. Eager to get involved, I joined the association in 2010.

Last summer, I had the privilege of joining a group of statisticians representing the ASA on a one-week delegation to Havana, Cuba. As ASA president, Marie Davidian led the delegation. I was unsure of whether I would contribute anything as a graduate student, but knowing Marie from my SIBS program, I decided to reach out and see what her thoughts were about having a student delegate. I was well received.

Shortly after returning from Cuba, I attended my first JSM in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Despite the large JSM attendance and the relatively small number of ASA delegates who went to Cuba, I seemed to run into nearly everyone at some point during the conference. This year in Boston, I was fortunate to catch up with a few of them again. It has been my most rewarding experience to date as an ASA member. I’ve genuinely enjoyed getting to know these great people—on not only the American end, but also the Cuban end. The trip motivated me to become more involved in the ASA because I really enjoyed the social aspect of membership.

Last year with Statistics2013 making its big push in the news, the ASA committed many resources to promoting the accreditation program that launched in late 2010. I was entering the last year of my graduate program and searching for ways to be more competitive when it came time to interview. I had already started to become involved in the ASA, but had yet to do anything that would keep me engaged. As an ongoing commitment, accreditation seemed like a good first step to continual involvement. I knew I was ineligible for full Professional Statistician (PStat®) accreditation, lacking the requisite experience, but thought I could start working toward the designation.

To me, accreditation has meant getting involved, networking, socializing, and simply enjoying our incredible discipline.

In Montréal, I attended two sessions devoted to ASA accreditation. Panelists representing industry and academia spoke about what accreditation meant to them and their organizations. There was talk in the accreditation committee of a junior level of accreditation similar to those offered by other statistical societies. In March of this year, the ASA launched their junior level of accreditation—the Graduate Statistician (GStat)—which has the same requirements as the PStat®, minus the experience. The primary purpose of the GStat is to prepare statisticians for the PStat® once the experience requirement is achieved. Basically, what I set out to do a year ago on my own, the ASA now sponsors and guides. In addition, GStat members enjoy all of the benefits of ASA accreditation, so there is no reason to wait to apply for the PStat®.

Becoming a GStat has given me the opportunity to talk a lot about the ASA and the accreditation program to other early career statisticians. In Boston, I was honored to serve on the accreditation informational panel. The panel broke into small groups to address questions from attendees, so I was able to speak with a couple of statistics students who were in the same place I was the year before. Speaking with them one-on-one was a rewarding experience, because I noticed these statisticians were not simply interested in accreditation, but in developing themselves personally and professionally to be highly skilled, involved, and informed graduates. And that is exactly what the accreditation program is looking for: statisticians who strive to be on top of their game—active professionals who are current with statistics and want to serve as resources for one another.

This network of accredited statisticians is, in my opinion, the most valuable benefit we share. However, it is not the only benefit. Both PStat® and GStat statisticians enjoy the following benefits of accreditation:

  • Discounts on Professional Development offerings at JSM and the Conference on Statistical Practice (CSP)
  • Free access to LearnSTAT OnDemand courses
  • Discounts on registration at CSP
  • JSM mixer exclusively for accredited members

The GStat program also offers mentoring for members who are transitioning to full PStat® status. Because the program is so new, we have not experienced many transitions from GStat to PStat®, but the mentoring program will grow as more people become eligible for full accreditation.

For student members of the ASA, these benefits supplement some of the benefits already given. For example, students receive lower fees for registration and Professional Development courses. The accreditation discounts are applied on top of the already discounted student fees. This year, I took full advantage of the double discount, participating in four short courses. Some of the students I spoke with at the informational session were interested in taking supplemental courses not offered by their graduate programs, so we pulled up the LearnSTAT OnDemand page to view all the free courses that come with accreditation. Yet another reason to become accredited now.

The application process to become a GStat is free and easy. The full list of requirements can be found at the ASA website, but, in brief, it requires the following:

GStat is an ASA accreditation, and therefore ASA membership is required to apply for and maintain it. Once accredited through the ASA, other professional organizations with accreditation programs also acknowledge the accreditation (and vice-versa).

The next step for my fellow GStats and me is full PStat® accreditation. The PStats® I have spoken with have given good advice for preparing to apply for the professional level of accreditation. Most often, I have been told to keep track of everything I do—professionally and personally—related to the field. This includes presentations, courses taken and taught, publications, conference attendances, and professional volunteer activities. When it comes time to submit a portfolio for review, having this timeline of events and samples of work will help expedite the process.

To me, accreditation has meant getting involved, networking, socializing, and simply enjoying our incredible discipline. It’s created more opportunities than I could have imagined and I am excited to watch the program expand as we continue to promote good statistical practice. I hope to see some of our GStats move over to the PStat® list and the list of accredited members grow.

If you are interested in accreditation, visit the ASA website.