The Local ASA Chapter Is My Justice League

Scott McClintock earned his PhD in statistics from the University of Kentucky. He has spent the 10 years since teaching statistics at West Chester University. His research interests include statistical education and financial statistics. He is the current president of the ASA’s Philadelphia Chapter.

I still recall a comic that emphasized the tragic childhood of Superman. After a hard day playing with his superdog, Krypto, a young, boyish Superman flies to the moon. Krypto is his best, in fact only, friend. He can only be himself with Krypto. He must hide his powers from everyone else to escape fear and persecution. He can’t play sports with the other children because he might throw the football too hard and decapitate somebody. He can’t make eye contact with a girl because he might accidentally incinerate her with his heat vision.

So, he sits on the moon instead.

And he gazes through the vast, empty, lonely depths of outer space. And he cries.

Of course, years later—after saving his beloved city dozens of times from tyrant dolphins and subterranean dinosaurillas and Friday the 13th—he finally discovers others like him. Wonder Woman! Batman! And everyone else! Through larger-than-life collaboration, they can tackle problems on a grander scale. Instead of helping old ladies cross the treacherous freeways of Metropolis, they instead are empowered to topple galactic dictatorships and fight world hunger and poverty. In their unity, they find increased productivity. And fulfillment.

And, best of all, friendship.

Surely some of us can relate? The lone statistics professor embedded within a mathematics department. The company’s single statistician. Or those who are “part” of a one-person statistical consulting team.

It’s easy to feel alone.

I was a bit like that young Superman when starting my own career. I was lucky enough to be the third statistician in my department, so loneliness was less of an issue. But I was myopic. And, perhaps this is something we might also be able to relate to, my entire statistical world for the first six years of my professional life was “The West Chester Math Building.” Thankfully, my world view was immeasurably broadened when I discovered the ASA.

The ASA was my professional turning point. My Justice League. And, for the most part, when I talk about the ASA, I am referring to my local chapter, the Philadelphia Chapter. Through our chapter, I learned firsthand about the amazing educational work being done not just by “The West Chester Math Building,” but by the dozens of surrounding colleges.

Through our chapter, I was humbled to learn about how our pharma colleagues are saving lives daily.

Through our chapter, I was astounded to learn about the shrewd, innovative statistical techniques our financially oriented fellows use daily to keep our economy running smoothly.

Through our chapter, I’ve seen the amazing, altruistic work in artificial intelligence being done by statisticians who are not only high-level researchers, but also my neighbors. Work that is doubtlessly poised to change the world.

Most amazing of all, this is just the tip of the vast iceberg that is Philadelphia.

I wish I hadn’t wasted those six years. I wish I could have discovered the ASA earlier in my career, much as—I would imagine—Superman wishes he could have met Batman and Wonder Woman on some toddler playdate. But! While it is too late for us as it is, it is never too late for you. And, with that in mind, I hope you will consider the following suggestions:

  1. If you have not already, please consider joining your local ASA chapter.
  2. If you have already joined, then please consider reaching out to those around you and encouraging them to also join. If you are a teacher/professor, consider advertising the ASA’s astoundingly low (and perhaps financially irresponsible) student rates. Heck, consider asking your department or school to help pay for such memberships—if nothing else, through a raffle or data-thon. Ask professional colleagues to consider membership, as well. For those who are daunted by the nonstudent price tag of full-blown ASA membership, consider the possibility of chapter-only membership.
  3. Consider reaching out to those who run your chapter. At the end of the day, we get out of life what we put into it, and we cannot discover the joys and benefits of a community without walking out of our own front door. What can the chapter do for you that would be personally meaningful? Even more importantly, in your discussions with colleagues who are not currently ASA members, ask them what the chapter might do that would make enrolling worthwhile for them. At the end of the day, your chapter is your chapter. And, despite being part of a vast, national organization, chapters still have the flexibility and freedom to be whatever we want them to be.

My hope as I started my tenure as chapter president was that we might find a way to unite, bringing together our unique powers and perspectives to best leverage our statistical super-heroism for the greater good.

Or, perhaps more humbly, to show the world our area has more to be proud of than sports teams and regional cuisine.