My Path to Accreditation: How to Bolster Your Statistical Career

Jeanne Li graduated summa cum laude from Colorado State University with a BS in psychology. After completing her first MA in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, she earned her second MA in statistics and graduated first in her class. She has been working as the research statistician at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for three years, applying her statistical knowledge to biomedical research.

Like many statisticians, I enjoy reflecting. These days, I’ve found myself reflecting upon the past few years working as the research statistician at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. Being an ASA member and accredited Graduate Statistician (GStat) has significantly helped me stay involved with the statistical community and continue furthering my technical and leadership skills in practicing statistics. I’d like to share with you why I joined the ASA and sought the entry-level GStat accreditation, as well as how I have been preparing myself for the full Professional Statistician (PStat) accreditation. I hope my experiences help you plan your career in statistics, especially if you are just beginning your statistics journey. Considering accreditation and professional activities early on may add value to your career as a statistician or data scientist and open doors to community and mentorship.

Though this is my first job after graduate school, it didn’t take long to acclimate. A few months in and I was fully enjoying my part in collaborating with clinicians on medical research. But as I was (and still am) the sole research statistician in my organization, I felt the need to find a statistical community, so I could connect with peers, talk about career paths, and stay up to date on statistical developments. My supervisor encouraged me to look for a mentor in statistics and join a statistical association. I did some research, which is as much a hobby as it is a profession for me, and found the ASA.

As soon as I joined the ASA in 2017, the prospect of accreditation drew my attention. Not only would it provide a measure of assurance to my stakeholders, but it would also allow me to take continuing education courses at ASA conferences at a discounted rate—providing an extra incentive for my employer. As GStat only requires an advanced degree (PStat calls for a substantial amount of work experience), GStat was the right level of accreditation for me. I followed the instructions on the ASA website and put together an application. It wasn’t long after that I had my GStat accreditation.

In addition to the aforementioned benefits, being a GStat provides the opportunity for my professional progress to be reviewed by members of the Accreditation Committee for full PStat status. The accreditation contact, Donna Lalonde, and I have bonded over my numerous inquiries (maybe a few more than she would have liked), and she has always given me quick and helpful feedback.

Since receiving my GStat accreditation, I’ve been actively preparing to apply for the PStat. Some of the requirements are straightforward, but nevertheless critical: You must be an ASA member, adhere to ethical standards, and meet educational and experiential requirements. Though these standards are important, I am going to focus on three additional PStat requirements as I share my experiences and tips with you.

Professional Competence

Evidence of professional competence may vary depending on where you practice statistics or conduct research, as almost every domain has a need for statisticians. For those who conduct research, whether in academia or industry, publications can be important, though not the only components necessary to demonstrate your professional competence. Toward this end, I have published a few peer-reviewed research articles and have a few under review.

As I have performed research in both graduate school and my current job, I have come to realize collaboration is a critical component in conducting and publishing quality work. Collaboration is invaluable, as you get to learn from and capitalize on each other’s domains of expertise. On the flip side, there is the possibility complications can arise.

One experience that sticks out to me is collaborating with a resident physician on a viral infection study. The research process was going smoothly, and the preliminary results were presented at an infectious disease conference. However, as the doctor was about to move on to her fellowship program across the country, her availability for writing a manuscript became limited. I debated long and hard. I was not the lead or senior investigator on this project and did not want to overstep my role; however, I had put a substantial amount of effort into the study and wanted to see it through to publication. I finally expressed my interest to both the resident physician and senior investigator and was able to take over and publish an original research article as the lead author.

My takeaways from this experience are the following: 1) make your goals known so others can help you accomplish them, which may also be in their interest, and 2) collaboration is a dynamic process, so don’t shy away from opportunities when an emerging leader is needed.

Communication Skills

No matter how savvy a statistician or data scientist you are, if you can’t get the message across to your audience in a way that is easily accessible to them, you will probably have a hard time affecting your colleagues and the business surrounding your work. I became conscious about improving my communication skills once I realized they are crucial on both a professional and interpersonal level.

To improve, I’ve read a few books about effective communication and public speaking. This has been tremendously helpful for learning tactics to engage audiences. You may have heard that speakers should start presentations with a joke or story to captivate their audience, but we are often too serious to make jokes and notorious for raining on the storytelling parade. In our defense, stories are anecdotal and often outliers, especially the good ones.

It took me a while to change this mindset. After all, when I communicate—or especially present—a topic, it’s not about me or what I want to deliver; it’s about what my audience can take away from what I deliver. Therefore, it’s a good idea to tailor your communication style to your audience so the technical material you present can be received easily. Analogies can be a good alternative if you’re not a natural storyteller. Your audience would appreciate a commonly understood analogy or one that is specific to their field.

Professional Development

Whether you’re finishing your degree or just starting your statistical career, you’ve come a long way to be where you are today. However, it is not the end of your professional development journey. New methodologies in statistics emerge and advance quickly—and we need to keep up. Additionally, interpersonal career skills are usually not offered in graduate school, even though they are critical for professional success, not to mention moving up the career ladder.

To keep pace with statistical advances and connect with peers outside your organization, attend conferences. The ASA organizes many statistical conferences throughout the year. Personally, I have attended the Conference on Statistical Practice and Symposium on Data Science and Statistics (SDSS), both of which were extremely beneficial. My favorite experiences include connecting with mentors and peers, attending short courses for formal continuing education, and hearing presentations from statisticians and data scientists whose work may be different from my own. I’m always fascinated by the cutting-edge methodologies we constantly develop and use in our field and the extent to which our work affects other sectors.

The ASA has been an eager advocate for statisticians pursuing leadership roles—one of my favorite topics to read about in Amstat News. Unfortunately, outside of MBA programs, career and leadership skills are often not taught in school and we have to pick them up on the job or through some type of formal training.

I was thrilled when I found out I was selected for a leadership program within my organization earlier this year. Health Professionals Institute is a rigorous program comprised of 17 courses and a capstone project. It is designed to cultivate emerging leaders. I’m well on my way and have learned so much about working with different personalities, having difficult conversations, and negotiating. If this type of career training is important to you, I recommend finding an employer that offers similar continuing education programs when you look for a job.

On the whole, earning my GStat accreditation and becoming involved with the ASA has made my statistical career a fulfilling journey thus far, and I am excited to pursue the PStat accreditation. I encourage anyone with a substantial quantitative component to their advanced degree to reach out to members of the ASA Accreditation Committee.

I hope my experiences and advice from the world of statistics are helpful as you walk your own path.