What Supports the Big Tent for Statistics and Data Science?

Katherine Monti, an ASA Fellow and vice president, was previously the Council of Chapters representative to the ASA Board. She has served the ASA in other capacities, as well, including chairing the Committee on Fellows, Advisory Committee on Continuing Education, and Biopharmaceutical Section. Additionally, she was active in the Boston Chapter, including serving as president.

The ASA is the big tent for statistics and data science, but it isn’t always clear how that tent is held up. New members, and even some not-so-new members, of the ASA understandably have confusion about how the ASA is organized. While the ASA website has all the pieces of information, it can be daunting to figure out how the pieces fit together. I’ve heard questions such as the following:

“Why does the ASA have three presidents?”

“How can I be elected to an ASA committee?”

“What’s the difference between a chapter and a section?”

These and other questions reflecting a knowledge gap about our association were the inspiration for this article

So, what are the poles holding up the big tent of statistics and data science? And how can you help hold up this oh-so-impressive tent? Read on!

ASA Organizational Structure

The Big Picture

The ASA is governed by a board of directors, and supporting the work of the board are a number of committees, each with a particular focus. The ASA also has chapters and student chapters, which are location-defined groups of statisticians, and sections, which are groups of statisticians who join together around topic areas. Additionally, the ASA has four affiliated “outreach groups,” statisticians having a common interest that does not fit within the chapter or section structure. These various groups form poles of our big tent.

The board members, committee members, and chapter and section officers are all volunteers, without whom the ASA would dissolve. However, this army of hundreds of dedicated volunteers relies heavily on the ASA’s professional staff for essential support. The staff helps the volunteers run conferences large and small, facilitates the production of statistical journals, addresses numerous topics of interest to statisticians, provides an array of opportunities for statisticians to exchange ideas, supports our strategic plan, and sees that the business of the organization gets done. The office staff serves as the vital center pole of our big tent.


Let’s start with chapters, which offer an easy entry into becoming active in the ASA for many statisticians and data scientists. Chapters are geographically defined units of the ASA, designed to organize local meetings, provide networking and professional development opportunities, and support local community initiatives.

The larger chapters organize multiple meetings and activities per year, while smaller chapters may meet only once a year. The calendars depend on the interest and enthusiasm of the local members. Chapters largely organize themselves, run their own election of officers, and manage their own programs.

Various resources to help chapters are available. If your chapter would like to have an outside speaker come give a talk or a short course, the Council of Chapters Traveling Courses provide such an opportunity at a few chapters each year. Additionally, the Committee on Membership Retention and Recruitment developed a speaker’s bureau, a list of speakers who are willing to travel short distances to give talks at chapters or other groups. Interested in giving a talk to a school group or college group promoting interest in statistics? There is online material available to help with such a presentation:

Want some swag to hand out to the students at such an event? The staff can help you out. Email Jack Joyce.

One excellent way to become involved in the ASA is to join a chapter (dues are minimal) and raise your hand to volunteer on a local level. Depending on where you live, you might be interested in joining more than one chapter. Another way to get involved is to join the Speaker’s Bureau and have the opportunity to speak at nearby institutions.

Organizationally, the chapters are grouped into three geographic regions, each with two districts. The districts are arranged to have roughly the same number of chapters and members, with the map reviewed periodically and revised as necessary. Some chapters serve multiple states, (e.g., the Boston Chapter serves all of Massachusetts, as well as Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine), while other states have multiple chapters (e.g., Ohio has CincinnatiCleveland, and Columbus).

The chapters are coordinated by the Council of Chapters (COC), which is composed of representatives from each chapter. The COC’s officers are elected in the ASA’s spring elections according to the governance document of the council’s charter, while the chapter’s individual officers are elected according the chapter’s own constitution.

Most of the ASA chapters have been around for decades, but student chapters are a relatively new creation, starting in 2014 and exploding to nearly 100 schools now. The student chapters are more informally run and are identified with a specific institution. Your school doesn’t have one? Get involved and start one yourself—it’s not hard to do!


Sections are organized by topic (e.g., biopharmaceuticals, nonparametric statistics, survey sampling, statistical education, marketing), not geography, There are 29 sections and eight interest groups. An interest group is generally a newly formed entity that can mature into a section if there is enough interest as exhibited by sufficient and sustained participation. See a list of sections and interest groups and details.

Sections are the mainstay of the Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM), the major statistics conference of the year held every summer.

Each section is allotted between one and four invited sessions in the program, with the allotment being a function of factors such as the membership of the section, attendance at JSM, and the number of submissions received; some additional slots are competitive, so a section may “win” an extra invited session some years.

Besides invited sessions, other opportunities for section involvement at JSM include sponsorship of topic-contributed sessions, contributed paper sessions, speed sessions, poster sessions, roundtable discussions, and short courses.

Some sections have JSM-related awards, such as a “best contributed paper” award and/or a “best student paper” award. Apart from JSM, some sections offer educational webinars at times throughout the year, and some sections even sponsor an additional conference apart from JSM. No doubt about it, sections are a big pole holding up the ASA’s tent.

It’s easy to join a section: pay the (minimal) dues and voilà, you are a member. You will then receive the section’s newsletter (for sections that distribute one) and other information of interest. If you want to become more involved, reach out to the section leaders and, once again, raise your hand.

If you are able to go to JSM, attend the section’s mixer. Some sections need other hands on deck at the meetings, so offer to help.

Once you become active in the section, you may be interested in running for office. Elections are held with the general ASA elections in the spring, with section members voting for their section leadership.

Sections are governed according the Council of Sections (COS) charter.


There are dozens of committees, all run by volunteers, that accomplish a lot of the “work” of the ASA. There are so-called “council” and “non-council” committees, with the Education Council, Membership Council, and Professional Issues and Visibility Council (each chaired by one of the ASA’s vice presidents) including 27 committees. There is also an Awards Council, which includes a committee for selecting the recipient(s) of ASA non-Fellow awards, and a number of non-council committees, including the ASA Board of Directors, JSM program committees, and committees to manage publications.

Each committee has a charge from the board that defines its focus. Sometimes that focus is directed, but committees have leeway in how they carry out their charge. For example, the Committee on Minorities in Statistics now runs a significant mentoring program and coordinates the annual StatFest for historically under-represented undergraduates. The Committee of Applied Statisticians developed a series of webinars on collaboration skills, and as mentioned above, the Committee on Membership Retention and Recruitment developed the Speaker’s Bureau. In each case, these efforts reflect not only the charge of the committee, but also the imagination, energy, and talents of past and current committee members.

Committee members are appointed, not elected. For those interested in becoming involved in the ASA for the first time, take a look at the “council” committees, particularly those aforementioned 27 committees. Those committees are perhaps the ones most accessible to someone relatively new to participating in the ASA. Most have nine members, three of whom are appointed every year for a three-year term. Although committee members can be reappointed for a second three-year reappointment term, most committees have at least one or two new appointments every year. Anyone interested in serving on any of those committees is invited to contact the chair (or any other member) of the committee, including the council chair and/or vice chair, to express interest.

Alternatively, one can register interest on the ASA website.

Some committees are so active they are happy to have volunteers who support them without being official committee members. If you are interested in appointment to a committee, one way is to join as a “friend” of the committee—nothing like “showing up for work” as a friend to get noticed and recommended for appointment!

How do you know which committee might pique your interest? Look at the committee’s charge and search the ASA website to see what the committee has been doing. The committee chairs and co-chairs are also great sources of information about how to become involved.

Outreach Groups

While chapters are organized by geographical region and sections focus on topics in statistics, outreach groups serve statisticians with common interests outside of those categories. Currently, there are four such groups: the Caucus of Academic Representatives; International Community of Russian-Speaking Statisticians; Isolated Statisticians; and Statistics Without Borders.

Board of Directors

Per the ASA constitution, “the Board of Directors is the policy-making and legislative body of the Association.” Every year, ASA members vote to elect members to serve three-year terms on the board. The person who wins the office of president-elect will serve one year in that position, the following year as president, and the third year as past president. Each position has different responsibilities but, at any given time, there is one person serving as president.

In the spring elections, the membership also elects a vice president, a representative from the COC, and a representative from the COS, each of whom also are elected to serve three-year terms. On a rotating schedule, an international representative and publications representative are also elected to serve three-year terms. The board also includes two non-voting members: the secretary (ex officio, the ASA executive director) and an appointed treasurer.

The three-year terms start January 1 of the following year. There is a nominating committee each year that reviews suggested nominees and selects potential candidates to run for office; two candidates are usually on the ballot for each position. These candidates tend to be long-term members who, through volunteer efforts in chapters or sections or on committees, have demonstrated their effectiveness and willingness to serve.

Those interested in more information can review the documents governing the operation of the board and the ASA—namely the constitution and bylaws—as well as the strategic plan.

ASA Staff

The ASA is a busy organization! Keeping the whole show running is the ASA staff, headed by Executive Director Ron Wasserstein. (Perhaps we should call him the ringmaster for this big tent?) Ron and his staff provide a liaison to each committee, each council, and every major activity of the ASA. They help run meetings; coordinate publications; support communications; organize initiatives; support ASA interests in public policy; and facilitate activities for chapters, sections, and professional development. They manage memberships, facilitate advertising, negotiate contracts, drum up contributions, and pay the bills. They make sure issues are addressed in a timely manner, and they do so efficiently, effectively, and professionally. We, the volunteers, would undoubtedly flounder in disarray without the leadership and assistance provided by the staff.

Central Activities

Now a bit about some of the central activities, all of which provide different opportunities for member involvement.


While not a separate administrative entity, the ASA’s publications are a huge part of the organization. The ASA publishes or co-publishes 17 journals. Overall, thousands of articles every year are submitted to the journals for consideration by the volunteer editors, associate editors, and a small army of reviewers. Reviewers (volunteers again) are selected based on their expertise in an area.

The jointly owned journals have their own management committees, the chair of which serves on the Committee on Publications along with a representative appointed by the editorial board of each wholly owned journal, three at-large representatives appointed by the president-elect, and the publications representative elected to serve on the board of directors. As with other committees, appointments are for three-year terms, but the journal editors are appointed for five-year stints.

The ASA also supports three magazines: Amstat News, the monthly membership magazine; CHANCE; and, in collaboration with the Royal Statistical Society, Significance. CHANCE and Significance publish short, applied articles aimed at a general audience.

Papers from JSM are published in the proceedings, free with your registration but available for purchase for those not attending. A long list of excellent teaching materials, largely but not entirely aimed at K–12 education, are also available—and some of them are free!


JSM is the annual meeting of the ASA, attended by more than 6,500 statisticians every year. The important role of the sections in this meeting was noted above, but sections aren’t alone. The partner associations, COC, committees and interest groups, and others organize and sponsor sessions at JSM. These groups, as well as each section, have a representative on the JSM Planning Committee, which coordinates the selection and timing of the presentations. Other important contributors to JSM are the Advisory Committee on Continuing Education (which organizes the short courses) and the ASA staff (which makes it all work). Kathleen Wert, the ASA’s director of meetings, explains more about JSM and how to participate in a short video.

The ASA also sponsors or cosponsors (sometimes with sections) other conferences and workshops and, of course, numerous smaller meetings and workshops are organized and held at chapter events. As noted above, chapters organize their own meetings. All these meetings provide even more opportunities for participation.

ASA Community

As a member of the ASA, you can join the online ASA Community to share ideas with others in chapters, sections, and outreach groups of interest, as well as the ASA community at large. The blog provides an informal way to get help or advice, share news of interest, post information about an upcoming event, or otherwise interact with other statisticians online. If you have a question to ask or information to share, you can post in the relevant community.

There is so much going on within the ASA it is almost dizzying. My hope is this article will help some of you navigate more comfortably under the Big Tent of Statistics and Data Science that is the ASA.

Your Questions Answered