Building a Portfolio Increases Your Job Prospects

Matthew Krachey is a data scientist at ZenBusiness, focused on experimentation, risk, and marketing. He studied statistical ecology at North Carolina State University. 

Esther M. Pearson is a statistician, technologist, researcher, and adjunct professor in the graduate school of mathematics and data analytics at Franklin University.


Philip Waggoner is the director of data science at YouGov America and a research scholar at Columbia University.

Meg Ruyle, ASA Graphic Designer and Production Coordinator

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Matthew Krachey—a member of the ASA Committee on Career Development—was concerned early-career statisticians would be at a disadvantage when job hunting because they wouldn’t necessarily have as much in-person experience as candidates during non-COVID times.

So, Krachey proposed an initiative in 2021 to the ASA Committee on Career Development that would introduce statisticians and data scientists to the latest technology for developing an online professional portfolio. “Someone with two years of experience in clinical trials will seem much more attractive than a new graduate,” Krachey said. “Building a portfolio with a blog that has well-presented advanced material would be a more effective way to allow hiring managers to understand the abilities of a candidate.”

The goal for the project is to teach scholars, researchers, and practitioners of all backgrounds and skill levels to cultivate a strong online presence. “It is important to build an online portfolio to be able to efficiently advertise your work and build your network,” Phillip Waggoner, portfolio project lead, and Esther Pearson, Committee on Career Development member, wrote in an email. Both are active developers of the Portfolio Project. “There is increasing demand, especially for younger scholars and practitioners to show, not tell,” they continued.

It’s also important for those looking to change industries or fields. This may be an opportunity to demonstrate some aptitude for someone switching from academia, industry, or government to a new area, Krachey said.

The online portfolio is a powerful and easy way to show previous work and public analyses. “Synthesizing and reprocessing past work can be useful for mastering elevator pitches of one’s work and learning how to communicate technical ideas better, which is a master skill for experienced statisticians,” Krachey said.

Employers often want to find out more about a candidate than they can glean from a social media site. “LinkedIn and related sites are more geared toward networking, with much less attention paid to showcasing work, skills, and abilities,” Waggoner and Pearson wrote. “While a valuable tool, these types of online networking sites should, in our opinion, be considered a complement to an online portfolio, rather than a substitution for one.”

Krachey agrees. “An online portfolio would be well at home in a LinkedIn bio, but it would be easy to post links to specific blog/analysis entries to share,” he said.

Tweets such as the one from Daniela Witten above show a strong web presence is necessary today.

Waggoner and Pearson recommend thinking about the online portfolio as a home base from which to link professional sites such as LinkedIn, Google Scholar, and GitHub. Some academics have a similar site, often hosted by their institution, but Waggoner and Pearson imagine the portfolio to be like an academic website 2.0: portable and with more content, better organization, and a crisp, streamlined design.

Getting Started

Since the purpose of the project is to make it easy to create portfolio blogs, the committee chose to use R’s blogdown package, which lets users create websites with little initial configuration and simple blog posts using R Markdown.

“Blogdown uses Hugo to generate the websites, which is fast and highly customizable, but it should be noted that these websites are not dynamic,” Krachey said. “We use a free-tier Netlify account that publishes the website updates within about a minute of a pull request.”

In general, people need to set up a GitHub account (free), download RStudio, and read the first chapter, “Get Started” in Blogdown, wrote Waggoner and Pearson. “This will get people up and running.”

Using these basic tools will demonstrate a level of technical proficiency, but using a more complicated tech stack than what the committee recommends would be one way of showing more advanced technical ability. “There are certainly a lot of bells and whistles that could be added, like dynamic content, but for the goals of creating a site that documents thoughtful analyses, visualizations, and such, the Hugo-R Markdown stack should work for most,” Krachey said.

The Committee on Career Development’s Portfolio Project is ongoing. “We are envisioning The Portfolio Project as a living project with new posts, tips and tricks, and other content dedicated to helping researchers and practitioners develop and strengthen their online presence,” Waggoner and Pearson wrote. “Thus, keep an eye out for new content.”