Jobs abound for statistics majors

Students around the country are facing a sluggish job market, but the field of statistics might be the saving grace for students willing to brave a math major.

Students with a doctoral degree in statistics can earn $125,000 a year after graduation, the New York Times reported earlier this month, and the field is one of the few that is still growing. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of non-academic jobs for statisticians is expected to increase through 2016.

“You need it to logically function in society, even to read the news,” said Dr. Reza Modarres, who specializes in statistical computing and serves as the chairman of the University’s statistics department.

Modarres said degrees in statistics are particularly useful in medicine and business, where statisticians look for useful trends in data. Roughly 2,000 GW students participate in statistics courses annually, but there are only 20 statistics majors currently at GW, and only nine graduated last year, Modarres said.

Samuel Arenberg is graduating in December with a double major in economics and statistics. He said he wants to pursue a Ph.D. in economics or statistics and eventually work full-time as a statistician.

“I’ve always been mathematically inclined and quite keen on the idea of expanding a tiny morsel of knowledge into large concepts,” Arenberg said. “I found statistics.”

But there is often little exposure to the field during high school, so students are less likely to take courses in college, Mordarres said.

“They are not exposed to it early enough,” Modarres said. “Economics is better understood after high school, so more students are economics majors.”

The program at GW, founded in 1935, was the first statistics department in a college of arts and sciences in the U.S. It offers bachelor’s, master’s and and doctoral degrees in statistics, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees in biostatistics and in epidemiology, and a graduate certificate in survey design and data analysis.

In August, faculty members in the GW statistics department participated in the American Statistical Association Conference in Washington, which was attended by more than 6,000 people. Modarres served as a panelist about the impact of statistics in different scientific fields and presented a paper on depth analysis with Zhenyu Liu, a Ph.D. candidate at GW.

Dr. Efstathia Bura, an associate professor in statistics at GW, says statistics are used in “any applied or social science,” including marketing, astronomy and genetics.

“It’s a great tool to understand the processes that give rise to the observed data and to make decisions and hedge the risk associated with them,” Bura said. “The students get tools to make sense of an increasingly complex world.”

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