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What would you think of a statistics major?

  1. May 26, 2012 #1
    Hi there,

    I enjoy mathematics, programming, and chemistry. However, I don't enjoy physics at all and I'm not good at it (if it's okay to say that on PhysicsForums haha). I think that makes engineering an unlikely path for me.

    Degrees in math or computer science at my university require physics; for statistics, my chemistry background would be sufficient. My question is: would a statistics degree accompanied by substantial coursework in math and computer science would be sufficient for a career in those areas? I might like actuarial or statistical work as well, but I don't know that yet.

    Thanks for your help!
  2. jcsd
  3. May 26, 2012 #2


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    Hey rolledoats and welcome to the forum.

    Statistics is a good choice and courses in computer science and mathematics are good complementary subjects because statistics often involves computer work of some sort and also understanding how to think about things mathematically in a general context.

    The reason for computer science being good is that often in analytical work, you will have to use new procedures, or maybe even write a bit of custom code in something like R or MATLAB or even C++ to do what you have to do.

    The thing you should be aware of with regard to a lot of applied mathematics jobs (including statistical work), is that often your job (if you work in a business environment) is not about doing the mathematics per se, but about using your results to help other people do things like make decisions.

    This means that along with the analytic skills that you will aquire being a statistician (or someone that has the same skill analogue), you also have to know how to take your results and explain it to someone with non-technical understanding who has their own specific understanding and background and also has some particular expectations from you that are non-technical.

    In a decent applied math program, you should be doing this kind of thing a lot so you will most likely get this kind of training in your degree in some form, but it's important to keep this in the back of your mind.

    If you are interested in actuarial work, I'd recommend you take the year-long intro uni sequence to probability and statistics and then take a look at the exams offered by your actuarial society. The thing is that this first year sequence will provide the basis for the very first exam and if end up choosing not to pursue this, then it's better to know this earlier rather than later.

    If you are in the US, the societies including the CAS and SOA and you can look these up on google to find more information. There is also a very popular forum for aspiring and current actuaries:

  4. May 27, 2012 #3
    I took a 'Careers in Statistics' seminar course, and almost all of the presenters said you need more than Bachelor's to do "interesting" statistical work. That may have just been a matter of bias (most of them had PhD's, all had some advanced degree) - there certainly seem to be good job prospects with a just a BS - but the idea was that those with advanced degrees had more freedom to do their own thing, rather than just being given a few rote tasks.

    If you do choose to do statistics in grad school, you'll want a stronger mathematical background than a statistics major likely provides. Real Analysis and Numerical Analysis are both useful, and Linear Algebra is very important. At my school at least, the math department's probability sequence is far more rigorous and comprehensive than what's offered by the statistics department. There are other courses that are potentially useful (like Combinatorics and Graph Theory) or are just give you a better general understanding of math (I found this was the case with Topology and Set Theory but YMMV).

    You'll probably also want to have a solid programming background. Definitely be familiar with some statistical software tools (like R), and from what I've heard SQL is used a lot for handling data. Depending on what you study, more advanced computer science could be useful or even necessary.

    That doesn't necessarily mean Statistics is a bad choice for a major if you're planning on grad school. You just need to know what you're missing and make up for it. Grad schools are going to be more interested in what you've taken than what your degree says. Employers might be care a bit more about your major, at least for your first job, but your actual skills are probably more important in the long run.
  5. May 27, 2012 #4
    Go for advanced computing. Almost all computer science branches will use mathematics and progrmamming skills. Furthur u can go for chemical engineering and molecular designing whi which will use chemistry skills.
  6. May 28, 2012 #5
    Thanks for your help. I am going to study physics this summer and try to give it another shot next term, but it's good to have a fallback option.

    While I'm at it, I have another question:
    First, I'm not opposed to a 'work to live' mentality (vs. 'live to work') but at this point in my life I'd like to at least try to find something interesting. I mostly like things that are 'real' in the sense that they have a tangible impact and can be seen working, e.g., not just software on a screen. Second, extended computer use is not something I enjoy. In addition to eye strain and headaches I also get kind of tense sitting in front of a computer. The physical motion of writing helps me stay focused and calm. Third, I am somewhat of a people person and I like coordinating projects or presenting information.

    Is there room for someone with those characteristics in the computing field?
  7. May 28, 2012 #6


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    I can't imagine avoiding large amounts of computer time for most positions in a computing field: just kind of goes with the territory and nature of the work.

    Even if you were say a manager or some general kind of decision maker either for projects, or a higher level of direction, you would no doubt have to had a decent amount of experience to warrant such a position which would mean that you have gained experience sitting at a computer doing the kind of thing you despise.

    One thing that you could do is be a kind of analyst that goes away, works on a problem directed to you by your boss in which you present the information and give recommendations that they 'may' use (they often probably won't depending on the nature of the problem and who its for).

    But you will still have to do the analytic work required and usually that translates into staring at a computer at the end of the day.
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