Advice from Statistics Alumni

“It’s important to develop both technical skills AND communication skills. A good communicator makes all the difference in the real world.”

-Amy Stubbendick ’96 Senior Biostatistician at Biogen Idec, a biotech company located in Cambridge, MA.

“Learn as much as you can about statistics – you might not realize it but statistics is one of the coolest, real-life applicable skills you will learn coming out of college.”

-Ethan Bischoff ’99 Data Analyst/Manager at Accenture

“1. It’s too damn easy to pass the time. Week after week. Paycheck after paycheck. Don’t let the days go by. Figure out what you REALLY want to do as early as possible.

2. Page through two books: What Color Is Your Parachute (2005) and Knock ‘Em Dead (2005). They offer very different perspectives on the job search. The first helps you figure out what you ultimately want to do and then emphasizes that there’s a back door strategy to landing a job where you shouldn’t have to send out hundreds of resumes. The latter has practical hands-on strategies for facing an interview once you know what job you’re going for specifically.”

-Andrew Patterson ’99 Database Marketing Analyst

“There are so many opportunities for someone who understands statistics. I did not realize how many areas of applications there were until I went to graduate school and started attending conferences. Whatever you do, find an area of interest and pursue it. If it doesn’t turn out or if you change your mind, there is always another area out there that needs work. Statistics allows one to experiment in a lot of fields, yet gives you the flexibility to change if not entirely statisfied.”

-Christine Kohnen ’00 Professor of Statistics at University of Richmond

“Depending on why you’re a stats concentrator: a. If you have something you care about, stats can only help. The more of it you know, the more likely you are to be a rockstar [economist/sociologist/doctor/philosopher king/whatever]. b. If it’s just “playing with data” you like, stats really is good way to open all kinds of doors. dream big. c. If it’s really “statistics” you like, I don’t think you actually need any of the “statistics” at Olaf. (it doesn’t hurt, of course, but if you don’t get it, you’ll pick it up somewhere). Instead, learn linear algebra. Take all of the analysis. And do a little serious programming.”

-Amanda Cox ’01 Graphics design editor for the New York Times

“If you are interested in applied statistics, it would be helpful to develop a substantive area of interest (e.g., economics, sociology, psychology, biology, medicine). Also take as many applied statistics courses as possible (economics might offer econometrics; I know psychology used to offer experimental design). The combination of a substantive area with knowledge of statistics makes you extremely marketable.”

-Kevin Yoder ’94 Professor of sociology at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX

“If you are interested in becoming a statistician, I would highly recommend getting at least an M.S. degree in stats. I would also recommend becoming proficient in SAS since most employers (especially Fortune 500) use SAS for statistical analysis. Finally, I would recommend finding a summer internship to any student in stat at St. Olaf.”

-Jon Francis ’94 Senior Statistician at

“One way to focus your job or graduate schools goals is to combine statistics with other skills and interests. I have been able to combine my two interests–history and math, my majors at St. Olaf–in academic work and in my job. I am a demographic historian and I recently completed a Ph.D. in history at the University of Minnesota. My statistics background was a great advantage in my studies. Combining statistical knowledge with writing skills, however, has been critical for my jobs throughout graduate school.”

-Catherine Fitch ’95 Research Coordinator at the Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota

“I think that industry in general has a great need for statistical analysis, but the people in charge don’t always know it. I would say be prepared to find ways to be creative with what you’ve learned, don’t expect to just be told what to do. Everywhere I look in my organization, we have tons of data, yet not many know how to use that data to enhance reporting at the organization. Also, I would say do as much as you can to learn the current software tools. Data is typically gathered in a sql-compliant database, so a basic knowledge of SQL would be good too.”

-Matthew Eliason ’97 Application Architect at US Bank

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind….You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ seems like good general advice. For specific advice, I’d have to know the student!”

-Nathan Grawe ’96 Professor of Economics at Carleton College

“Learn how to balance your career and your life as soon as you can.”

-Julie Mattson ’99 Actuary at Towers Perrin

“Learn lots of software if you can, take a computer programming class or two. There are a lot more options for students with bachelor’s degrees than you might think, but the job pool becomes a lot larger when you have a Master’s degree. Mayo is about the only place I know of where you can do academic work (publish papers in scholarly journals) with only a BA, but many for-profit companies have bachelor’s-level statisticians as well, such as insurance companies, medical device companies like Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Guidant, American Medical Systems, etc, pharmaceutical companies as well as most manufacturers also use statisticians. Think long and hard about what your goals are in your career, do you want to publish papers in scholarly journals (expect to make less money than if you were in the for-profit domain) or do you want to help a company get FDA or other types of approval for their products (a lot more money in this line of work, but no publications). Gettting a Master’s degree is harder (and more competitive) than getting a bachelor’s degree. Don’t expect to walk in and get A’s without a lot of very hard work (even if you thought undergraduate was a breeze!). From my experience, MS programs in statistics tend to be harder than most other MS programs. If you’re not 100% sure that you love statistics, there are lots of other areas you can focus on like Epidemiology, Public Health, Public Policy, Social Sciences, etc. that would give you an opportunity to use some statistics, but wouldn’t necessarily lock you into working with numbers all day long.”

-Erin McMurtry ’01 Data Analyst at Mayo Clinic

“An advanced degree (in stats. or other areas) will assist greatly in opening job/career opportunities.”

-Anne Otte ’94 Independent Consultant in Clinical Study Management Companies

“Statistics is something that is applicable to all fields–I chose to specialize in statistics applied to the biomedical field because of how much more meaningful it is (as compared to the business world) although I had very little science background before graduate school. If you want to continue with Statistics after St. Olaf, UW has an excellent school that focuses more on the theoretical math of statistics relative to other programs (which tend to me more applied).”

-Leslie Taylor ’01 PhD Program at University of Washington

“Career-wise, probably the best advice I could give is to go to grad school. My career has been entirely in academia and a Master’s degree is almost a necessity here. The school doesn’t have to be a great school–though I think a good school probably does give one a slight edge–because I think simply having an MA/MS will open many more doors in the academic world. And, if you really want a job, specialize in genetics (esp. proteomics) or finance. Life-wise…well, I guess I’d say get a job where you could actually help people. It makes the job much more rewarding.”

-Ryan Wiegand ’00 Research Associate, Medical University of South Carolina

“Only consider graduate school if you’re very, very serious about it.”

-Ben French ’01 PhD Student, University of Washington-Seattle

“In my case, I would advise a student to work with real data analysis projects and to work on his or her communication skills. I find myself drafting memos and e-mails to investigators and data entry personnel every day. Being able to describe a problem or study results to different personnel levels on a research project has been challenging at times.”

-Alfred Furth ’98 Statistician, Mayo Clinic

“1. Get as much practical experience as you can (ie Math Practicum, REU’s, or any other data analysis or research opportunities you can find.) 2. If graduate school is in your future, it definitely helps to have a good idea of what your long-range goals are before deciding on a program. Some schools track you towards more applied work (like what I’m doing at my current job), while others are much more PhD-oriented and focus more on theory from the beginning.”

-Lynne Peeples ’02 Biostatistician and Grad Student, Center for Biostatistics in AIDS Research, Harvard School of Public Health

“Without my statistics concentration, I would never have accepted a research assistant position with the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, DC after graduating from St. Olaf since this position revolved around statistical analysis (econometrics) and programming. It is because of this position that I have such a strong understanding of the US stock market and been able to advance in my current field. So, my advice is that very few people will have the background that you will have after graduating from St. Olaf, take advantage of it with the idea that you may have to start one or two degrees away from your ideal field.”

-Eric Richards ’99 Equity Research Associate; Bear, Stearns & Co.