It is certainly not a career choice for the uncommitted, but pursuing a postgraduate degree in statistics does open more doors than you might think and you dont necessarily need a maths degree to pursue this option.
Mention the word statistics and most people will dive for the exit as they draw a mental picture of balding men with thick glasses spending too much time in airless rooms poring over meaningless numbers.
Statistics can be defined as the scientific application of mathematical principles to the collection, analysis and presentation of numerical data. Statisticians contribute to scientific inquiry by applying their mathematical and statistical knowledge to the design of surveys and experiments; the collection, processing and analysis of data; and the interpretation of the results.
It may sound dull, but this work impacts on just about every walk of life. Knowledge of statistical methods can be applied to a variety of subject areas. Many economic, social, political and military decisions cannot be made without statistical techniques, such as the design of experiments to gain regulatory approval for a newly manufactured drug.
The search for improved medical treatments rests on careful experiments that compare promising new treatments with the current state of the art. Statisticians work with medical teams to design the experiments and to analyse the complex data they produce.
Studies of the environment require data on the abundance and location of plants and animals, on the spread of pollution from its sources and on the possible effects of changes in human activities.
The data is often incomplete or uncertain, but statisticians can help uncover its meaning.
The future of many industries and their employees depends on improvement in the quality of goods and services and in the efficiency with which they are produced and delivered. Improvement should be based on data rather than guesswork, meaning more companies are installing elaborate systems to collect and act on data in order to better serve their customers.
How many people are unemployed this month? What is the value of our exports to China? Are rates of violent crime increasing or decreasing? Government wants data on issues like these to guide policy and government statistical agencies provide them by surveys of households and businesses.
Are consumer tastes in television programmes changing? What are promising locations for a new retail outlet? Market researchers use both government data and their own surveys to answer questions like these. Statisticians design the elaborate surveys that gather data for both public and private use.
Some of the characteristics of a career in statistics include:
Using data to solve problems in a wide variety of fields
Applying mathematical and statistical knowledge to social, economic, medical, political and ecological problems
Working individually and/or as part of an interdisciplinary team
Travelling to consult with other professionals or to attend conferences, seminars and continuing education activities
Advancing the frontiers of statistics, mathematics and probability through education and research
Data analysis frequently involves a sophisticated interplay between the data and a mathematical model. Mathematical models provide the basis for much of the theoretical evaluation of statistical tools. Probability plays a central role in such models (and indeed in many other areas, from decision theory to quantum mechanics). The mathematics of probability and statistics is itself a fascinating subject in which quite subtle mathematical reasoning is required from an early stage.
The Department of Statistics at TCD offers a significant number of courses to mathematics graduates. Graduates of any other discipline may enrol in the part time conversion course, the Diploma in Statistics.
Postgraduate students currently pursing other courses or research degrees in TCD are also eligible to attend the Diploma in Statistics provided the course is complementary to their course of study and they have the permission of the Dean of Graduate Studies.
NUI Maynooths Higher Diploma in Statistics is available in one-year full time and two-year part time formats, and prior exposure to statistics is highly desirable in applicants. The course is a blend of abstract principles and practical techniques with applications to real-world problems, and is suitable for further postgraduate study or a career in areas such as the civil service, the pharmaceutical sector, banking and many more. Maynooth also provides a two-year MSc by research; which is often carried out through interesting collaborations with parties in other fields such as chemistry, archaeology, and medicine.
The Masters programme in Statistics at the UCC College of Science, Engineering and Food Science is intended to provide professional training in statistical theory and practice and to develop skills in computer-based analysis and interpretation of data. The programme consists of course work and completion of a project, which is written up as a minor thesis.
In order to be permitted to proceed to the Masters degree in Statistics, a candidate must have obtained at least a second class honours in his/her primary degree, which must have had a substantial mathematical content. The candidate must also have an acceptable basic knowledge of statistics.
Entrants to the programme with a good honours degree in statistics can expect to complete the programme in 10 months. However, if in the opinion of the professor or lecturers concerned, the candidate's knowledge of statistics is deficient, the candidate may be required to take supplementary courses to remedy these deficiencies.
There is a local forum for those employed in this area to come together. The Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland (SSISI) is an all-Ireland body that has been in continuous existence since 1847. The society organises approximately six public meetings each year at which papers are read, followed by an open forum discussion.