Statistics is often seen as a challenging subject that combines complex math and deliberate critical thinking, leading many to believe that it is hard.
Statistics is not hard. Statistics is simply the usage of math and calculations to obtain information from data. Some may consider statistics to be hard if it has been taught to them out of context but statistics is a much easier discipline to understand when contextualized, from education to medicine to marketing.
What is Statistics?
Statistics is defined as the science of using information discovered through the study of data or numbers (source).
Data about people can be obtained in a number of ways, generally through some sort of poll, vote, or census from government organizations or research institutes.
Data about objects or situations are generally obtained through scientific investigations or analytic data run through computer programs.
Statistics is more than just data, however. It is the analysis and interpretation of data.
Data without interpretation is meaningless and statistics allow people to create meaning through data analysis.
However, you should be aware that data can also be manipulated through statistics by creating causalities or understandings that are not complete by ignoring other variables.
An example of this could be statistics about interracial marriage, which showed that only 11% of white newlyweds in 2015 were in an interracial marriage, compared to 29% of Asians, 27% of Hispanics and 18% of African Americans.
Using this data, one could assume that White people are less likely to be involved in an interracial marriage (source).
While this technically is true, it ignores the facts that the majority of Americans are caucasian which makes it more likely that a white person will find someone of their own race who they are compatible with, compared to the other races who are minorities and would find it more difficult to find a member of their own race that they are compatible with.
How are Statistics Used?
Did you know that the human eye blinks an average of 4,200,000 times a year? Now you have learned a new, possibly useless but nonetheless interesting piece of trivia.
Statistics may seem at times like a lot of unnecessary data, but the information that can be obtained from the data can serve multiple purposes.
Statistics is used in just about every field on the planet.
In medicine, statistics are used to calculate the chances of cancer risk, following the spread (and finding ways to control) disease outbreaks and monitoring how behavior is changing through the years.
These are only a few examples of the use of statistics in the field (source).
In education, any teacher worth their while will talk about the amount of data that is collected and used in a classroom.
From data analysis of assessments to show problem areas and find teaching solutions, to assessing teacher performance, data is vital in education.
Within the government, statistics are used for surveys and censuses. Statistics obtained can be used to help make decisions about government expenditure and budget.
Politicians use statistics to analyze voter registration, their approval ratings and make predictions for elections.
Statistics and Math
Statistics and mathematics have a strong relationship. Statistics is known as a branch of mathematical science and while they are connected, they are different branches (source).
A major difference between math and statistics is that statistics need context to analyze data, while mathematics can be studied and used without any context whatsoever.
Mathematics is purely about calculations while statistics uses calculations to show what is happening in a scenario and how that may demonstrate patterns and changing trends.
Measurement is also something that differs between mathematics and statistics.
Generally, mathematics involves the measurement of solid, quantifiable objects, such as area, length, and size.
While statistics can also use these measurements, it also looks at things that are not easily gauged, such as intelligence or effectiveness.
With mathematics, the data is just something that is presented and calculated. The method of data collection is not considered important, while in statistics, the method is vitally important.
To make the data relevant to a study and applicable to a scenario, the data has to come from a logical source.
For example, if one wanted data about teacher stress and only interviewed teachers from upper-class schools, that data would not be applicable on a country-wide basis.
Everyone knows that mathematics is a ‘black and white’ field. There is often only one right answer.
The same cannot be said for statistics, which involves inductive reasoning.
This means that while data may show that cause leads to an effect, it is not solely due to that cause. There may be other factors that should be considered.
Finally, the language used in statistics uses specific jargon, which may be commonly used outside the field, but are technical terms within it.
Words like “bias” generally mean an unfair way in which one supports or opposes a person or thing by allowing personal opinions to influence judgment (source) while “bias” in statistics refers to the measurement tendency to the over- or under-estimation of a parameter.
Therefore, mathematics and statistics require different skills and excelling in one field will not necessarily mean excellence in the other.
Statistics are offered in most high schools and every university, and even if one is not planning to major in statistics or turn it into a career understanding statistics is a useful skill to have.
High School Level Statistics
Is statistics harder than Algebra? Most high school students think statistics is just about data and numbers and some might find it a little overwhelming.
However, statistics is something that most students can grasp with ease, given that they have a passionate teacher and a positive outlook.
If you want to learn more about finding your academic interests, check out this article.
Syllabus in high school statistics
While individual high schools have their own Statistics syllabus, they share some similar content.
A high school syllabus is a general introduction to statistics, through learning terminology and examining data through various means.
Different types of statistical methods are taught, and students learn how to interpret graphs and create their own (source).
A major unit that is common to all courses is Probability (source). This is the analysis of data to see patterns and determine causation (source).
This unit is vital in any course as it allows students to see the world in a more meaningful way and examine how cause and effect work within data.
Tips for studying basic statistics
For those who think statistics is difficult, there are several tips for students to excel in the course.
Statistics is not a “cram”-able subject. It requires slow and daily practice to fully understand the concepts and calculations.
Students are also encouraged to study together, as it helps with a deeper understanding of the material (source).
Statistics is the study of concepts rather than formulae. If a student understands a concept, the formula can be researched or found later and no good statistics teacher would ask a student to memorize formulae.
As mentioned before, statistics requires practice. You cannot parrot statistics, it is a skill that can only be learned through applying concepts to different situations.
There are several themes that will keep reappearing in statistics assessments. Learning these will ensure the best chances of doing well and keeping anxiety under control.
Many students suffer from math anxiety and preparing as much as possible will help students to keep a cool head during assessments.
If you want to learn more about this and how to find your academic strengths and weaknesses, check out this article.
College Level Statistics
Statistics in college is an advanced course compared to high school Statistics, with frequent review of previously learned concepts, and more complicated methodologies (source).
Students should not only be able to analyze data but learn the best techniques to obtain data to make the most valid predictions.
If one chooses to major in statistics, there are several potential careers that are available.
Statistics as a Career
Statistics is an ever-growing field and is considered the number one Business job in the U.S. and the number six across all fields (source).
The field faces very low levels of unemployment and has been projected to show growth rates of 31% in the next decade.
Since data is used in just about every field, it is unlikely that a statistician would ever lack opportunities.
Being a statistician is considered an excellent field. Not only because of its growth, but it is also an extremely well-paid career. Statisticians enjoy a healthy work-life balance, high job security and low stress (source).
Depending on a person’s personal interests, there are many fields within statistics that a statistician can work in.
They include; business, sports, medicine, and technology.
For those interested in the medical and healthcare fields, biostatisticians analyze data and help hospitals, doctors and governments understand the contributing factors of diseases and how successful treatment methods are.
Statisticians are well paid because their services are valuable. Their work can help companies become more efficient by optimizing processes, make positive decisions through data analysis and ultimately, save a company a lot of money (source).
More and more companies are adding data analysis into their frameworks so it makes perfect sense that the forecasts for the field are positive. But then, any good statistician would have been able to tell you that.
As mentioned before, mathematics and statistics have a strong correlation. A mathematician would use a lot of the same skills and reasoning that a statistician would, but just within a different context.
In the same way that statisticians solve problems, mathematicians do the same.
They use mathematical theories, techniques, and algorithms, to solve problems in different sectors of the economy, ranging from economics to engineering problems (source).
With mathematics, new principles are developed and new relationships between existing concepts are discovered, making mathematicians perfect for solving new problems.
While mathematics may not be a particularly social career, a mathematician working in law enforcement, banking or the military could specialize in cryptanalytics, creating and deciphering encryption systems with large teams of colleagues. It all depends on your situation.
Working as a mathematician often ensures a comfortable office job, working concurrently with specialists from other fields.
While the job generally has a positive work-life balance, there may be the occasional requirements to work late to complete deadlines or travel for conferences.
Market Research Analyst
We live in a consumer-driven society, so the job of a market research analyst will never become obsolete.
A primary job of a market research analyst is to examine the market and determine how well a product or service will sell (source).
With knowledge of statistics, a research analyst will be able to read the market and its trends, deciding when is the best time to release a product or service, along with how much to charge for it.
Generally, a degree in Marketing is required, and these degrees always involve some level of Statistics as a subject. Marketing is also a growing field, with an expected growth of 23% in the next 7 years.
People within the field need to be skilled at collecting and analyzing data along with using statistical software.
Technological skills are a non-negotiable requirement, along with an in-depth understanding of the industry, from historical factors to current trends.
Since market research analysts work with people outside the industry, it is vital that they are able to turn data into easily understandable information.
A market research analyst using works within a private business or for a specialized marketing firm that hires out their expertise.
There is scope for freelance work in the field as well, as not all businesses have the budget to hire market experts on a full-time basis.
Work hours can be longer during crunch periods but the job is interesting and rewarding.
An actuary is involved in the business of risk analysis. Their primary job is to use analytical skills to help businesses plan for the future and mitigate risk (source).
In an uncertain marketplace, an actuary is able to see potential risks and allows companies to invest with a certain level of safety, especially for long-term growth.
Actuaries work primarily in the financial sector, assisting insurance companies and multinational corporations to make positive financial choices, keeping companies successful in the short and long-term while keeping people in those industries employed and confident in the growth of their employers.
To break it down further, actuaries analyze and evaluate the likelihood of future events through the use of numbers in data.
To avoid high-risk and negative situations, actuaries look at all possible scenarios and choose the most beneficial and risk-free decision for their employers.
In a case where a negative scenario does take place, actuaries help businesses bounce back from the negative outcome and grow from it if possible (source).
As with most statistics-based jobs, it is a low-stress environment with a positive work-life balance. There is strong job satisfaction with the idea that the job assists people and workplaces, making it better for everyone.
To become a financial analyst, a bachelor’s degree is required with a focus on business management, finance, economics or financial statistics.
This will give a prospective financial analyst the skills to function and succeed in the field. In some cases, depending on the specialty chosen, an analyst may need to become certified (source).
Financial analysts scrutinize business and economic trends, examine historical and current business data and work with clients to assist them with growing their investments and making the best financial decisions going forward.
Since financial analysts often work with clients, good communication and social skills are required, along with the ability to read data and predict outcomes.
The field is also showing significant growth and it is predicted that it will show a 6% growth in the next 8 years (source).
There are several types of financial analysts, depending on their chosen specialization, but significant roles are portfolio managers, fund managers, rating analysts, and risk analysts (source).
Since the world has become more globalized, financial analysts are needed in many American companies to understand and advise on cultural and business practices in different regions.
Statistics and the future
We see an immense amount of data around us.
From the data collected on our phones to the information obtained every time we log into Facebook or post on Instagram, to the more insidious data collection of our daily surfing, the world is full of data and people who understand statistics are required to make sense of it all.
Especially in the U.S, studying Statistics is considered an excellent career choice, if you have the propensity for it.
None of the careers discussed here are particularly hard, yet they all rely on statistics intensively.
With high growth predicted across the field and about half of the jobs being created in the U.S, statistics is a field that shows no sign of slowing down (source).
While writing this article, my Youtube app has started showing me advertisements about studying Statistics and Analytics, despite not having searched anything of the kind on the app.
With so much data around us, you have an advantage. Most people think statistics is hard. It’s not, but does require dedication and hard work.
If you are willing to put the time in and have an interest in data you can capitalize on the false preconceived notions of others and enjoy a great career in statistics.