Preparing for the statistics workplace | Expert tips

20 June 2019
Dr Andrew Balemi, Department of Statistics
Dr Andrew Balemi

What sort of workplace skills should statistics students start developing while they are at university?

Professional Teaching Fellow Dr Andrew Balemi, a former head of marketing science for Colmar Brunton, says they should be developing their presentation and communication skills long before they start job-hunting.

“Learning to communicate about statistics in clear, non-technical language is critical,” says Andrew, who teaches the market research paper STATS747: Statistical Methods in Marketing.

“Students leave university with technical skills, but they need to able to transfer and translate what they do with these technical skills in plain and practical language.”

Statisticians are employed to solve problems, he says, and in presenting solutions, it’s important for new graduates to put themselves in the client’s head.

“They have employed you to solve a problem, and you need to let them know that there’s no need to worry; you have the solution. But you need to be able to explain the value of what you did and why in a way they can understand. That’s your job.”

However, it is unwise to fall into the trap of thinking that people who are ignorant of your technical knowledge are incapable of understanding what you are doing, he says.

“They’ll ask good questions, but may not frame them in the technical language you might. They are experts in other areas, but wise enough to employ specialist expertise when it’s needed. You’re the translator between those two worlds.”

Good graduate employees also ask how they can help themselves when embarking on new projects, exploring the similarities and dissimilarities in prior work to see what can be transferred or adapted via coding, leading to efficiency gains.

“When you ask how you can help yourself,” Andrew says, “you are becoming a more useful employee.”

He points out that everyone makes mistakes at work, much as we would all prefer not to. In professional life, he says, it’s better to own up to errors, rectify them and learn from them.

“If you don’t own a problem,” he says, “You are the problem.”

Andrew’s top tips for succeeding in the statistics workplace:

  • Be a team player.
  • Think on your feet.
  • Communicate respectfully at all times.
  • Have empathy for the people you work for. Ask: “What’s needed here, and how can I help?”
  • Look at the big picture. You are one component of a larger enterprise.

Don’t assume that those listening to you know what you know. Explain things carefully and in a non-technical way.