The Job and What's Involved

Statisticians analyse and interpret numerical data to answer questions and provide information and advice on which decisions can be based. For example, they may:

  • Examine population trends to predict how much new housing is needed and where it should be built.
  • Assess the effects of pollution on the occurrence of diseases such as asthma.
  • Predict the number of flu vaccinations that will be needed by GP surgeries.
  • Try to understand why sales of a particular product are decreasing.
  • Investigate the link between particular lifestyle choices (such as diet) and disease.
  • Study the effectiveness of medications.
  • Forecast trends in financial markets.

The day-to-day work of a statistician varies according to their employer, but it is likely to include:

  • Gaining a thorough understanding of a project or problem.
  • Working with colleagues or clients to decide what kind of data should be collected and how this should be done.
  • Checking quality control standards.
  • Designing experiments and surveys.
  • Collecting data or instructing others on how to do so.
  • Using mathematical techniques and computers to analyse the data.
  • Interpreting the results.
  • Communicating their findings in presentations and written reports.
  • Making recommendations based on their findings.

Statisticians usually work as members of a team. Those who work as the sole professional statistician in an organisation liaise with clients and professionals such as engineers, educational researchers, scientists, economists, market researchers and managers.

Statisticians usually work 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Additional hours may be required to meet deadlines. Some statisticians work flexible hours, part time or from home.

Statisticians are mostly office based, but may also spend time out of the office meeting colleagues and clients, or overseeing projects. Depending on the sector they are involved in, statisticians may spend a lot of time on practical project-based activities as well as on computer-based work. Travel may be required for some jobs.

A statistical officer in the Government Statistical Service (GSS) may start on an average of £22,000 (£24,000 in London).

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are opportunities for statisticians in a wide range of organisations. They work in many different employment sectors as their work has a wide range of different applications. These include:

- Government
- Medical and pharmaceutical research
- Industry
- Business and commerce
- Finance
- Environmental science
- Social sciences
- Life sciences

The main employers are the Government Statistical Service (GSS), which employs over 1,000 statisticians, and the pharmaceutical industry. Other employers include the NHS, manufacturing and service industries, research councils and institutes, universities, local government and the financial sector. There are opportunities in cities and towns throughout the UK.

Jobs are advertised in the national press, in RSS News (the monthly newsletter of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS)), on the website of the Statisticians in the Pharmaceutical Industry (PSI) and on employers' website's. Details of the application process for the GSS are available on their website. Three-month summer placements and one-year student placements may be available in the Civil Service.

Education and Training

The majority of statisticians have a degree with a high quantitative content or in a numerate subject. Degrees in statistics are available at many universities, but other relevant subjects, which may be available with statistics as joint degrees, include mathematics, computing, economics and management science. Some other degrees, such as psychology or life sciences, may also have a high statistics content.

The requirements for a degree course in statistics are usually at least two A levels including maths, plus five GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications. Entry requirements vary widely so candidates are strongly advised to check the exact requirements with individual institutions.

Some employers, particularly those in the pharmaceutical industry, are increasingly looking for recruits with Masters degrees in statistics. For a postgraduate course, candidates usually need a good first degree in a relevant subject.

The RSS accredits a number of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. The RSS website has a list of accredited courses.

It is also possible to begin a career in statistics straight from school. Candidates with GCSE's (A*-C), including maths and English, or A levels may be recruited as statistical assistants. With experience, training and further qualifications they may be promoted to statistician posts.

The Open University (OU) provides introductory and intermediate learning materials that are recommended by the RSS.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Graduate statisticians are usually trained on the job, working on projects under the supervision of experienced colleagues. There may be the opportunity to attend short courses on topics such as using new software packages. Some employers may support part-time study for a Masters degree in statistics.

PSI offers an introductory course for statisticians and statistical programmers new to the industry. It involves six sessions, each lasting one or two days.

The RSS offers professional status at two levels. Graduate statistician status is granted on application to graduates of RSS-accredited degree courses and to those who have passed the RSS's Graduate Diploma in Statistics. Applications from graduates of other courses, who have achieved at least a 2:2, are considered on an individual basis. After at least five years of professional training and development, graduate statisticians may be eligible to apply for chartered status. The RSS website has more information.

The regular introduction of new ideas and technology in this field means that statisticians should be prepared to commit to a programme of continuing professional development (CPD). CPD activities, including training courses and workshops, are offered by the RSS.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A statistician needs:

  • Strong mathematical ability.
  • To be able to collect, analyse and interpret data effectively.
  • To understand new facts and ideas quickly.
  • A methodical and logical approach.
  • Accuracy and attention to detail.
  • IT skills.
  • Organisational skills.
  • To be good at solving problems.
  • Patience.
  • Excellent written and spoken communication skills.
  • The ability to explain complicated issues to people with varying levels of technical knowledge.
  • To work well alone and as part of a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

There is a formal promotion structure in the GSS, with opportunities to progress to senior levels. In large companies, statisticians may be promoted to management or specialist technical roles.

Opportunities for promotion in smaller organisations may be limited, and it may be necessary to change employers in order to progress.

There are opportunities for statisticians to become self-employed, working as freelance consultants.

Statisticians can also work abroad, for example with Eurostat, the European Union's statistical office, or for pharmaceutical companies with overseas operations.

Get Further Information

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC),
Polaris House, North Star Avenue,
Swindon SN2 1ET
Tel: 01793 444000

Institute of Mathematics and its Applications,
Catherine Richards House, 16 Nelson Street,
Southend-on-Sea, Essex SS1 1EF
Tel: 01702 354020

Office for National Statistics,
Customer Contact Centre, Room 1.015,
Cardiff Road, Newport NP10 8XG
Tel: 0845 601 3034

The Open University (OU),
PO Box 197, Milton Keynes MK7 6BJ
Tel: 0845 300 6090

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS),
12 Errol Street, London EC1Y 8LX
Tel: 020 7638 8998

Statisticians in the Pharmaceutical Industry Limited (PSI),
PSI Executive Office, Resources for Business,
Association House, South Park Road,
Macclesfield SK11 6SH
Tel: 01625 267882

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