Growing up in South Carolina, I did well in math all through school and enjoyed it to boot! My proclivity for math was a great source of pride for my father. He envisioned this would lead to opportunities for me to seek and succeed as the first in our family to obtain a college degree and he was so encouraging and supportive, as was my mother. I also greatly enjoyed creative writing and aspired to be a journalist the first few years in college, but continued to take math courses and ultimately switched to a math major and English minor curriculum. Math was just so much more fun for me!
Invariably, when friends and family heard I was majoring in math, they would announce, “Oh, you will always be able to get a job with a math degree”….but they were never specific about what kind of job and at the time there just was not a lot of career counseling available. So even with an undergraduate degree in math under my belt, I felt a bit lost as to next steps in my career. With little direction, I decided to attend graduate school for a master’s in math and was encouraged by one of my professors to take some statistics courses. At the time, I did not realize how critical they would be in setting me on my life’s happy path.
With my masters completed, and some good university career counseling at the University of South Carolina, I ultimately discovered that I could work for organizations like General Dynamics, the National Security Agency, and the U.S. Census Bureau. When I interviewed with these organizations, and others, I became excited about the work they described and how I could have an impact. Ultimately, I chose the U.S. Census Bureau and began immediately working on a program called the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) as a statistical programmer. I thought it was incredible that there were government efforts dedicated to collecting data and opinions—survey statistics— from our country’s residents to help design and improve government programs such as the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicare. I was quite proud to be a part of these efforts to make these programs work better for my fellow Americans.
I worked at the Census Bureau for about 15 years, seeking every day to ensure the best methods were utilized for key surveys and censuses such as the SIPP, the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the Agriculture Census. I had the privilege of working with some awesome people and gifted statisticians at Census. My “ah hah” moment for embracing a career in statistics came when I recognized the vitally important role statistics plays in ensuring the government has the best information possible for designing and implementing effective programs to improve the lives of Americans. That “ah hah” moment has continued to excite me throughout my career.
It is quite interesting and rewarding to be a part of the growth of statistics in today’s world society, as statistics have become so popular and are such a large part of public discourse. Who would have thought the math and statistics geeks would ever be considered the life of the party? This might be a slight exaggeration, but as they say “we’ve come a long way….baby”!
As social scientists, we need to be leaders in continuing to disprove the opinion that “statistics is too hard” and to encourage the next generation of researchers to embrace statistics either as a career or a key component of their careers. The movie MoneyBall and Nate Silver’s modeling strategies for public polling have helped dispute the “statistics is too boring” opinion. We now need to dispel the belief that statistics is too hard as there are now a myriad of user-friendly tools, Internet resources, and experts that can enhance careers involving statistics like never before. We have some very exciting times and opportunities ahead as the role of statistics will continue to grow.
- Vicki Pineau, 12.11.13
For more information about Vicki, her work, and her publications, e-mail her.