Starting any professional job is hard. At a research university, you can expect to work long hours, but still not manage to do all that is needed, as well as all that you want. The same sort of pressure can be found in some business and industrial positions, with diminution as one moves towards less competitive niches and governmental posts. Besides doing good statistics, one is always expected to energetically shoulder new responsibilities, initiate new projects, help senior colleagues increase their standing, work doggedly with students/clients/extra-departmentals, participate in ASA and IMS activities, pursue funding, and be an enthusiastic team player.</span>
This section describes strategies for juggling these career obligations. Perfect success is never possible, but professional recognition is like an exam that gives partial credit. We also recommend reading Speed (2005) and Greenfield (1996) for advice on carrying out statistical research.
There is a difference between consulting and collaboration. Collaboration involves equals, on the same footing, each contributing his or her expertise to the problem. It involves communication about all aspects of the work and some give-and-take. It involves a learning experience for both parties. It takes time to establish the trust required for a good professional working relationship with someone. On the other hand, consulting is more service oriented. Generally, the statistician is there to advise the client about design, about which tests are appropriate, and so on. The role of the statistician depends on both the problem and the type of work that is rewarded by your department. See (Haller 2005) for a good summary of issues and opportunities in consulting.
Find out what your department’s expectations are with respect to consulting. Do they value collaborative research or is consulting a service your department provides to other researchers? Will your effort count towards promotion? Your level of commitment should take this into consideration.
The researcher is responsible for his or her own data entry, data management and, preferably, analyses. If the researcher cannot handle this, they should hire a research assistant, preferably a statistics graduate student who will learn from the experience, or seek help from the statistical consulting center. The statistician must take the responsibility to understand enough of the problem to give good advice, but is not ultimately responsible for the quality of someone else’s research.
Consulting comes in three flavors. Some problems deserve only basic package methods, others merit a more thoughtful modification of standard techniques, and a few demand sophisticated research attention. The last category, if taken seriously, will become collaborative research. There are many reasons why a problem might deserve only primitive statistics. Sometimes it happens that the experiment is completely clean, all the assumptions are sensible, and a standard statistical test is appropriate. More often, the client has so completely botched the experiment that any time investment on your part is senseless, or the client’s audience (a major professor or a journal) will only accept certain standard analyses. This leads to awkward situations that one must square with one’s professional conscience.
Points to consider when deciding the extent of your participation include:
- Will your professional reputation be attached to the conclusions?
- Will your efforts improve the accuracy of the outcome? (Ellenberg 2000)
- Are you receiving funding for your consulting assistance? (Some departments allow you to earn extra money for consulting. There is usually a limit to how much you can earn.)
- Is there a long-term educational or research goal that may be jeopardized by your withdrawal?
If a client’s problem demands nonstandard techniques or considerable effort, then it is proper to ask for publication credit — preferably before investing much time. Sometimes a problem has deep statistical merit. These are valuable opportunities, and one should rise to the challenge. The chief difficulty is that the time required may interfere with other obligations.
Most importantly you should find out your institution’s policy on applied publications. Do they count for or against you with respect to promotion? For conducting a consulting session, the following suggestions may be helpful.
- Reserve certain days or hours for consulting work and stick to this rigorously — otherwise, you will quickly be overwhelmed.
- Do not run more than an hour for each session, and spend most of the time listening.
- Do not be pressured into an unrealistic schedule. Everyone wants the work done by Friday. This is fine, but you pick which Friday.
- Avoid the temptation to formulate the problem too quickly. Make sure you know exactly what the aims of the study are, and do not give any advice until the researcher has been explicit about this. (Do not be surprised if the researcher has difficulty with this part.)
- Invite the principal investigator to the first meeting; thereafter, restrict the group to the key players.
- If it is an ongoing project, after each session write up a short statement of your understanding of the discussion, who is going to do what, and the deadlines. Mail this to the client for approval, and cc relevant parties.
If you write any part of the paper, contribute substantially to the analysis, or put in a substantial amount of time, you have a right to co-authorship. This should be established unequivocally from the time you start doing anything more than giving oral advice or after the third meeting. This should always be the case if the client is a researcher, but may be more problematic if the client is a graduate student doing dissertation research. In the latter case, ask for co-authorship on any papers coming from the dissertation which involve your part of the work.
If you are a co-author, insist on reviewing the final draft of the paper or report to ensure accurate representation of the statistical analyzes. If you are not a co-author, avoid acknowledgments or other recognition of your contribution unless the investigators did precisely what you suggested. Otherwise, you will have no say in what was written, and you will not receive credit for your work, but you may be blamed if something went wrong.
As co-author, the statistician generally writes the statistical methods and results sections of the paper. This can be submitted to the client as a final report, prior to writing the paper, but should be in a format suitable for publication, including relevant tables and plots.
Giving a Seminar
The first step is to outline your talk. It should begin with motivation, an overview, and/or an illustrative example; this first ten minutes should be at the level that most graduate students can understand without excessive effort. Then give the substance of the talk, always in the least abstract language that the topic permits. At the end you can point out technical generalizations, simulation results that support the work, or open questions that the current research has raised. Summarize the points you have made, so that the audience is left with a clear sense of your contribution.
Armed with the outline, prepare your slides. There should be about 15 to 25 slides for a fifty minute talk; plan to spend at least two minutes on each. Slides should generally be typed (typeface at least 24 points), with lots of color, pictures and graphs (do not forget to label the axes).
Do not put too much information on a slide, and don’t be too complete; the slide should complement, not duplicate, your oral explanation.
Computer-based presentations are commonplace now. It always helps to show up early to make sure that the projection equipment and the computer operate correctly. Be courteous and patient. It is often easier to use a computer that has been set up for presentations rather than connecting your laptop. USB drives and CDs provide a good way to store your presentation. Remember you may not always be able to have access to the Internet. (If this is important to you, ask well before you give your talk). Remember to bring a backup copy of your slides in case you have problems.
Except in special cases, plan to let the audience see the entire slide. Similarly, never show a page of numbers, such as commonly summarizes a large simulation experiment. Always avoid presenting dense tables of numbers; if absolute need be, you can provide a handout. Similarly, a handout might carry details of a proof that are not covered in the talk, a set of references, or other dry material. It is good strategy to structure the talk so that you can skip or add a few pages, depending on time.
You should never run beyond the time limit; always stop a little earlier. Avoid proving anything; if it is essential to your research, you may sketch a part of the proof of the major theorem (academic audiences are far more impressed by the heuristics of a proof rather than by minute details).
Use humor effectively but sparingly. (If you cannot deliver a joke, try a cartoon on your slides.)
Always practice your talk before delivery. For beginners, there is absolutely no substitute for a dry-run front of a real audience; after you become a polished orator, the practice can be accomplished through an interior monologue.
Look at your audience as you talk; speak clearly, loudly, and not too quickly. Stand on one side of the projector and stay on that side. It helps to have the first few sentences memorized so that you can start well even if you are very nervous.
When fielding audience questions, try for brevity, precision and wit. Be sure that you understand the point of the question; if necessary, ask for clarification. When someone asks something that is very complex or entirely tangential, give a brief response and say that you’d be happy to talk further after the general discussion ends. Be prepared to answer questions about what you did not do, for example, why you didn’t address a certain class of models in your study, why you didn’t use a certain alternate approach, and so forth.
A mentor is a more experienced colleague who helps your career. Mentors can tell you what the unwritten rules are, offer advice on how to promote yourself, introduce you to their colleagues, help get you invited to speak at meetings or write comments on invited papers, and write papers and grant proposals with you.
The above description may sound like Santa Claus. What is in it for the mentor? To a large extent they genuinely want you to succeed. They can also ask you to fill in for them in speaking roles, organizing sections of meetings, talking to scientists about their statistical problems and other such things that might be chores for them but great opportunities for you. So both of you win, even though it seems that you win more.
It would be a big mistake to think that having a mentor entitles you to a free ride. When they delegate something to you, they will have had to explain it to whoever asked them for the favor. Then the work you do will reflect on both of you. You owe it to yourself and your mentor to do a great job.
Mentors are fairly hard to come by. You don’t find them under ‘M’ in the phone book. They are likely to be good at working with people, and to a large extent they will find you. To get found, it helps to show that you are energetic and enthusiastic. For your part, you can find an experienced colleague or former teacher with whom you feel comfortable and ask for advice from time to time. Also, as a junior faculty member, you can start functioning as a mentor yourself to students in your department: sharing with them what you have learned about job searches and publishing, asking them to referee papers, getting them invited to speak at or attend conferences, getting them involved in grant proposals, and so on.
You should probably never volunteer for committee work: it will find you. But it can certainly help your career if you do accept service duties. When you do get assigned to committees, delegate like crazy. (For example, new faculty are often assigned to colloquium management; to control this time sink, structure things so that each visitor has one of your colleagues as the designated host, charged with responsibility for making all arrangements for entertainment, lodgings and local meetings.)
Women and minorities need to be especially vigilant regarding committee work as they may be asked to serve on committees as representatives of their gender or race more than because of their potential contributions.
On the other hand, you need to do your fair share. When possible, choose service work that you can benefit from. For instance, as colloquium chairperson, you have a chance to meet people, and frequently these people will return the invitation. Try to do your committee work during those times of the day when your intellectual faculties are not at their peak.
Universities, industries, business and government all have different levels of committee work. In universities — especially research universities — it is rarely useful to be active above the departmental level; university-wide committees can consume much time without giving the remotest chance for winning any credit towards your professional goals.
In contrast, for industries, business and government, committee work at levels higher than your department offers potential for executive contacts, and documents a ‘team player’ spirit which can be to your advantage when promotions are made.
Professional societies, such as the ASA and the IMS, also have committees (the authors of this report are an example). We think and hope that this committee work has some positive influence on our careers, but that influence is probably not commensurate with the time required. Nonetheless, from the standpoint of doing one’s fair share, it is socially responsible to participate in one society committee; there is little value in working with two, unless both reflect areas to which you have a strong personal commitment.
At the start of your career keep your eyes open to opportunities that can help you later. For example the New Researchers Conference organized by the IMS is an excellent way to learn about promotion techniques, grants, and to meet people who are at your career stage. The International Biometric Society also organize one day New Researchers workshops.
Small research conferences provide a way to meet a wide cross-section of the statistics community. Often it is easier to meet a more famous researcher at a small meeting rather than, say, at the Joint Statistical Meetings. You can network and learn about a new research area at workshops and summer schools.
As stated on the Project NExT website (via www.maa.org), Project NExT (New Experiences in Teaching) is a professional development program for new or recent PhDs in the mathematical sciences (including pure and applied mathematics, statistics, operations research, and mathematics education). It addresses all aspects of an academic career: improving the teaching and learning of mathematics, engaging in research and scholarship, and participating in professional activities. It also provides the participants with a network of peers and mentors as they assume these responsibilities. This program, designed for first and second year teachers, provides an invaluable set of resources away from your home institution.
Your professional time must be allocated between teaching and research, and since tenure is mainly, if not exclusively, decided on the basis of your research record, you have to leave sufficient time for research activities in your schedule. Therefore scheduling becomes a very important part of your career. Some specific suggestions to help you manage your time are listed below.
Maintain regular office hours which are totally devoted to the students. If you don’t, students will come into your office all the time and interrupt your work. Such a policy is an important aspect of a more general closed door policy which some use.
Preserve time slots when no one is allowed in your office. The restrictions can apply to students, teaching and research assistants, and even colleagues. Some people filter their phone calls during these periods. The advantage is that you have a chunk of time to work undisturbed. The disadvantage is that you will get a reputation of not being available. If you do it in a tactful way, the advantages will undoubtedly outweigh the disadvantages.
Ensure that there are blocks of time dedicated to research in your schedule. If you don’t, and if you take your teaching and committee work seriously, then you are likely to end up having very little time left for research. Spend at least one hour each day (or one day a week) on the research activity nearest to completion. Try not to compromise on these periods.