Working as statistician means dealing with data and helping to find practical solutions to problems. If you are keen on numbers, IT and like compiling information, this could be the role for you

Statisticians are concerned with the collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation of quantitative information. They work in a range of sectors including:

  • education;
  • the environment;
  • finance;
  • forensics;
  • government;
  • health;
  • market research;
  • sport;
  • transportation.

As a statistician, you will design and manage experiments and surveys and deal with the initial collection of data. You'll process and analyse the data in context, looking for patterns to help make decisions. You will then advise on findings and recommend strategy.

Statisticians often work in teams, usually including professionals from other disciplines. Strong analytical and IT skills are essential, as are interpersonal and communication skills in order to share findings with your colleagues and clients.

Responsibilities

Statisticians interpret data and communicate results to their clients, often with the aid of mathematical techniques and software. In this role you'll ensure that complex statistical concepts are explained in a way the client can understand, and advise on strategy. Some studies take only a few months to complete, while others can take years of work.

General tasks may include:

  • consulting with clients and agreeing what data to collect and how it should be gathered - taking into account any ethical and legislative considerations;
  • designing experiments, trials or surveys to produce the required data;
  • collecting and analysing the data;
  • interpreting the data and making sure that the right decisions are made based on the results;
  • monitoring data collected throughout its shelf-life;
  • presenting results to senior managers, regulatory authorities, clients, etc;
  • advising policymakers on key decisions based on results;
  • carrying out research, often as part of a team;
  • writing reports and articles for publication;
  • presenting findings at conferences both in the UK and abroad.

Depending on your area of work you may be involved in:

  • providing projections of future student numbers allowing for changes in the birth rate and assessing the number of teachers that will be needed in the sector;
  • designing experiments to assess the effects of drugs and associated side effects;
  • designing, implementing and analysing clinical studies;
  • monitoring, reporting and modelling disease outbreaks;
  • collecting data to monitor levels of air pollution;
  • collecting data to measure the toxicity of food additives;
  • recommending whether certain items should be included in food production, e.g. folic acid in bread making;
  • checking quality control standards in industry;
  • designing experiments to improve the quality of new products;
  • predicting demand for products and services;
  • analysing data to forecast trends for pension providers;
  • teaching statistical methods and the theory of statistics.

Salary

  • As a government statistician outside of London, you will typically start on a salary of around £23,000 (statistical officer) and £26,000 (assistant statistician).
  • Salaries for experienced government statisticians range from £44,000 to £50,000. Salaries for those based in London are higher.

Salaries for medical statisticians are broadly comparable with those of government statisticians. Salaries in the pharmaceutical industry are generally higher with good financial rewards for those with the right combination of skills and experience. Salaries vary depending upon the area of work, location, qualifications and experience.

Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Flexible working hours are common. Paid overtime is occasionally available.

Part-time work, home working and career breaks are also possible.

What to expect

  • Statisticians tend to be mainly office based, although they often travel to attend meetings with stakeholders and occasionally attend regional, national and international conferences.
  • It's likely that you'll operate as part of a multidisciplinary project team.
  • Self-employment is possible often in a consultancy role, for example as a forensic statistician.
  • Jobs are widely available with opportunities in London and other major cities in the UK. Many jobs in the pharmaceutical industry are in the South East of England.
  • The pharmaceutical industry, for example, provides opportunities for travel abroad to discuss the design of trials, collect information, discuss results and meet with regulatory authorities. Medical statisticians may travel abroad to present findings at conferences.
  • Some international secondments are open to government statisticians.

Qualifications

Employers typically look for graduates with a degree that has a statistical or quantitative component. Examples include:

  • economics;
  • geography;
  • mathematics;
  • psychology;
  • statistics.

Eligibility to apply for the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) professional qualification of Graduate Statistician is achieved through degree courses accredited by the RSS.

Graduates from other disciplines can apply to work in medical statistics, usually after having taken a Masters degree in a related subject such as:

  • epidemiology;
  • medical statistics;
  • public health.

For some jobs in government statistics you will need a minimum of a 2:1 degree which contains at least 25% of statistical content. For other posts, for example in the Government Statistical Service (GSS), you will need a first or second class degree in a numerate subject or a graduate diploma from the RSS.

Entry is also possible for those without a degree, but you'll need significant experience in a statistics-related field and continuing professional development (CPD) that leads to professional qualifications (e.g. the RSS Higher Certificate), to apply.

You can enter the civil service via the Civil Service Fast Stream: Government Statistical Service. This accelerated training and development programme is aimed at those who have the potential to be future leaders of the civil service.

Employers in the pharmaceutical industry look for graduates with an MSc or PhD in statistics or with a postgraduate degree which contains a significant statistical element. Holding a Masters or PhD is becoming increasingly common for entry into the profession and can help further your career. It may be possible to work part time while you are studying.

Qualifications such as the Graduate Diploma in Statistics, awarded by the RSS, may also be accepted. This qualification is equivalent to a good UK honours degree in statistics.

The choice of final year dissertation can be significant. These projects can provide a way of making useful contacts within the profession, as well as developing skills and knowledge. Access to events, training and newsletters featuring job listings can be gained by joining the RSS or Statisticians in the Pharmaceutical Industry (PSI).

Search for postgraduate courses in statistics.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • mathematical ability and computer literacy;
  • a clear understanding of statistical terms and concepts;
  • analytical skills;
  • written and oral communication skills;
  • problem-solving skills;
  • the ability to communicate results and findings to non-statisticians;
  • the ability to influence others;
  • a practical and strategic approach to work;
  • a high level of accuracy and attention to detail;
  • the capability to work to deadlines and to plan your work;
  • the capacity to work alone and within teams.

Work experience

Work experience in the form of a work placement or a year out in professional training can provide the opportunity to see how statistical methods work in real-life. Opportunities are available in areas such as industry, business or commerce.

Summer placements for statisticians in the civil service are sometimes advertised by government departments.

Employers

The UK's largest producer of statistics is the GSS. It is a professional body, spread across more than 30 government departments and agencies.

Corresponding opportunities are offered in many branches of local government and government agencies, particularly dealing with performance data and resourcing.

Other employers of statisticians include:

  • pharmaceutical companies - ranging from small local firms to large national and international companies;
  • higher education institutions;
  • operational and scientific research establishments;
  • contract research organisations (CROs);
  • public sector research organisations (such as the Health Protection Agency and the World Health Organization);
  • regulatory authorities;
  • market research companies;
  • manufacturing and service companies;
  • investment companies and banks;
  • insurance companies;
  • the National Health Service.

Job titles may vary depending on the area of work, for example statisticians are also known as:

  • data analysts;
  • data managers;
  • mathematical modellers.

Look for job vacancies at:

Vacancies are handled by specialist recruitment agencies such as Datatech Analytics.

Professional development

In most cases, your training will take place on the job. New recruits gain experience by working under the supervision of experienced staff until they are ready to work alone.

Statisticians are expected to keep their knowledge up to date by reading current literature and attending conferences and training. Many employers will support part-time study for an MSc in statistics.

Staff development programmes are available to statisticians working in universities and it is possible to take short courses in computing software, presentational skills, management and teaching.

Short courses can be useful and are run by organisations such as the:

Short courses are also available from various organisations in statistics and statistical software packages, e.g. SAS, SPSS, Stata and Minitab.

It is possible to become a Chartered Statistician (CStat), the highest professional qualification of the RSS. Candidates must have an approved degree (or equivalent) and approved professional training and experience for at least five years. Chartered statisticians are eligible to apply for Chartered Scientist (CSci) status, awarded by the Science Council.

Career prospects

Promotion depends on performance and merit within the GSS. Statisticians are part of an accelerated promotion programme and are encouraged to move post every two years to get exposure to as many different areas of statistics as possible. In order to get a promotion, assistants are required to sit formal promotion boards.

The higher grades at assistant statistician level can offer line-management responsibilities. Progression to a statistician grade will most likely involve heading up a statistics branch and managing a small team of assistants and administrators.

You could expect to compete for a senior grade (Grade 7 statistician), within four to five years of appointment or sooner, and the selection board will be looking for the potential to reach even higher levels. Senior statisticians manage a number of statistics branches and provide strategic leadership.

Statistical officers also have the opportunity for promotion. Promotion is based on merit, with the opportunity to progress to higher statistical officer and senior statistical officer before applying for Grade 7. Both routes can ultimately lead to positions in the senior civil service.

Within the pharmaceutical industry, statisticians generally begin their careers working as part of a team under more experienced statisticians. You can develop your career in various ways, for example through taking on management responsibilities for junior staff or by becoming a technical expert. Those able to demonstrate the right combination of skills and qualities can rise rapidly, taking on higher levels of responsibility. As many companies are international, there are opportunities for employment abroad.

Many organisations employ statisticians in small numbers, which means that opportunities for internal promotion may be limited. Promotion may be easier to find by changing employers. It is usually possible to switch between the different sectors after gaining a few years' experience. Larger companies usually have a promotion structure that allows for advancement into more senior management positions.

There are many career options and opportunities for diversification or specialisation at a later stage. With a PhD, prospects exist in research and teaching. Some statisticians move into related areas such as project management, regulatory work or work as a freelance consultant.