Where's the Next Generation of Statisticians Coming From?

A concern of national interest has been raised that Australia is not producing enough statistical and mathematical graduates to meet the demands for these professional skills. The Australian Bureau of Statistics recognise this as a major issue, and foresee a crisis for the profession and services in Australia unless action is taken. The Australian Statistician, Dennis Trewin, convened a meeting of leaders in the profession in April 2003 to discuss this exact issue, which Dr John Henstridge attended. The meeting considered how statistics could be more widely taught, how the profile of the profession could be raised, and how to sell a career in statistics to bright students.

As the largest employer of statisticians in Western Australia and among the largest employer of applied statisticians in Australia, what is Data Analysis Australia doing to address this concern? Quite a bit actually, and our efforts date back to the early days of the company.

Being located in the most isolated capital city in the world, Data Analysis Australia is consciously focussed on supporting and developing the local statistical community. We have guided and been involved in a number of initiatives that encourage undergraduates to consider statistics as a career and to develop those who have chosen a statistical career path.

Perhaps the most successful local venture has been the Workshop for Western Australian Young Statisticians, which aims to inform undergraduates about how wonderful statistical careers are and provide a networking opportunity for young statisticians. Data Analysis Australia was highly involved as a sponsor and its staff as co-organisers of the first workshop in 1994, and has continued this involvement for subsequent workshops (1999, 2001 and 2003). A number of statisticians have mentioned the workshop as one of the key influences in their career choice. This year's workshop attracted 41 delegates and 10 invited speakers. Examples like this make Western Australia a leading example in the development of young statisticians.

One of Data Analysis Australia's continuing activities is raising the awareness of the profession by providing work experience and practical opportunities for budding statisticians. Over the years, high school students and graduates have passed through the halls of Data Analysis Australia on work experience. We give these students the opportunity to work on real projects and gain some real insight into the working world of a statistician. We also host third year students from the University of Western Australia in practicum projects to contribute a practical, work oriented focus to their statistical degrees.

The real challenge is getting high school students interested in statistics and mathematics. Let's face it selling mathematics, is not easy. Even amongst the adult population most see it as something to be avoided. We need to change perceptions, get students to see statistics as a challenging and exciting career. Data Analysis Australia is interested in organising and co-sponsoring a program in West Australian high schools to promote the development of young statisticians.

While our efforts seem small on the scale of the problem facing Australia, we believe that these initiatives are gradually changing perceptions that people have of the profession of statistics, and that the next generation of great minds will strive to become statisticians!

September 2003