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The Real Poop

If 23 different people walk through the doors of a 7-11 convenience store 941 times in the span of an average lifespan of 73 years, what is the probability that a random sample of females wearing floral blouses purchase cigarettes with green labels more than energy drinks with pink labels? And how may we forecast, and even predict, those ladies' level of personal satisfaction with regard to the interpolation of the time series of this mined data?

But take notice: The bigger issue at stake here is if you care. If you don't care, you’re in the majority; if you do, keep reading. If you don't but find it ridiculously intriguing, you should also keep reading because we're entering the wild, wonderful world of structure…survival…and statistics!

Statisticians come up with "meaningful conclusions to messy data" (a common definition from an unknown source quoted by many statisticians). While statistics isn't the same as mathematics, they do go hand-in-hand. Statistics is a branch of applied math—the study of the physical, biological, or sociological world—and it uses mathematics to solve statistical problems and to develop new ways of solving statistical problems.

Clear as mud? Clear as the answer to those initial questions up top? Let’s unwind this definition.

If the study of statistics uses applied math, that means that a statistician must look at the physical world around him and make some assumptions, test those assumptions, and either find out that he's wrong, partly wrong, or completely wrong, and restate some new assumptions based on hard, cold data. All sorts of industries hire statisticians to grow their businesses, learn about their consumers, develop better products, and find out more about the industry they work in.

  • Market research  Perhaps the first thing you think of when hearing the word "statistician" is market research. Market research and statistics can be similar careers but they're not the same. Market researchers gather, record, and analyze information for providers of goods and services who want to stay in touch with the needs of those who buy and use their goods and services. Market research statisticians will work closely with the market researchers—helping design the projects, writing proposals, describing methodology—but when all the data is gathered, that's when the statisticians are separated from the researchers. The information will be picked apart, put together, dissected again, and reanalyzed. Then the hard part of the job: The statistician will need to be able to explain the findings to the market researchers, most likely people with no math or statistics background so that they, in turn, can convey their results to the client. This might be when a statistician's people skills come into play; all math and no play makes Steven Statistic a dull—and possibly unemployable—boy.
  • Professional sports teams  Sports statistics isn't just RBIs, rushing yards and interceptions or driving accuracy and putting averages. Baseball, football, baseball, and other pro sports teams and companies have gotten the message that hiring someone with statistics and data gathering skills is a great way to get an unbiased look at current players, past games, and the patterns and standouts of both. Statisticians who work for these teams also work closely with the recruiting department, evaluating the performances of high school and college talent, possible future team members. Anything to play the game better and win more often.
  • Healthcare  In medicine, statistics are used in order to explain or warrant the possible use of a particular drug or treatment as well as recognizing whether it is having the desired effect. Statisticians are hired in the areas of animal health, clinical trials, epidemiology, genetics, pharmacology, and public health.
  • Government  Governments and global decision makers hire statisticians to do a multitude of jobs. They provide information and data about many areas of citizens' lives, such as their health, social problems, economic issues, and their environments. For example, statisticians will work with public health officials to estimate how many people will, say, come down with the flu in a specific region. Or they may be able to develop and interpret a survey in order to predict population growth.
  • Environment   Researchers in environment fields such as biology, botany, geology, atmospheric science, ecology, physics, and conservation are often involved in working within scientific research programs in universities, governmental organizations, and private companies. Statisticians in environmental studies might work in oceanography, for example, assessing temperature patterns in ocean currents and their effects on the weather. Or they may assess risk of damage from a nuclear accident.

So you see that the world can be your statistical oyster if you're mathematically inclined and interested in gathering information, picking it apart in the minutiae and drawing conclusions about it. You can work in a variety of fields and your work can have a serious impact.