Posts filed under Education (78)

December 15, 2017

Jenny Bryan: “You need a huge tolerance for ambiguity”

Jenny Bryan @JennyBryan was one of several leading women in data science who attended this week’s joint conference of the New Zealand Statistical Association, the International Association of Statistical Computing (Asian Regional Section) and the Operations Research Society of New Zealand at the University of Auckland, so we couldn’t miss the opportunity to talk with her (Jenny’s conference presentation, titled “Zen and the aRt of workflow maintenance”, is here). A brief bio: Jenny is a software engineer at RStudio while on leave from her role as Associate Professor in Statistics at the University of British Columbia, where she was a biostatistician. Jenny serves in leadership positions with rOpenSci and Forwards and is a member of The R Foundation. She takes special delight in eliminating the small agonies of data analysis.

Statschat: When did you first encounter statistics as a young person? Jenny: I was an economics major which had exactly one required statistics paper, which I took, and then continued to try and make that degree as un-quantitative as I possibly could. I had started out thinking I would major in some form of engineering, and therefore was taking math and physics and the technical track.

I was one of very few women in the course, and the culture of the course was to pull an all-nighter once a week [to do the weekly problem set]. The average mark on the exam would be 20 out of 100, and I was mentally not prepared for this type of sort of stamina-driven culture.

Was it a macho culture? That’s how it felt to me, and you needed enough innate confidence to never worry about the fact that you were getting marks you had never seen before in your life – everyone failed miserably all the time. After the first semester or two of this, I decided it wasn’t for me and declared my major to be German literature, which I saw through. But in the last two years at university, I realised I needed to be employable when I graduated, so I added economics as a means to making sure I could make a living later.

I worked as a management consultant for a couple of years and that’s where I learned that I was actually at my happiest when they locked in a room by myself with a huge spreadsheet and I had some data task ahead of me … and so then I gradually worked my way back to what I think I’m really good at.  

Did you pursue statistics qualifications? I did. After my two years of management consulting, the normal track would be to be sent off to business school. But thanks to what I learned about myself, I was pretty sure that wasn’t the right track for me. But I had learned how to give talks, how to extract questions from people and go and make it quantitative and then translate my solution back into their language. So the management consulting experience was super-useful.

At that point, I had met my husband, and I followed him to his first postdoc with no particular plans. He’s a mathematician – he knew he wanted to be a mathematician when he was 6. I never had that kind of certainty about what I was meant to do! It took me a lot longer to figure it out.

So I followed him, and basically played a lot of tennis at first (laughs) while were living in Southern California … I decided some form of statistics would be ideal for me, but I didn’t have enough of a math background to take the specialised math exams in the US, called the GREs [Graduate Record Examinations] that a lot of statistics departments want to see. So I started taking as many prerequisites as I could at the university where he was doing his postdoc. I did well and started working as a teaching assistant in these classes as well.

Then we moved together, two years later, for him to start his second postdoc and for me to start biostatistics grad school. Also during this time, I supported myself doing fancy Excel work as a temp … so I did a PhD in Biostatistics at Berkeley in five years – the first two years are the masters, and three years of writing the thesis.

What’s your academic career path been since then? I got my job at University of British Columbia before I graduated, and I was there until I went on leave earlier this year. I’ve since been working in Hadley Wickham’s group at RStudio. My title is software engineer, which I still find a bit peculiar.

Why? Because I feel I should have more formal training in engineering to have that title, but I’m getting more comfortable with it.

What’s the essence of your role there? I spend about two-thirds of my effort on package development and package maintenance. Hadley is starting to gradually give maintainership of his packages to other people … so I took over readxl. I already had an existing line of work in making R talk to Google APIs [application programming interface], so I worked with an intern this summer and we created a package from scratch so that you can use Google Drive from R. Now I’m revisiting some general tools for authenticating with Google APIs, and I have another package that talks to Google spreadsheets. I also do quite a bit of talking and teaching.

You put a lot of your work on the internet. Why do you feel that is important to share it this way? I decided this was how I was going to interpret what it meant to be a scholar. Several years ago, I decided that teaching people about the process of data analysis was super-important to me, and was being completely undertaught, and I was going to dedicate a lot of my time to it. Luckily, I already had tenure at that point, but it still looks a bit like career suicide to make this decision, because it means that you’re not producing conventional statistical outputs like methodological papers. I also felt like putting my stuff out there and having a public course webpage and pushing things out would be my defence against [any suggestion] that I wasn’t doing anything.

You’re clearly not satisfied that the current academic system is serving the subject well. Not at all! We have a really outdated notion that only publications matter, and publications where there’s novel methodology. I think that’s leaving a ton of value on the table – making sure that statistical methods that exist are actually used, or used correctly. But the field is not set up to reward that – the majority of papers are not widely read and cited, and many of these methods are not used or implemented in any practical way …. it’s been enshrined that academic papers are what counts, but they’re not a directly consumable good by society. We need knowledge-translation activity as well.

So you’re rebelling. Well, I felt that the only way you could do it was to start doing the things you thought were valuable. Being able to put your course material online, to have a dialogue with people in your field on Twitter … you can finally remove a lot of these gatekeepers from your life. They can keep doing their thing, but I know people care and read this stuff. Since I was able to wait until I had security of employment, I decided that if that meant I didn’t go from associate to full [professor], I could live with that. It’s not that my department isn’t [supportive] – it’s either neutral or positive on all this. But it’s true that everyone else I was hired with is a full professor and I’m not.

Does that bug you? Yes and no. I think I could have pushed harder. But every time you push on these things, you’re basically asked, “Well, can you make what you do look more like a statistics publication? Each package that you write, can you write a stats paper around it?” and I’ve decided the answer is, “No. Can we agree that is not a helpful way to evaluate this work? The only reason to repackage it in that way is to check some box.”

Academics are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with academic publishing structures. Do you think that perhaps data scientists might take the lead in dismantling structures that aren’t helping the subject? Maybe, and I think things are changing. But I decided that it’s like turning the Titanic and it’s not going to happen on a time-scale consistent with my career.  I can’t wait for academia to gradually reshape itself.

Is that one of the reasons you went off to RStudio? Oh, absolutely. I feel the things I do are tolerated in academia, and often found very useful, [but that said], I lost my grant funding the more applied I became. It’s harder to get promoted. You’re pressured to sell your work as something it’s not, just because that’s what the status quo rewards. Working at RStudio, I’m actually allowed to say what I do is what I do, and be proud of it, and be told that you are excellent at it, which is not currently possible in academic statistics.

So tell me about your typical day, working for RStudio. It’s a remote company. There is an office in Boston and a large enough group in Seattle that they rent a space, but the rest of us are on our own. So it’s just me alone at home working on my projects. We use Slack as a communication channel; the team I’m on maintains two channels for two separate groups of packages. We might have a group conversation going and it can be completely silent for three days, or we can have 100 messages in a morning. It really depends when someone raises an issue that other people care about, or can help out with. And then, I have private one-off conversations with Hadley or other members of the group, and similarly, they can be very quiet or suddenly light up.

Who do you live with? My husband’s a professor, so he’s mostly on campus but sometimes he’s around – we both like working at home and being alone together. The kids are all at home; they go to school from 9am until 3pm or 4pm. My oldest is 14 and I have twins who are about to turn 12.

So how do you manage work-life balance, given that you work from home? Well, I work when they are not there, then I try to work from 3pm to 6pm, or 4pm to 6pm, with mixed success, I would say. Then there are a couple of hours which are explicitly about driving people here and there. I do a second shift from 9pm to 1am or 2am.

Are you a night owl? Yeah, which I don’t love, but that’s just how things are in my life right now. I have to do it that way. I have one productive shift while the children are at school, then one productive shift after they go to bed.

Let’s talk about women in data science. I have the impression that maths remains male-dominated and that statistics is less so, but that data science appeals to women and that the numbers are quite good. What’s your take on that?  The reason I liked statistics, and particularly liked applied statistics, is I was never drawn to math for maths’ sake, or the inherent beauty of math. I enjoyed doing it in the service of some other thing that I care about … I think it’s possible that there’s something about me that’s typical of other women, where having that external motivation is what makes you interested in, or willing to do, the math and the programming. For its own sake, it never really appealed to me that much. Programming appeals to me more on its own than math does. Programming actually can motivate me just because I love the orderliness of it and accomplishing these little concrete tasks – I love checking lists (laughs) and being able to check my work and know that it is correct … When you combine it with, “This is going to enable us to answer some question”, then it’s really irresistible.

So it’s the real-world nature of it that is really appealing to you. Yeah – I care about that a lot.

What skills and attributes make a good data scientist? I think being naturally curious, doing something for the sake of answering the question versus a “will-this-be-in-the-test?” mentality – just trying to do the minimum.

You need a huge tolerance for ambiguity. This is a quality I notice that we’re spending a lot of time on in our Master of Data Science programme at UBC. Half the students have worked before and about half are straight out of undergrad, and the questions they ask us are so different. The people straight out of undergrad school expect everything to be precisely formulated, and the people who’ve worked get it, that you’re never going to understand every last thing; you’re never going to be given totally explicit instructions. Figuring out what you should be doing is part of your job. So the sooner you develop this tolerance for ambiguity [the better] – that makes you very successful, instead of waiting around to be given an incredibly precise set of instructions. Part of your job is to make that set of instructions.

How much room for creativity is there in data science?  I think there’s a ton. There’s almost never one right answer – there’s a large set of reasonable answers that reasonable people would agree are useful ways of looking at it. I think there’s huge scope to be creative. I also think being organised and pleased by order frequently makes this job more satisfying. People come to you with messy questions and messy data, and part of what you’re doing is this sort of data therapy, helping them organise their thoughts: “What is your actual question? Can the data you have actually answer that question? What’s the closest we can get?” Do that, then package it nicely, you do feel like you’ve reduced entropy! It feels really good.

You work from home and that suits you, but not every woman is able to do that.  What needs to change to help women scientists’ progress through life and career, balancing what they need to balance? I don’t how specific this is to data science, but three things were helpful to me. One is I live in Canada, where we have serious maternity leave – you can take up to a year, and because that’s what the Government makes possible, that means it’s normal. In both cases, I took between six and nine months – I was begging to come back before a year! But having a humane amount of time for maternity leave is important.

Also, what’s typical in Canada, and what and UBC does, is that they pause any sort of career clock for a reasonable amount of time. So every time I went on maternity leave it added one year to my tenure clock.

You don’t end up out of synch with people who hadn’t been away. Yeah. It [parenthood] still slows your career down, but this helps immensely. So there are the structural policies.

Secondly, I do have a really supportive spouse. I feel like maybe I was lead parent when the kids were little, but since I made this career pivot and became much more interested in my work, he’s really taken the lead. I feel that there were many years where I was the primary parent organising the household, and now it’s really the other way around … that’s huge.

Third, I’m in my mid-late 40s now and I’m embarking on what feels to me like a second career; certainly, a second distinct part of my career and focusing more on software development. I think you also have to be willing to accept that women’s careers might unfold on a different time-scale. You might lose a few years in your 30s to having little kids … but you often find awards that are for people within five years of their PhD or for young investigators and they assume that you don’t have all this other stuff going on. I think another thing is [employers] being willing to realise that someone can still be effective, or haven’t reached their peak, in their 40s. The time-frame on which all of this happens needs to be adjusted. You need to be flexible about that.

Read more about Jenny Bryan:

Her academic page

A profile by rOpenSci.org

Di Cook: “I had advantages early on, and I feel like I need to pay that back”

Australian Di Cook @visnut was one of several leading women in data science who attended this week’s joint conference of the New Zealand Statistical Association, the International Association oDi Cookf Statistical Computing (Asian Regional Section) and the Operations Research Society of New Zealand at the University of Auckland, so we couldn’t miss the opportunity to talk with her. A brief bio: Di is a world leader in data visu­al­isa­tion and well-known for her work on inter­ac­tive graph­ics. She is Professor of Business Analytics in the Department of Econometrics and Business Statistics at Monash University. She’s a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, elected member of the R Foundation and the Editor of the Journal of Computational and Graphical Statistics. Her research lies in data science, data visualisation, exploratory data analysis, data mining, high-dimensional methods and statistical computing.

Statschat: When did you first encounter statistics? Di: It was in my undergraduate degree. I studied mathematics with a plan to do math teaching. Statistics was one of the areas of mathematics that I could major in other than pure, or applied, mathematics. There was an extremely good female professor at the University of New England, Eve Bofinger, and I was drawn to some of the methods she was teaching, and that led me into statistics.

What was your career path after that?  I taught math at high school for about three months, then I had an offer from the Australian National University to go there as a research assistant, and that seemed a better fit. As a research assistant, I got to learn a lot more things, particularly computing. Computing, I think, is a critical aspect of data science today.

I spent a few years doing that and then realised I’d really like to make art, because some of the research-assistant work I was doing was computer graphics for data online. It fed into my art instincts from teenage years, so I spent some time as an artist before finding a graduate programme in statistics in the US that focused on data visualisation.

What sort of art do you do? I was painting – I haven’t done any for a long, long time, since I finished my PhD; it’s been too busy.

So your creative pursuits have fed into your career. Yeah – seeing that I could do data visualisation as a part of the statistics allowed me to realise that I could do a higher degree in stats; that merged my interests very well.

Where did you do your PhD? At Rutgers University in New Jersey.

You spent 22 years at Iowa State University in the US, and moved to Monash in Australia in 2015. What are your major projects there? I have a lot of projects. One of them is with Tennis Australia; we’ve been looking at tennis serves. So we have Hawk-Eye trajectory data and we visualise the tennis serves and look at how the players are different or similar.

That’s very cool – how’s that for applied statistics. Yeah, it’s fantastic, isn’t it. We’re also looking at face recognition in tennis video, to be able to detect the face through broadcast video, so that we can monitor emotions throughout a match and see how that affects performance.

We’re also looking at pedestrian sensor data, that comes from a city of Melbourne (almost live) feed. One of my PhD students, Earo, has a new type of plot called a calendar plot; you make your data plots into a calendar format so that you can study things relative to holidays, and put it really on a human pattern basis.

Describe a typical day at work at Monash. We have a lot of meetings with students, so I would meet up with two or three students – PhD students or postdocs or research assistants – on projects that we’re working with, and meet up with other faculty. On some days I’m teaching data science classes to around 200 students. We often just go for a coffee with colleagues. We also play ping-pong on the conference table! I’ve got a good group of colleagues who play tennis, so we play tennis together.

It sounds very collegial. You’re a prominent woman in data science, and the field seems to appeal to women as a career path. Do have any thoughts on that? I haven’t really looked at those numbers … but honestly, I think there’s too big of an emphasis on gender differences, and they’re not real when you look at the metrics. It’s just a perception. But one of the things I notice with the women that I work with is that they are interested in solving problems, and having an outcome of their work that makes life better for others. And that’s one thing that data science offers that pure statistics research is a bit removed from.

Do you have a family? I have one son. I moved to Monash after he graduated high school. He went off to college in the US, while I moved halfway across the globe, which he was quite happy about. He visits during the holidays, and last American summer found an internship at Monash University.

When he was small, how did you navigate work and life? It’s really difficult. I can’t imagine how single women do that – you need to have some sort of support mechanism. Day-care is amazing – and however much you spend on day-care, it’s worth it. And also partly because I think young kids early on really get a huge amount of benefit from being in the social mix of other kids the same age. He was in day-care from three months, part-time, and even at five months, if we were away for a week, when he’d get back, the other babies were over the moon – they recognised each other. I hadn’t realised how early on that socialisation happens.

So you weren’t concerned about day-care at all. Some women get tied up in knots about putting their kids in day-care. I know – there’s this thing about guilt. It is actually the best environment – they [pre-school educators] can do a much better job than me. If my time pressure is relieved by not having to have every moment dealing with all the stuff you have to deal with young kids … he’s come out as being a very sociable child and that he learnt from early on. Guaranteed when you’ve got the most important meeting, and your husband has a most important meeting at exactly the same time, that’ll be the time your kid gets sick. So you have to have a backup.

So what advice do you give other academic mums? Don’t stress – there are ways around. And the meeting you think is most important doesn’t have to be the most important. You just juggle everything you have as well as you can, and there are ways around any hurdle or hiccup. Just keep out there. It’s really important for other younger women to see women in senior roles.

Are universities doing the necessary to help women make the most of their talents in data science? I think it’s still a struggle. I think there’s been bureaucratic pushes for gender equality, which is really how I actually got an academic position in the first place in the US.

How so? Equal opportunity. Many statistics departments had no women, and it was a cultural shift in the early 1990s that many university administrations were forcing departments to hire women … or otherwise they couldn’t hire … if they [universities] were doing it well, they were not putting women in that situation of thinking, “Oh I was only hired because I was a woman”. They were doing it in the sense of making sure that women realised that they were talented, and wanted for their  talents, not just because of the administration push. But that wasn’t universal.

I thought things have been solved, but it’s not. Time and time again women are evaluated differently at promotion, and in classroom evaluations, they are not on average [rated to be] as good as the men, and that’s been shown again and again and again. So the thing is, don’t get put off by that; you will sometimes need to fight for your promotions and have people willing to fight for you.

Systemically, things are still not weighted fairly between men and women. It’s not. I’ve just finished studying some of the research-grant rates in Australia and the number given to women faculty are pitiful, from both the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council, which is the health sciences. That impacts whether women can get through to those higher ranks. That’s my next fight.

Would you see yourself as a crusader? How do you define yourself in exposing these inequalities? We’ve seen a lot of things [around sex, privilege and power discussed] in public in these last few months, with the sex scandals in Hollywood.  I’ve seen that all through my career in academia. I think we, hopefully, are on a cusp where the playing field for recognising talent among women becomes more level … I had advantages early on, and I feel like I need to pay that back.

I wouldn’t say I’m a crusader; I’m saying I see where we’ve come from, in terms of generations of women in my family, and where we are now, and we’ve come a long, long way. I’ve had so many more opportunities than my mum and my grandmother … I feel like I’ve got a responsibility to those generations to keep it moving in the right direction.

What advice would you give young women looking at a career in data science? What skills and attributes do they need to develop? Get onto the publicly available software – free software like R and Python – and get to know them. These are hugely powerful, and they give you power. There’s a number of courses you can do for free to help learn how to work with data.

Any particular courses that you would recommend? There’s Data Camp and Corsera and Software Carpentry, among others. Work with data. Play. Extract somebody’s tweets and analyse the text – there are really good resources for that. Pull data from the government web pages – they have lots of information. The New Zealand Herald has lots of data available. Just get comfortable finding data, making plots of it, and seeing whether it matches up what the media is reporting about a problem. This is the sort of power you can get over your life if you can make decisions yourself, rather than being fed decisions.

Read more about Di Cook:

Her academic page

Wikipedia

Another Q & A

February 13, 2016

Just one more…

NPR’s Planet Money ran an interesting podcast in mid-January of this year. I recommend you take the time to listen to it.

The show discussed the idea that there are problems in the way that we do science — in this case that our continual reliance on hypothesis testing (or statistical significance) is leading to many scientifically spurious results. As a Bayesian, that comes as no surprise. One section of the show, however, piqued my pedagogical curiosity:

STEVE LINDSAY: OK. Let’s start now. We test 20 people and say, well, it’s not quite significant, but it’s looking promising. Let’s test another 12 people. And the notion was, of course, you’re just moving towards truth. You test more people. You’re moving towards truth. But in fact – and I just didn’t really understand this properly – if you do that, you increase the likelihood that you will get a, quote, “significant effect” by chance alone.

KESTENBAUM: There are lots of ways you can trick yourself like this, just subtle ways you change the rules in the middle of an experiment.

You can think about situations like this in terms of coin tossing. If we conduct a single experiment where there are only two possible outcomes, let us say “success” and “failure”, and if there is genuinely nothing affecting the outcomes, then any “success” we observe will be due to random chance alone. If we have a hypothetical fair coin — I say hypothetical because physical processes can make coin tossing anything but fair — we say the probability of a head coming up on a coin toss is equal to the probability of a tail coming up and therefore must be 1/2 = 0.5. The podcast describes the following experiment:

KESTENBAUM: In one experiment, he says, people were told to stare at this computer screen, and they were told that an image was going to appear on either the right site or the left side. And they were asked to guess which side. Like, look into the future. Which side do you think the image is going to appear on?

If we do not believe in the ability of people to predict the future, then we think the experimental subjects should have an equal chance of getting the right answer or the wrong answer.

The binomial distribution allows us to answer questions about multiple trials. For example, “If I toss the coin 10 times, then what is the probability I get heads more than seven times?”, or, “If the subject does the prognostication experiment described 50 times (and has no prognostic ability), what is the chance she gets the right answer more than 30 times?”

When we teach students about the binomial distribution we tell them that the number of trials (coin tosses) must be fixed before the experiment is conducted, otherwise the theory does not apply. However, if you take the example from Steve Lindsay, “..I did 20 experiments, how about I add 12 more,” then it can be hard to see what is wrong in doing so. I think the counterintuitive nature of this relates to general misunderstanding of conditional probability. When we encounter a problem like this, our response is “Well I can’t see the difference between 10 out of 20, versus 16 out of 32.” What we are missing here is that the results of the first 20 experiments are already known. That is, there is no longer any probability attached to the outcomes of these experiments. What we need to calculate is the probability of a certain number of successes, say x given that we have already observed y successes.

Let us take the numbers given by Professor Lindsay of 20 experiments followed a further 12. Further to this we are going to describe “almost significant” in 20 experiments as 12, 13, or 14 successes, and “significant” as 23 or more successes out of 32. I have chosen these numbers because (if we believe in hypothesis testing) we would observe 15 or more “heads” out of 20 tosses of a fair coin fewer than 21 times in 1,000 (on average). That is, observing 15 or more heads in 20 coin tosses is fairly unlikely if the coin is fair. Similarly, we would observe 23 or more heads out of 32 coin tosses about 10 times in 1,000 (on average).

So if we have 12 successes in the first 20 experiments, we need another 11 or 12 successes in the second set of experiments to reach or exceed our threshold of 23. This is fairly unlikely. If successes happen by random chance alone, then we will get 11 or 12 with probability 0.0032 (about 3 times in 1,000). If we have 13 successes in the first 20 experiments, then we need 10 or more successes in our second set to reach or exceed our threshold. This will happen by random chance alone with probability 0.019 (about 19 times in 1,000). Although it is an additively huge difference, 0.01 vs 0.019, the probability of exceeding our threshold has almost doubled. And it gets worse. If we had 14 successes, then the probability “jumps” to 0.073 — over seven times higher. It is tempting to think that this occurs because the second set of trials is smaller than the first. However, the phenomenon exists then as well.

The issue exists because the probability distribution for all of the results of experiments considered together is not the same as the probability distribution for results of the second set of experiments given we know the results of the first set of experiment. You might think about this as being like a horse race where you are allowed to make your bet after the horses have reached the half way mark — you already have some information (which might be totally spurious) but most people will bet differently, using the information they have, than they would at the start of the race.

January 25, 2016

Meet Statistics summer scholar Eva Brammen

photo_brammenEvery summer, the Department of Statistics offers scholarships to a number of students so they can work with staff on real-world projects. Eva, right, is working on a sociolinguistic study with Dr Steffen Klaere. Eva, right,  explains:

“How often do you recognise the dialect of a neighbour and start classifying them into a certain category? Sociolinguistics studies patterns and structures in spoken language to identify some of the traits that enable us to do this kind of classification.

“Linguists have known for a long time that this involves recognising relevant signals in speech, and using those signals to differentiate some speakers and group others. Specific theories of language predict that some signals will cluster together, but there are remarkably few studies that seriously explore the patterns that might emerge across a number of signals.

“The study I am working on was carried out on Bequia Island in the Eastern Caribbean. The residents of three villages, Mount Pleasant, Paget Farm and Hamilton, say that they can identify which village people come from by their spoken language. The aim of this study was to detect signals in speech that tied the speaker to a location.

“One major result from this project was that the data are sometimes insufficient to answer the researchers’ questions satisfactorily. So we are tapping into the theory of experimental design to develop sampling protocols for sociolinguistic studies that permit researchers to answer their questions satisfactorily.

“I am 22 and come from Xanten in Germany. I studied Biomathematics at the Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-University in Greifswald, and have just finished my bachelor degree.

“What I like most about statistics is its connection with mathematical theory and its application to many different areas. You can work with people who aren’t necessarily statisticians.

“This is my first time in New Zealand, so with my time off I am looking forward to travelling around the country. During my holidays I will explore Northland and the Bay of Islands. After I have finished my project, I want to travel from Auckland to the far south and back again.”

January 21, 2016

Meet Statistics summer scholar David Chan

David ChanEvery summer, the Department of Statistics offers scholarships to a number of students so they can work with staff on real-world projects. David, right, is working on the New Zealand General Social Survey 2014 with Professor Thomas Lumley and Associate Professor Brian McArdle of Statistics, and  Senior Research Fellow Roy Lay-Yee and Professor Peter Davis from COMPASS, the Centre of Methods and Policy Application in the Social Sciences. David explains:

“My project involves exploring the social network data collected by the New Zealand General Social Survey 2014, which measures well-being and is the country’s biggest social survey outside the five-yearly census. I am essentially profiling each respondent’s social network, and then I’ll investigate the relationships between a person’s social network and their well-being.

“Measurements of well-being include socio-economic status, emotional and physical health, and overall life satisfaction. I intend to explore whether there is a link between social networks and well-being. I’ll then identify what kinds of people make a social network successful and how they influence a respondent’s well-being.

“I have just completed a conjoint Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Science, majoring in composition and statistics respectively.  When I started my conjoint, I wasn’t too sure why statistics appealed to me. But I know now – statistics appeals to me because of its analytical nature to solving both theoretical and real-life problems.

“This summer, I’m planning to hang out with my friends and family. I’m planning to work on a small music project as well.”

 

 

January 15, 2016

Who got the numbers, how, and why?

The Dominion Post has what I’m told is a front page story about school costs, with some numbers:

For children starting state school this year, the total cost, including fees, extracurricular activities, other necessities, transport and computers, by the time they finish year 13 in 2028 is estimated at $35,064 by education-focused savings trust Australian Scholarship Group.

That increases to $95,918 for a child at a state-integrated school, and $279,807 for private school.

Given that the figures involve extrapolation of both real cost increases and inflation thirteen years into the future, I’m not convinced that a whole-education total is all that useful. I would have thought estimates for a single year would be more easily interpreted.  However, that’s not the main issue.

ASG do this routinely. They don’t have the 2016 numbers on their website yet, but they do have last year’s version. Important things to note about the numbers, from that link:

ASG conducted an online education costs survey among its members during October 2013. The surveys covered primary and secondary school. In all, ASG received more than 1000 survey responses.

So, it’s a non-random, unweighted survey, probably with a low response rate, among people signed up for an education-savings programme. You’d expect it to overestimate, but it’s not clear how much. Also

Figures have been rounded and represent the upper ranges that parents can reasonably expect to pay

‘Rounded’ is good, even though they don’t actually show much sign of having been rounded. ‘Represent the upper ranges’ is a bit more worrying when there’s no indication of how this was done — and when the Dom Post didn’t include this caveat in their story.

 

Meet Statistics summer scholar Hubert Liang

Every summer, the Department of Statistics offers scholarships to a number of students so they can work with staff on real-world projects. Hubert, right, is working on ways to graphically represent community conservation effHubert Liangorts with Associate Professor Rachel Fewster. Hubert explains:

“Conservation efforts are needed to protect the natural flora and fauna of our beautiful country. This exciting project involves preparing and analysing data collected from volunteers involved in conservation efforts against pests such as rats.

“The data is analysed and uploaded to a website called CatchIT, which is an interactive website that allows the bait and trap information to be presented in graphic form to volunteers, which provides feedback on their pest-control efforts. The data comes to life on the screen, and this engages current and future volunteers in tracking the success of their pest-control projects.

“I am in the final year of my Bachelor of Science majoring in Statistics and Biological Science, having previously finished a Bachelor of Pharmacy (Hons). Statistics has a wide applicability to a wide range of disciplines, and appeals to me because I am passionate about the simple process of getting the most from raw data. It is a very rewarding process knowing that you can make the data more appealing and important to the end user.

“This summer, besides doing this studentship, I’ll be enjoying the sunshine, and relaxing on the beach with family and friends.”

 

January 11, 2016

Meet Statistics summer scholar Christopher Nottingham

Chris NottinghamEvery summer, the Department of Statistics offers scholarships to a number of students so they can work with staff on real-world projects. Christopher, right, is working with Associate Professor David Scott on All Blacks-related data. Christopher explains:

“My project is aimed at predicting the career lengths of current and future All Blacks based on data from all of the past All Blacks. This project will be useful as it will aid the planning within the All Blacks camp.

“This coming year, I will be studying a research-based MSc in Statistics. My thesis is in the area of quantitative fisheries science and will involve translating ADMB code into STAN code.

“Statistics appeals to me because of its diversity. For example, one day you could be analysing fisheries data, and the next, data relating to the All Blacks.

“In my spare time I enjoying walks along the beach, sailing and cycling around the waterfront with my wife.”

 

 

January 6, 2016

Meet Statistics summer scholar Katie Fahy

Every summer, the Department of Statistics offers scholarships to a number of students so they can work with staff on real-world projects. Katie, right, is working on the New Zealand Socio-Economic Index with Dr Barry Milne of COMPASS (Katie FahyCentre of Methods and Policy Application in the Social Sciences) and Professor Alan Lee from the Department of Statistics. Katie explains:

“The New Zealand Socio-Economic Index (NZSEI) assigns occupations a score that enables us to measure the socio-economic status of people in that occupation. It’s calculated using the average age, income and education level of people with each job. For example, doctors would have a very high socio-economic index, because they’re typically high-earning and well-educated people.

“The NZSEI has been created from Census data since the 90s, but has not yet been updated for the most recent Census in 2013. In this project, my job is to update the NZSEI using path analysis, and check that this updated version is appropriate for all people in New Zealand. A couple of examples include assessing that the index is valid for all ethnicities, and valid for workers in both urban and rural regions.

“The index is important to measure any changes to New Zealand over time, as it is updated with each Census. As well as this, the NZSEI uses a similar methodology to international scales, so international comparisons are possible.

“I am currently in my third year of studying Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sheffield in England, and I’m halfway through my year here in Auckland as an exchange student. I’ve always been interested in Statistics and studying it at university level has shown me how applicable it is in a variety of fields, from finance to biology.

“Over the summer, I’m looking forward to exploring New Zealand more.”

 

 

August 19, 2015

World Statistics Day – October 20, 2015

What are you doing on October 20? Statisticians all over the world will be showcasing the value of their work under the theme ‘Better data, better lives’. Quite. Here is the logo for this year, downloadable from the UNStats site here.

WSD_Logo_Final_Languages_Outline

 

The World Statistics Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010 – so, fairly recently – to recognise the importance of statistics in shaping our societies. National and regional statistical days already existed in more than 100 countries, but the General Assembly’s adoption of this international day as 20 October brought extra momentum. That first World Statistics Day in October 2010 was marked in more than 130 countries and areas.

According to UNStats, this year marks an important cornerstone for official statistics, with the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals (see how countries have fared here), the post-2015 development agenda, the data revolution (see what the Data Revolution Group set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has to say here), the preparations for the 2020 World Population and Housing Census Programme and the likes.

Statschat hasn’t heard a lot about what might be happening in New Zealand and elsewhere – it might yet be a bit too early for announcements – but if you are running an event or know of one, please let us know. In the meantime, one cute initiative of UNStats is to translate the English logo into many of the languages of the world. We couldn’t miss the opportunity to have UNStats do ours in the first language of this country, te reo Māori. Te tino kē hoki o te moko nā! (Nice logo!)

 

WorldStatsDay_Logo_Maori-01