From 2010–2020, we had the “decade of statistics.” During that time period, “the number of statistics and biostatistics bachelor’s degrees awarded increased 474 percent.”
That growth wasn’t only seen in the undergraduate setting. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)—as cited in that same article on Amstat News, the American Statistical Association’s membership newsletter—states that “master’s degrees had a 136-percent increase for the same period and doctoral degrees had a 64-percent increase.”
And from 2019 to 2020 alone? “Bachelor’s degrees in statistics grew 12 percent to 4,942, master’s degrees grew nine percent to 4,900, and doctoral degrees grew 12 percent to 736.”
But why the huge uptick? Why do these graduates want to study statistics? Maybe because statistics or mathematics, in general, affect every career. Yes, every career.
Think of something you love to do and try to see if math isn’t involved.
Artist? Math—specifically, geometry. You need to know angles and area, especially if you build your own canvases or mediums, or draw depth and dimensions.
Musician? Math. You need to know math and numbers to understand music patterns and more. (There is even a journal on music and mathematics!)
Why else should you be interested in upping your math and stats knowledge?
Because you want to be in charge of financial transactions for your company or organization (purchasing manager; treasurer) or
Because you want to know just how well your favorite athlete ranks (sports analyst; professional sports player)
Construction and Sustainability
Because someone had to build the Golden Gate Bridge (civil engineer; urban planner) or
Because you want to work in public works (data scientist) or
Because someone has to be in charge of flying and landing airplanes safely (pilot; air traffic controller)
Humanities and Languages
Because you love to travel and want to know the distance, time and cost to do it (anyone)
Sciences, Mathematics and Biotechnology
Because you need to able to run tests and understand the results, analyze protein sequences and structures, or prescribe the right amount of medicine for an individual (biologist; physician)
Because you want to be able to know what you can afford to live comfortably and be able to budget to pay your bills (everyone).
Because Math and Stats Are in Our Daily Lives
Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month is a program of the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (JPBM). The purpose of this collaborative effort of the American Mathematical Society, the American Statistical Association, the Mathematical Association of America, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics is to “increase the visibility of mathematics as a field of study and communicate the power and intrigue in mathematics to a larger audience.”
Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month began as Mathematics Awareness Week. Now every April, since 1986 when President Ronald Reagan made a proclamation, the math and stats community has marked the occasion to increase the world’s understanding of the crucial “M” in STEM.
This year, JPBM’s April theme is “Mathematics and statistics keep the world spinning!” And it’s as true today, if not more, as it was in President Reagan’s proclamation, when he said, in part:
[T]he application of mathematics is indispensable in such diverse fields as medicine, computer sciences, space exploration, the skilled trades, business, defense, and government. To help encourage the study and utilization of mathematics, it is appropriate that all Americans be reminded of the importance of this basic branch of science to our daily lives.
According to JPBM’s site: “[Math and statistics] play a significant role in addressing many real-world problems—internet security, sustainability, disease, climate change, the data deluge and more. Research in these and other areas is ongoing, revealing new results and applications every day in fields such as medicine, manufacturing, energy, biotechnology and business. Mathematics and statistics are important drivers of innovation in our technological world, in which new systems and methodologies continue to become more complex.
“Basic research in mathematics is valuable in itself, but it often contributes to research in other sciences and has often, years later, led to discoveries that affect society today. For example, an encryption algorithm used today in e-commerce relies on results discovered in the 17th and 18th centuries, long before computers were invented. Mathematics has inspired some of the most stunning architecture and art.”
And that is just math. “In the age of big data, statistics underlies almost every decision made today, whether it's the effectiveness of a new drug or treatment or the debut of a new mobile device,” JPBM notes. “Statistics is how analysts convert raw data into useful information, from studies of proteins to surveys of galaxies.”
Why We Teach Math and Statistics
We reached out to two of our respected math and stats instructors to understand more about why—why it is in every career, why they studied the subjects, why they love the field.
Seema Singh Saharan has an M.Phil. in mathematics in operations research, and she has taught operations research, mathematics, data science, machine learning, statistics and biostatistics at ours and other universities. Seema has worked as a software engineer on commercial and scientific projects using programming languages such as R, python, Matlab, C and Java. She is currently completing a Ph.D. in statistics with a focus on data science algorithms and working as a volunteer statistician and data scientist at the cardiovascular lab at UCSF.
Hillel Raz, Ph.D., has research interests in mathematical physics, which is solving problems that originate in physics using mathematical tools, most recently on spectral properties of quantum and discrete graphs. He has applied his mathematical studies in the development of algorithms both classical and AI in the FinTech and MedTech industries. Hillel has been a math instructor with us since 2003. Having always enjoyed solving problems, he also considers himself both teacher and student and is particularly interested in the health, education and environment sectors.
What career did you first imagine yourself having using math/statistics?
Seema: Right from the start of my career trajectory, I wanted to either teach mathematics at the university level or use the applied concepts of mathematics, statistics and software engineering in an industrial setting.
Hillel: I am not sure I ever imagined a career. I just chose jobs that seemed interesting to me and had what I considered was a positive impact on the world. Interestingly, they typically included solving problems that were new to me and required learning some new tools and a new area.
What careers do you think people think do not use math—but really do?
Seema: Careers that are not foundationally mathematically based but surprisingly apply mathematical constructs include forensic science, archeology, history, animation, urban planning, music and more.
Hillel: Lots of arts-related professions actually use mathematical concepts. For instance, architecture requires a great spatial understanding, but so do fine arts such as painting.
How do we use math and/or statistics in everyday life?
Hillel: Mathematics and statistics help us better understand the various situations that we cross in our lives—politics, economics or even in simple everyday things such as gas consumption, optimization in terms of which lane to take while driving, or cooking.
Seema: We use mathematics in our daily lives for managing monetary transactions, estimating time and distance-related questions, understanding loans, taxes, shopping budgets, sports-related metrics and music complexity.
What do you love about the math field right now?
Hillel: I love showing others the beauty of mathematics, and there is no better way to do it than via teaching. Mathematics is an ever-growing field. Its usability of newer fields in the quantum-computing world, in the crypto world and in AI is fascinating.
Seema: The phenomenal scope of the statistics, mathematics and data science domain enthuses me to apply and teach it. I am to this date astounded and enamored by its immense potential with regard to solving real-life problems such as disease diagnosis, image recognition, weather forecasting, business analytics, et cetera. The underpinning knowledge of all these applications are embedded within the field of mathematics. In essence, mathematics is the cornerstone of all the powerful applications that are productively working to improve human lives.
What do you love about teaching these subjects?
Seema: Mathematics, a synergistically beautiful domain, has been developed over centuries by scientists all over the world. The flow of mathematical structure is very cohesive and connected, and to the rational part of my brain it makes intuitive sense to apply and teach mathematics to students from diverse domains. I feel invigorated and challenged when teaching counterintuitive concepts related to statistics, especially the perspective of probability that helps us quantify randomness. I have always enjoyed challenging my intellectual abilities and stepping out of my comfort zone—and this is now my second nature. I love to study and teach challenging topics, such as statistics and mathematics, while also comprehending and explaining their intersection with other fields—such as computer science and data science.
Hillel: I look at mathematics as a way to continue learning how to solve problems. I love being able to help someone understand a concept and see its depth. There is something about that first exploration, the initial grasp of an idea that is so pure and I love being a part of it when I can.