October 13, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
University of Texas at El Paso
University of Houston - Clear Lake
Brigham Young University -- Hawaii
Humboldt State University
Shawnee State University
Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Paul Bernhardt: A famous statistician, John Tukey, once said that "the best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone's backyard." This quote summarizes life as a practicing statistician: you help scientists, businesses, or the government better understand their study subjects, their market, or their interests by carefully analyzing their data and making appropriate inferences. Thus, for statisticians, versatility is key. This can be demonstrated through work or internship experiences, examples of projects completed, a variety of classes taken in school, and strong programming abilities. The better that a statistician is able to portray on a resume that they know how to handle data and work with individuals who need data advice or analysis, the better their resume will look.
Paul Bernhardt: Statisticians generally have to work with a variety of people from a variety of fields. Thus statisticians have to be eager to learn and ask questions. It is common for a client or a scientist consulting with a statistician for the first time to think that they know what they want, but it is the job of the statistician to ask questions to make sure not only that they understand the data and the data-related issues, but that the analyses goals are feasible. In most statistics jobs, working with others, often as a team, is essential. This requires solid communication skills, both in conveying thoughts on the best procedure as well as in explaining technical results to individuals not familiar with statistical jargon.
Paul Bernhardt: Statisticians must have a range of methodological knowledge, and which skills are most important will vary heavily from job to job. In some jobs, having experience working with biological data will be most important, and thus particular classwork and methodological skills are most significant. In other cases, statisticians are asked to play a role in designing studies, monitoring data collection, and insuring quality control. Having data analysis skills is very different from knowing experimental design or best survey practices. Most statistics jobs will require expertise in at least one programming language. Pharmaceutical and biostatistics jobs often require knowledge of SAS, whereas finance, business, and other data analysis/science jobs are more likely to require fluency in Python or R. Statisticians who know multiple languages along with database management using SQL are often well-primed for jobs in programming or data science.
Paul Bernhardt: Experience and willingness to grow and learn more. Because statistics is needed by so many different fields and involves so many different methods, procedures, and skills, time is needed to build up the knowledge that helps an individual acquire a top-earning job as a manager or other team leader. This can often be done within a large company, such as in pharmaceuticals, but it can also be done by moving to new jobs. In many cases, only a few years of experience are needed to move to higher-level positions. For individuals with a Master's degree or Ph.D., earning more often happens much sooner.
Bottom line: If a statistician has the experience, strong communication skills, and is good with a variety of software programs and with database management, they will likely be able to earn a good living with relatively reasonable working hours. For this reason, "statistician"/"data scientist" consistently ranks as one of the top jobs among a variety of rankings. For example, the last six years running, it has been listed in the top three jobs to have by Glassdoor.com
Department of Mathematics
Wei-Min Huang: Foundational training in statistics, data management and data analytic skills, computational skills.
Wei-Min Huang: Problem-Solving Skills, Creativity, Communication skills, Ability to communicate findings to non-statisticians.
Wei-Min Huang: Strong mathematical and logical insight, Analytical and formulation skills, Wide-ranging computer skills, Knowing the difference between model-based and data-driven approaches.
Wei-Min Huang: A combination of Technical, Communication, and Leadership skills.
Department of Statistical Science
Michael Gallaugher Ph.D.: Like with the hard/technical skills, I think coding ability stands out most on a statistician's resume. As data today is getting more complex, computational experience is needed regardless of whether or not the applicant is going into academia or industry. In addition, past interdisciplinary work would stand out as well.
Michael Gallaugher Ph.D.: From the beginning, statistics have been very interdisciplinary and have become even more so in recent years. With that comes working with people with various backgrounds, including those who have only a very basic understanding of mathematics and statistics. Therefore, a statistician needs to reduce the mathematical and computational jargon to simple language.
Michael Gallaugher Ph.D.: With the types of data being analyzed today, computational and coding skills are key. Anyone entering the statistics field, regardless of going into academia or industry, should be comfortable coding in at least one statistical computing language such as R, python, or more recently, Julia. In addition, and this is probably obvious, strong mathematical skills are also very important.
Dr. Pallavi Chitturi Ph.D.: The demand for statisticians is increasing rapidly, driven by a proliferation of computing technology, software, and statistical tools. Capturing and interpreting the large amount of data generated by the coronavirus pandemic will keep statisticians occupied for decades. A recent Best Jobs list compiled by CareerCast ranks Data Scientist as No. 1 and Statistician as No. 2. in the list of best jobs with high demand. We expect that students graduating with a statistics major will continue to have fantastic job prospects.
Dr. Pallavi Chitturi Ph.D.: In addition to a strong foundation in statistical methodology and applied statistics, graduates should also gain exposure to programming and modern languages such as R and SAS. Effective written and oral communication skills are also essential to success in the workforce.
Dr. Pallavi Chitturi Ph.D.: Experiences outside the classroom, such as research projects, case competitions, and leadership experience really stand out on resumes. I urge students to participate in case competitions and data challenges and take a leadership role in student professional organizations. In the Statistical Science & Data Analytics (SSDA) major at the Fox School, students apply theoretical knowledge to a real project involving industry data in their Capstone course. Students engage in the entire process of solving a real-world data science project: from clarifying objectives, collecting and processing data, to applying suitable and appropriate analytic methods to the problem.
Mary Gray Ph.D.: Graduates can expect more short-term positions than in previous years
Mary Gray Ph.D.: Data science is a key term, but it can mean so many things. Depending on the employer particular courses will be valuable - lots of statistics, computer science are always good. Engineering, finance for some fields. Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Arabic can be a plus.
Mary Gray Ph.D.: Experience working on independent projects or in small groups where cooperation and collaboration are important, especially if there is a recognizable work product.
Dr. Amy Wagler Ph.D.: There will be an impact without a doubt. Back in March, we had to quickly change course for mentoring and teaching our students in statistics and data science. Valuable learning experiences were lost and one-on-one interaction with students was lacking. By the fall, we had more time to plan but still had all instruction online. We are trying to recreate the impactful teaching practices in an online setting, and we are getting better at it now. However, the learning curve is steep.
Dr. Amy Wagler Ph.D.: They clearly need to be experts in statistical modeling, statistical programming, and communicating statistical results to broad audiences. However, we also train our students to develop interdisciplinary and collaborative research skills, as well as presentation and oral communication skills. These are also very important. A good applied statistician/data scientist should possess all of these skills and work on nurturing them on a regular basis.
Dr. Amy Wagler Ph.D.: Working on applied interdisciplinary projects is a skill that demonstrates mastery of statistical methods and knowledge, but also demonstrates experience working with professionals with domain expertise.
Math and Science Department
Dr. AnnMarie DelliPizzi Ph.D.: I anticipate more opportunities for students to seek employment in pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. The development of several highly effective COVID vaccines in less than a year has drawn attention to the extremely important role that research scientists have in ending this pandemic. Many entry-level positions in these industries require only a bachelor's degree.
I also anticipate a need for clinical laboratory technicians, whose job it is to prepare and process tissues, body fluids and other substances. Prior to the pandemic, the job market for clinical laboratory technicians was anticipated to grow due to the aging population of baby boomers. With well over a million COVID tests being performed in the United States daily, there needs to be qualified technicians to process all of those samples.
Dr. AnnMarie DelliPizzi Ph.D.: Certainly the more hands-on skills a student has in the lab, the better the chance of securing a laboratory position. If the opportunity is available, I encourage all students to participate in a research project. Research supplements skills and techniques developed through lab-based coursework. In addition, research trains students to design innovative projects, develop analytical skills, think critically and troubleshoot problems. Consistent with many other jobs, employers look for individuals who are motivated, can demonstrate teamwork, and have strong interpersonal skills, including verbal and written communication.
Dr. AnnMarie DelliPizzi Ph.D.: Students interested in pursuing careers in the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industries should focus on large metropolitan areas, such as Boston, New York/New Jersey, Baltimore/DC, San Francisco Bay area, Raleigh/Durham, and Chicago. Jobs for clinical lab technologists can be found throughout the country, but may be more readily available in areas with large hospitals or medical centers.
Anthony Bosman Ph.D.: The pandemic has accelerated the disruption that was already occurring in nearly every industry. As such, companies are reimagining the nature of work, re-writing job descriptions and becoming more accommodating of remote work.
Anthony Bosman Ph.D.: Employers are looking for a combination of proficiency in technical skills as well as those distinctly human literacies sometimes referred to as "soft skills". Applicants should signal that they have the resilience and adaptability to thrive under changing conditions, able to quickly adopt new technologies and acquire needed skills as their changing job descriptions require it.
Anthony Bosman Ph.D.: The increasingly decentralized office and remote-friendly nature of many jobs, particularly in the knowledge sector, should open up more opportunities for graduates to compete for jobs across the country and beyond. Applicants, therefore, shouldn't restrict their search to a narrow, local region.
Mathematics and Statistics Department
Dr. Miodrag Lovric Ph.D.: The permanent rise in remote work is, until now, the principal economic bequest of Covid-19. Because of the pandemic, fewer people come to work and spend money in city centers, hence many city centers are in deep recession. Outside these city centers, new job numbers are now above pre-pandemic levels.
The official unemployment rate in November 2020 given by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was 6.7 percent, or 10.7 million unemployed persons. This is significantly lower in comparison to April 2020 when this rate was 14.7 percent, the highest rate in the history of the data managed by the Bureau (available back to January 1948). The most recent trend is that the notable job gains occurred in transportation and warehousing, professional and business services, and health care, and that employment declined in government and retail trade.
The job markets for bars, hotels, restaurants, air travel, cruises, continue to shrink. I believe that the prospects for these job markets are highly correlated to the effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines. In the meantime, the majority of ordinary people will be scared to be in confined spaces and breathe the same air as the other people around. For students, it will be very stressful to find internships. On the other hand, people with training in AI or robotics will have much higher prospects to find adequate jobs.
Dr. Miodrag Lovric Ph.D.: According to the book written by Denning and Brown, "A new culture of learning", the half-life of an acquired skill is 5 years. This implies that much of what you learned 10 years ago is obsolete and half of what you learned 5 years ago is almost irrelevant.
Many companies are using an immense suite of collaboration tools such as Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts and Chat, Microsoft teams, virtual whiteboards, and similar gears to assist remote teams.
The following soft (interpersonal) skills will be in demand during and after the pandemic: creativity, collaboration, adaptability, negotiating, and emotional intelligence. On the flip side, top in-demand hard skills include digital skills related to remote working, cybersecurity, analytic reasoning and data analysis, and artificial intelligence.
Dr. Miodrag Lovric Ph.D.: According to the Handshake web site, "Where are College Students Going After they Graduate?", based on their analysis of more than 13 million job applications, the most popular city in each region of the U.S. was local to that region, every region retained more than 50 percent of graduates, and NYC was the single most popular city for job seekers. However, due to the corona pandemic, I believe that in the most foreseeable future some other cities will become much more attractive. From my personal, international, perspective (I have been living in eight countries) the best places for new college graduates to start a life are those that enable optimal balance among factors such as affordability, real estate values, crime rates, and culture.
Yingfu (Frank) Li Ph.D.: For graduates in statistics, one might have to work from home, even after the pandemic.
Yingfu (Frank) Li Ph.D.: Statistical computing and communication skills
Yingfu (Frank) Li Ph.D.: Statistical methods are widely used in almost all fields. Any place could be a good place for someone. However, if one plans to work in pharmaceutical companies and related types, then good places will be on the east and west coasts. If one plans to work in insurance companies, then any place with a cluster of insurance companies will be good choice.
Susan Barton: Be willing to put all the effort you can into your job. Employers want people who are willing to work diligently and willing to continue to learn new things throughout their careers. However, you need to find a good balance between family and work.
Susan Barton: It is important to at least be aware of many different types of technologies. This year is a great example of the need to be aware of what is out there technology-wise.
I suspect many talented employees were not familiar with Zoom, Loom, or Teams or other means of communicating electronically before March 2020. It has been a tough learning curve for many people scrambling to become proficient in an unfamiliar medium of communication. That is why it is so important to be at least aware of what is available and to know a little about the new technologies being developed.
In Mathematics, in particular, technologies that will allow fast and easy communication of mathematical formulas and complicated equations will always be needed. More and more jobs are becoming available that need expertise in organizing and analyzing large sets of data for various industries and companies.
Susan Barton: With a bachelor's degree in Mathematics or Applied Mathematics, the starting salary and various types of career prospects are very good.
With more advanced degrees in mathematics, the starting salary is even better. In the 2019 USA Today/Wall 24/7 report for top careers, for both salary and job satisfaction, six of the top 10 are closely related to mathematics and applied mathematics (#2 Mathematician, #3 University Professor, #5 Statistician, #7 Data Scientist, #9 Operations Research Analyst --uses math to help companies solve problems and operate more efficiently, and #10 Actuary). Each of these careers has a predicted growth rate that exceeds 22% through 2026.
Once hired, salary increases and advances in one's career have a lot to do with demonstrating ability, talent, dependability, successfully taking on new assignments, and fitting a need within the company. You need to show you are a valuable asset to your employer throughout your career.
Humboldt State University
Department of Mathematics
David Marshall: Students often use me as a reference, and the most often asked question I get from an employer in a reference call is, "How does this person work in groups?" Working in teams is important and a skill you can develop. If you have not yet graduated, learn to work well with others. If you are a high performer, learn to help others be better. This is important for everyone, learn to contribute, and how to effectively communicate. Lately, I would also suggest that you learn a group or team productivity software. I'm not going to talk about specific "groupware," just that you need to put some time into learning the functions of the productivity software you are currently using. Be able to talk about how you used it to accomplish goals; employers love that.
David Marshall: Finding work is currently hard, but things will get better. I can't add anything other than letting many people who know you look over your application materials. Ask people you trust to suggest ways to say what you are saying in a clear and uncomplicated way. And as a faculty who reads hundreds of student papers, please write within your vocabulary. Nothing turns off a reader more quickly than a writer who uses a $10 word when a $2 word works just as well. I would also start reading the Economist to learn about technology investment trends.
David Marshall: That is a good question. If you want to have a good laugh, look at what futurists were predicting in 1950, 60, and 70. Because the rate of change of most things is increasing and voice recognition is coming online, I would look for interesting changes in the human-computer interface. Big money on Wall Street has been betting on artificial intelligence (AI). If you have the technical chops, learn something about AI. You don't need to be an expert to work on an AI team; you just need to be a good teammate.
Eugene Demidenko Ph.D.: Besides fundamental education, young graduates need to know how to work with real-life data. To be successful, they must possess essential skills in data analysis and computer programmings, such as R, Phyton, or Matlab. These requirements mandate revisiting current statistics education and writing new textbooks. My recent textbook "Advanced Statistics with Applications in R" fills the gap between theoretical and modern applied statistics (www.eugened.org).
Eugene Demidenko Ph.D.: The time when decision making entirely relies on the expertise or the boss's personal preference is gone: the industry desperately needs graduates who can support business actions by data analysis for objective and optimal actions. Therefore, there is no specific "good place" for future data analysts -- each place needs one. My students find great jobs in the financial industry, engineering, biomedicine, etc.
Eugene Demidenko Ph.D.: Huge demand in Data Science and applied statistics specialists will continue: technological advances will create more data and, as such, will require an army of a new generation of students. I start my first class in statistics at Dartmouth with "Mathematics is the queen and statistics is the king of all science."
Shawnee State University
Department of Mathematical Sciences
John Whitaker: The most significant trends in the job market for math related fields, given the pandemic, are that there will be an increase in the number of jobs for people with mathematical models, probability, optimization, and statistics. In general, employers are finding that many of the precautionary reactions they are using during the pandemic would benefit after the epidemic. For instance, many more employers will have virtual job interviews than was done in the past. Also, because of the success, many employees have worked from home during the pandemic, employers will have more of their workers work from home after the epidemic.
John Whitaker: I think virtual communication platforms will become increasingly important. Schools may tend to use virtual classrooms on days where the weather inhibits in person attendance. Other businesses will use virtual communication platforms to limit travel costs. Also, I believe there will be a continued use and may be increased use of data sorting/mining and statistical software such as Excel, Tableau, and R.
John Whitaker: I believe it is unclear if there will be any increase or decrease in mathematicians' demand over the next five years. Mathematicians are needed in various professions such as the insurance industry, education, governmental agencies, and any field that cost analysis, marketing, scheduling, or analytical research. The insurance industry has indicated that there will be an increased market for mathematicians. It is the case that the pandemic has spotlighted the need for folks with mathematical skills, such as mathematical modeling. Optimization for the distribution of any preventative recourses and vaccines has also been highlighted. My best guess is that there will be a slight increase over what has been a fairly steady demand for mathematicians and statisticians.
Xingye Qiao Ph.D.: Computing skills are becoming increasingly important, as statistics embraces the data science revolution. Students need to be able to program (using R or Python or some other language), take the data from the web, reshape it, manipulate it to allow easier downstream analysis, and be able to communicate the finding professionally.
All these are, of course, on top of statistical thinking. Competitive student candidates should not only be an order-taker. They should ask hard questions and think about the data problem in the context of the environment that generates the said data. This is related to knowledge of the domains, human contexts, and all kinds of ethical considerations.
Xingye Qiao Ph.D.: I don't know what you mean by good places. West coast remains to be a hot spot, though there are enough opportunities everywhere, NYC, Boston, DC, to name a few.
Xingye Qiao Ph.D.: On the Ph.D. level, yes. Greater computing power will move the research activities very rapidly.
Not so much at the undergraduate level. If any change, it is likely not due to technology innovation but an open mind to change our existing curriculum.