Penn State Statistics - Daisy Phillips

For our next edition in the 'Future of Statisticians' series we spoke with Daisy Phillips. Daisy is a PhD student studying Statistics at Pennsylvania State University. Prior to pursuing her PhD, Daisy obtained her bachelor's and master's degree in Mathematics graduating in 2008 and 2009 respectively. She anticipates finishing her PhD program in 2014 or 2015. We had the opportunity to speak with her about what drew her to Statistics and why she's excited about her future.

What influenced you to pursue being an statistician?

I have always been curious about a wide variety of fields, and so chose to study disciplines that would allow me to be involved with as wide a variety of topics as possible. At my undergraduate and masters institution, this was mathematics, but now as a statistician I am able to apply my specialized skills to a huge variety of projects from agricultural research to evaluation of teaching techniques, to studies in genetics.

Why should other students consider a focus in Statistics?

Our world is changing incredibly quickly, and with current data collection techniques there is actually data just sitting on hard drives waiting for someone with the skills (and time!) to analyze it. Statisticians can work in a huge variety of areas, and will never run out of interesting problems. It's exciting, and you can make a difference.

What has been your experience with Statistics at your college?

Dasiy Phillips smiles into the camera

I'm in my fifth year at Penn State now, and so have gotten the chance to participate in both theoretical and applied research. In particular, I have loved working in the Statistical Consulting Center (SCC) here. Researchers from other departments, and from outside the university, bring their projects to the SCC for statistical help. I had the chance to work on major projects with both NASA and the US Army, which was quite exciting!

Have you participated in any internships, and if so, how many and how were they?

I did an internship after my first year of classes for a small consulting company, Cornerstone Systems Northwest based in northwestern Washington state. It was a good experience to see how industry and academia can overlap. I was assigned to create a tutorial for cost effectiveness acceptability curves. Since that first summer I have chosen to teach summer sessions at Penn State, which is also a great learning experience.

Please share an interesting or little-known fact you've learned about the world of statisticians...

Statistics is recovering from a branding problem. Usually when I tell someone I am studying statistics the immediate response is "I hate statistics!" or "Wow, you must be a genius". They are surprised because when they think 'statistician', the first thing to come to mind is a pale, geeky guy sitting at a computer all day. The statisticians I've met in the last 5 years have been vibrant, excited about the world, and frankly fun to be around.

What are the latest developments or trends in Statistics?

We've all heard about big data, about statistical developments in biology, and about the use of statistics for predicting climate change. What we don't hear about as much are developments in statistics education. Students in the US are being exposed to statistics much earlier than in previous times, sometimes as early as elementary and middle school. Hopefully, this development will help our country to be more statistically literate and to think critically about all the data that surrounds us. Statistics is no longer tied to calculus, as many statistical courses in high school and college move away from computation and towards a conceptual understanding of important concepts. I think this is an exciting time in statistics because more and more people are learning about our discipline and how it applies to their lives.

What are your future aspirations and career plans?

After I complete my PhD, I plan to teach at a small college and get undergraduates excited about statistics. I would love to spend time consulting with faculty from other departments to get students involved in cross-disciplinary projects.

Anything else you’d like to share?

The dog in the photo is Hamlet, he's a service dog in training from Susquehanna Service Dogs in Pennsylvania. The entire statistics department here at Penn State has helped in his training for the past year, and he's almost ready to start a career of his own. Maybe he should get his own honorary PhD when I graduate, he's certainly attended enough classes with me!

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