Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Inaugural Women in Statistics 2014: Highlights and Discussion Points

This week I attended the Women in Statistics conference which was held May 15-17 in the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina. I wrote a blog post prior to the conference and this is my follow up post. The theme of the conference was "Know Your Power" in which women discussed transformative moments in their lives and discussed ways to make positive changes in our field. To see more details on individual talks, you can search for tweets with the hashtag #WiS2014. The conference was filled with phenomenal talks/discussions, but I want to give a few highlights from the conference. 

[Pictured (bottom row, left to right): Stephanie Hicks, Jenna Krall, Alyson Wilson, Alicia Carriquiry]
[Pictured (top row, left to right): Cal Tate Moore, Rachel Schutt, Sally C. Morton, Samantha Tyner]

Here are a few key discussion points I took away from the conference:
  1. Social media (blogging, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) is a great way to build a brand for yourself. Arati Mejdal gave several examples of statisticians and data scientists who have done this such as Hilary Mason (popular blog and twitter feed), Emma Pierson (recent graduate from Stanford who wrote a hilarious article on FiveThirtyEight showing people really just want to date themselves) and Andrew Gelman who says he uses his blog as a way to "steer statistics in a useful way". Two key points to make the most of social media are post regularly and actively comment / engage in discussions. As statisticians or data scientists, the best posts are visual and brief and they are different from academic articles (expert, but friendly).  
  2. Start networking now. Alicia Carriquiry gave a beautiful talk on how to build and nurture your professional network.  Some of the advice included: attend professional meetings, never turn down the opportunity to present your work, chat with people who have similar interests and those who have different interests, be willing to introduce yourself to people you would like to meet, create & practice your elevator pitch and get objective reviews of your performance early in your career.  If you are a young professor, invite other young professors from different departments to give talks and you may have the opportunity to do the same in their department. Jessica Utts (newly elected ASA president for 2016) said she came to "know her power" when she recognized the value of networking.  
  3. Do what makes you happy. It does not matter if your career takes you into academia, industry, government or a bit of all three: as Sally Morton said "Go where you will have the most impact and be most happy. If you are happy, that's where you'll be the most productive".  Rachel Schutt discussed how she did not know at the time how all the pieces of her career (e.g. graduate school, teaching, working at Google, professor Columbia University, etc) would come to fit together at current position. She just did what made her happy. Francesca Dominici led a discussion on Why women can't have it all? in which she stated "It is OK to want to spend time with your children. It OK to be passionate and committed about your work". She argued "a new definition of academic success should be defined to include rewards for teaching and mentoring".  No simple fix, but rather there needs to be a cultural change amongst both men and women to redefine the idea of "academic success". 
  4. The Imposter Syndrome is a real thing. Don't be discouraged by it, but rather recognize the problem if it's affecting you and focus your strengths. Focus on what you have accomplished versus the things you have not. The imposter syndrome is not the same thing as low self-esteem: low self-esteem is boosted when you have a success, but the imposter syndrome makes you feel more terrified if you have a success. For some additional thoughts on this, check out Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead and The Confidence Gap
  5. Grace Wahba is simply a hero.  I'm not sure I could ever do her talk justice by trying to summarize it. I will say listening to her talk about her early career was a very surreal and a humbling experience. I feel fortunate to not have to face many of the challenges she faced, but listening to her talk was one of the highlights of the entire conference fore me!  I just encourage everyone to attend her COPSS Fisher Lecture at JSM August 6, 2014 at 4pm.  
Final thoughts: The conference was filled with enlightening talks from speakers of all backgrounds and of all ages who challenged the conference participants to "know your power" through sharing their own stories and experiences. These women are an inspiration and I know many younger women attending the conference felt very encouraged to take on the challenges that lie ahead of us.  I learned a great deal of professional and career development tools and felt men could have just as easily benefited from them too.  Thank you to the organizers and everyone who spent countless hours putting together an extraordinary conference.  I would highly recommend Women in Statistics to future participants!

I leave you with a few more pictures from the conference:

Panel of past and future presents of the American Statistical Association

Mixing and mingling at the poster session Friday night

A little bit of fun: superhero statisticians to the rescue (post-poster session)! 

Sally Morton sharing some of her experiences from the conference including her first "selfie" 

 The amazing Grace Wahba and her "Ah-ha" moments

Thanks to all sponsors.
Platinum: Duke U, NIGMS/NIH, ASA, Minerva Research Foundation, Walmart
Gold: IBM, Lowe's
Silver: Biogen Idec, Experian, Lilly, Minitab, Morestream, SAS
Bronze: Berry Consultants, Cytel, JMP, Nielsen, NC State, Rho, RTI, Stata, UNC, Westat


  1. Great recap of a great conference! Your "unknown" in the photo above is Cal Tate Moore (@mathbelle).

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