Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The inaugural Women in Statistics Conference

This week is the inaugural Women in Statistics Conference being held May 15-17, 2014 in Cary, North Carolina. This conference is targeted at women at varying stages starting from graduate school all the way through tenured professors or well-funded CEOs in industry.  As a female statistician (and a postdoctoral fellow), I am very excited to attend this conference celebrating women in statistics!  Here are a few of the reasons why: 
  1. The opportunity to listen to and to interact with an entire community of female statisticians from industry, academia & government is one of the most attractive aspects of this conference. Not only will these talks/breakout sessions focus on a diverse set of career opportunities, they will also focus on useful topics on how to obtain these positions e.g. Answering tricky interview questions, Things I wish I knew when I started working, Optimizing your job search, How to negotiate what you are worth, The value of internshipsPreparing for promotion in academia, etc. These are all topics both men and women in our field can benefit from, so I plan to create a second blog post summarizing ideas/notes that are relevant for the entire statistical community.  
  2. Statistics as a discipline is currently facing its own set of challenges within the larger community of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), one including being able to attract women to the STEM fields. Many people have suggested ideas and discussed reasons why this is happening. I cannot speak for other women, but I can say one of the reasons why I am I where I am today is the copious amount of support that I have receieved from not only my family and friends, but most importantly from my mentors, faculty advisors and peers.  I was fortunate enough to not have "a terrible graduate school experience", but rather one filled with mentoring, guidance and patience. I know this conference will also be filled with mentoring and guidance from other female statisticians, many of which I consider to be role models. Conferences like this provide women with the information and tools needed to thrive not only in statistics, but in the larger STEM fields as well.  
  3. The idea of gender inequality in the field of statistics is not a new story, but it has been recently discussed in several articles. Ingram Olkin and Terry Speed both discussed the fact that at JSM 2012 "of the four named lectures (i.e. Wald, Rietz, Neyman, Fisher), the seven medallion lectures, and the two invited lectures, none of them were women". Amanda Golbeck wrote an Op-ed titled Where Are the Women in the JSM Registration Guide? in which stated "a productive way to help recruit, retain and nourish women professionals is to provide strong role models for them".  I completely agree and this conference will discuss several of these issues in talks and breakout sessions on topics such as Increasing Visibility of Women in Statistics, Increasing the Number of Women AwardsRecruiting and Retaining Women and Minorities in Statistical Science, Women in Science: Contributions, Inspirations, and Rewards, and Finding Our Place in History: Decades of Women Pioneers and Trail Blazers to name a few.  
  4. I'm particularly excited about the Internet Activism: Using social media to enhance your career breakout session. I learned this idea of using social media as tool to keep up with the literature & make a internet presence for yourself fairly late in my graduate school career. It's a way academic departments and industries can learn about your research interests and contributions.  I know the use of social media has absolutely transformed the way I function as a researcher. I was introduced to this idea actually from the genetics/genomics community by attending the American Society of Human Genetics for the past several years.  I think statisticians haven't quite caught on to the social media bug like the world of genomics, but as statistics departments are grappling with the debate of adsorbing statistics into incredibly popular emerging field of "data science", this is a topic I think many statisticians would find particularly useful.  
In addition, I have been asked to lead a discussion on Taking on Leadership Positions on Saturday morning.  I thought about what questions might be the most useful to ask and here are a few ideas that I have come up with:
  1. What defines a good leader? Is it innovation, focus, communication, ability to hire creative people with diverse backgrounds, ability to risk failing?  Some articles I found relevant were the Harvard Business Review put out an article on Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs and the Forbes Women Leaders Must Dive In, Not Just Lean In. What other articles are good reference points? 
  2. Who are some examples of great leaders inside or outside the field of statistics? 
  3. What are some examples of positions require leadership skills inside or outside the field of statistics?  What do these positions have in common? 
  4. In what ways might someone who does not have an innate ability to lead learn to lead?   Are the qualities (from Q1) usually inherited or can they be learned?  
  5. What are the different styles of leaders? 
  6. How do you balance a position of leadership and maintain a balanced life either with your research and/or family life? 

I welcome other thoughts/suggestions! I plan to live tweet as many talks/breakout sessions as I can (you can follow me @stephaniehicks), but I will definitely write a second blogpost summarizing my thoughts and key points taken away from the conference.  

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