Looking for advice on changing to a statistical career? Want some interview and job hunting advice? Want to know what qualifications are needed?
This section will give you advice on how to make that change into a statistical job, what qualifications are necessary and how continuing professional development can help.
Please note that the RSS examinations will no longer be offered after the May 2017 session. Please see our dedicated page on Withdrawal of professional examinations for more information.
Perhaps your first career simply did not go well or maybe you just want a complete change to something different from what you have ever done before. Whatever the reason, think positively and go forward.
Step 1: The first thing to do is to work on your CV. General guidance on writing a CV is available from a number of sources.
Step 2: Qualifications are important and often essential. Lifelong continuing education, especially in professional areas, is becoming more necessary and more normal. Often this is referred to as continuing professional development (CPD), and it is something that will naturally arise as an integral part of your work.
But remember that experience can be vital too. You might be just the person an organisation is looking for, whether or not you have the required qualifications.
A master’s or postgraduate degree in statistics or mathematics is the minimum requirement for most jobs. Individuals with a degree in statistics have better chances for jobs in a variety of areas.
What does a mathematics background really mean?
A mathematics background typically means you have either of the following:
- A-level mathematics (or equivalent)
- Degree (or equivalent) in a mathematics related subject
I don’t have a background in mathematics – what do I do now?
For undergraduate courses, discuss your situation with the Admissions Tutor. The university might well be able to help you. For example:
- Your degree comes with a Foundation Year where you might be able to take some mathematics units from that alongside your normal studies.
- Take an intensive course immediately before the start of the normal academic year.
- Take a computer-based learning course towards a certification.
There are many possibilities of this kind. You can be sure that the university will do its best to help you.
However, if all else fails, you may take A level mathematics (or equivalent), either before starting or alongside your university studies.
For an MSc degree, the situation is more difficult because a higher level of mathematical knowledge is required. But again, discuss your situation with your university. There may be some flexibility, particularly for MSc conversion courses designed for graduates from other disciplines. There might be special pre-MSc courses to teach you the necessary mathematics. Or it might be possible to ‘sit in’ on appropriate undergraduate course units.
All of this is harder in the distance learning situation, in the sense that face-to-face special courses are obviously not possible. Contact the university as there may have additional distance learning material for preparation towards your studies.
As well as all the above, strong assistance is available in the distance learning mathematics courses provided by the Open University. You might need guidance as to exactly which ones to take, but you can be assured that this is good supporting material.
Graduate and postgraduate studies
As well as statistics, there are degrees with a high statistics content such as mathematics, computing, economics, management science, business-related subjects, social sciences and political sciences.
The requirements for a degree course in statistics are usually at least two A levels, including mathematics, plus five GCSEs grades (A-C), or equivalent qualifications. Check the exact requirements with individual institutions. For entry at a more senior level, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, a PhD or master’s degree in statistics is required. For a postgraduate course, you may need a good first degree in a relevant subject.
For mature students (aged 21 or older) you can apply directly to the university for any of these courses. Most are happy to consider your application to see whether the your skills and motivation are such that success on the course seems likely. Write to the admissions tutors for the courses in which you are interested with your CV and ask for an interview.
Full-time MSc degrees could be suitable if you have a first degree in a statistics or mathematics related subject. More information is available in the guide to all postgraduate opportunities in statistics in all UK universities published by the Committee of Professors of Statistics. Some MSc courses are highly specialised, these courses may not be suitable for mature students. MSc conversion courses which are more general, are designed specifically for people whose first degree was not in statistics (but usually in a related subject).
Part-time undergraduate degrees are typically spread over 4-6 years (instead of three years full-time). Usually your week is broken up into mornings, afternoons or evenings instead of a full day. Another possibility might be to attend full-time for one academic session (or for a term or semester if these are self-contained) and then have a break. If you are interested in any of these possibilities, you will have to take them up individually with universities in which you are interested. Write to the admissions tutor and ask for an interview.
A part-time MSc degree often means attending for taught material for one day per week for two years after which, you prepare a dissertation. The degree programme can be broken down into three or six modules for each topic, and you can take only one or two of these each year over an extended number of years. Another variant is evening study; for example, Birkbeck College in London specialises in running MSc degrees by evening study, and it has an MSc in Applied Statistics and Operational Research.
Open University – distance learning
Very few universities have as yet developed undergraduate material in this mode. But quite a number of MSc degrees can be taken entirely by distance learning study. If you do not possess the required qualifications to apply for a degree course, you can apply for an equivalent course at The Open University (OU). The Open University does not provide a full degree programme in statistics, but it does have excellent introductory and intermediate courses. These might be suitable stepping stones towards eventual study for a full degree elsewhere.
It is possible to begin a career in statistics straight from school. If you have GCSEs grades in mathematics and English, or A levels, you may be recruited as statistical assistants. You can gain experience, training and further qualifications on the job to allow you to be promoted to statistician posts.
There is a formal promotion structure in a statistical role, with opportunities to progress to a senior level. In large companies, statisticians may be promoted to management or specialist technical roles. Opportunities for promotion in smaller organisations may be limited, and it may be necessary to change employers in order to progress. There are opportunities for statisticians to become self-employed, working as freelance consultants. Statisticians can also work abroad, for example with Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical office, or for pharmaceutical companies with overseas operations.