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Statistical consulting in the 21st century

  • 25 Aug 2020
  • 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM (AEST)
  • Online


  • Your membership with NZSA will be confirmed with NZSA.

Registration is closed

The past two decades have seen a phenomenal change in the landscape of statistical analysis. Datasets are now available that are of unprecedented volume, complexity in structure, and are coming from designs and sources that present new and exciting challenges.

What are the challenges in statistical consulting and how are they impacted by this changing landscape? What are the consulting and communication skills needed to support successful consultation? And what has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic?

We bring together four statistical consultants with vast collective experience to share their insights with us. Eminent international statistical consultant, Professor Doug Zahn, invites you to send your stumbling blocks in communication for discussion. Each speaker will present a short talk, followed by a panel discussion.

This event will be held online and is for members of SSA and NZSA only. Membership with NZSA will be confirmed with NZSA.

Please register to receive the link to join the event.

This event is hosted jointly by the Statistical Consulting Network, the Canberra Branch and the Victorian Branch.


Moderator: Alice Richardson, Australian National University

Details of each talk:

An abundance of data

Data is plentiful in the 21st century and with it comes a range of new opportunities and challenges. Whether data has been manually entered or automated, consideration needs to be given to the accuracy and fit for the questions at hand to make meaningful interpretations. Understanding data quality can be especially challenging with increasingly large and complex datasets and time constraints in a business environment. I will share examples of challenges faced and lessons learned from her wealth of experience.

Elyse Corless is a Senior Consultant Statistician at Data Analysis Australia experienced in the areas of applied statistics, surveys, sampling, mapping and forecasting. Examples of the diverse range of projects she has contributed to include community surveys relating to legal applications, forecasting for courts and utility providers and financial assurance activities.

Statistical consulting: the art of the possible

In my 3.8 decades of statistical consulting, I have found that good consulting requires attention to quality in several areas simultaneously – these include technical and personal skills, clarity of explanation (verbal and written), organisation, lavish communication, and judgment as to what is needed and what the client can handle. Any of these, if neglected, can mess up a consulting project, but the last aspect is not usually given much attention.

Having spent equal time consulting in the 20th and 21st centuries (P = 0.87 on a sign test), with the latter obviously affording more new opportunities, I have found that “the art of the possible” is still a useful guiding motivation. While the sky’s the limit (and occasionally is achieved), an early assessment of what is realistically achievable results in a better outcome for the client and less pain for the consultant.

Graham Hepworth has worked as a statistical consultant for as long as he can remember – well, almost. After trying his hand as a mathematics teacher, he moved into consulting – at the ABS (2 yrs), in forestry research (5 yrs), agricultural research (11 yrs), and now general consulting (20 yrs and counting – close to a geometric sequence). He has consulted and collaborated in most broad areas of research and investigation, and he particularly enjoys the design and analysis of experiments, and sampling problems.

Statistical consulting in the university: some challenges

Statistical consulting in a university context typically involves a collaboration between a statistician and a researcher, with the aim to devise solutions to research problems involving data. The researcher comes with domain expertise in the sciences or social sciences, and the statistician brings their expertise in experimental/survey design and data analysis. A successful collaboration is a complex activity that requires more from the statistician than statistical knowledge. As statistical consultants, we help researchers to understand the statistical framework of their problem so that researchers themselves can take appropriate action and develop greater statistical competence in the process. Our ability to interact empathetically with our clients determine the ultimate success of the consultation.

This presentation focuses on some (general) challenges associated with statistical consulting at universities, which I will illustrate with stories from my 12 years as a consultant at ANU.

Hwan-Jin Yoon joined the Statistical Consulting Unit at The Australian National University in 2008, having previously worked in the Department of Primary Industries in Victoria as a biometrician. He completed his PhD in applied statistics at the University of Melbourne, 2005. He has extensive experience in experimental design, random effects models, statistical moderation, survival analysis, and multivariate analysis in social science, medical science, environmental science, ecology, biology and engineering and computer science.
Hwan-Jin Yoon is an Accredited Statistician (AStat) with the Statistical Society of Australia.

What is your most troublesome stumbling block?

In my experience, we share stumbling blocks. The most effective way of addressing them is in open conversations with colleagues with similar concerns. Please submit a description of your stumbling blocks when you register for this event. We will collate and anonymise them, and explore the most frequent ones in our time together. (Thank you in advance for your commitment of time and energy to our time together.)

Doug Zahn earned a doctorate in statistics from Harvard University. He is a professor emeritus of the Florida State University department of statistics, where he taught applied statistics and statistical consulting courses for 35 years. He provided consulting services to faculty and students. For over nine years he coached consulting professionals at the United Kingdom Office for National Statistics while co-teaching a course on consultancy skills. Doug is the co-author of The Human Side of Statistical Consulting and Quality Management Plus: The Continuous Improvement of Education. He and his wife, Andrea, live in Tallahassee, Florida.

Doug most recently published Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones: A Guide to Successful Meetings and Working Relationships (2019). In this book he discusses how to improve your conversations, thereby building more effective relationships, whether with friends or those you perceive as adversaries.

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