Maximizing Your Learning Potential at Professional Conferences – A Detailed Guide

Introduction

During last summer, I attended the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Statistical Society of Canada (SSC).  I spoke on the career-advice panel at the 2016 Canadian Statistics Student Conference (CSSC), and I met some colleagues and professors to share ideas about our mutual interests in statistics, statistical education, and the use of social media to promote statistics to the general public.

From observing and talking to many students at this conference, I realized that most of them did not use it effectively to maximize their learning potential.  A conference like this is a great opportunity for networking, career development, and – eventually – finding a job, but I suspect that most statistics students do not comprehend the depth of its value, let alone how to extract it.  Thus, I’m writing this advice column to help anyone who attends a professional conference.

Image courtesy of Rufino from Wikimedia Commons.

Objectives

Most statistics students want to succeed academically and find a job after completing their education – that job could be within or outside of academia.  Thus, at any professional conference, they should have the following objectives:

  1. To learn new ideas in your fields of interest
  2. To meet others who share your professional interests
  3. To learn soft skills from veterans in your industry for developing your career
  4. To build valuable relationships in your professional network

Unfortunately, based on my anecdotal observations, many students in statistics, math and science don’t seem to grasp Objectives #3-4.  These students tend to be passive in their attendance and shy in their participation.  When they do try to pursue Objectives #3-4, they are often unprepared and do not take advantage of all of the learning opportunities that are available to them.

The first step in maximizing your learning potential at a professional conference is recognizing that it takes preparation and hard work.  To do it well, you need to take all 4 objectives seriously and practice them frequently.  Attending a professional conference is a skill, and developing this skill requires thought and effort.  It involves much more than just showing up, talking at your turn, and listening at all other times.

Hopefully, the rest of this article will help you to develop this skill in an intelligent way, but you must realize that there is no substitution for hard work.

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University of Toronto Statistical Sciences Union Career Panel

I am delighted to be invited to speak at the University of Toronto Statistical Sciences Union’s first ever Career Panel.  If you plan to attend this event, I encourage you to read my advice columns on career development in advance.  In particular, I strongly encourage you to read the blog post “How to Find a Job in Statistics – Advice for Students and Recent Graduates“.  I will not cover all of the topics in these columns, but you are welcomed to ask questions about them during the question-and-answer period.

Here are the event’s details.

Time: 1 pm to 6 pm

  • My session will be held from 5pm to 6 pm.

Date: Saturday, March 25, 2017

Location: Sidney Smith Hall, 100 St. George Street, Toronto, Ontario.

  • Sidney Smith Hall is located on the St. George (Downtown) campus of the University of Toronto.
  • Update: The seminars will be held in Rooms 2117 and 2118.  I will speak in Room 2117 at 5 pm.

 

If you will attend this event, please feel free to come and say “Hello”!

Leaving My Dream Career – Reflecting on My Decision 10 Years Later

I just couldn’t pretend any longer.

It was near the end of my second year at Simon Fraser University.  My GPA was pretty high, and I had just won a competitive NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award to work with an accomplished cardiac physiologist.  I attended all of the relevant seminars to get the “inside scoop” on how to successfully apply to medical school, and I volunteered in numerous organizations to demonstrate my non-academic credentials.  I had already developed good relationships with several professors who would have gladly written strong recommendations for my application.  All of the stars were aligning for my path to medical school.

I was also miserable, angry and devoid of any further motivation to stay on that path.

crossroads

Image courtesy of Carsten Tolkmit from Flickr.  Obtained via the Creative Commons License.

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Career Seminar at Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, Simon Fraser University: 1:30 – 2:20 pm, Friday, February 20, 2015

I am very pleased to be invited to speak to the faculty and students in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science at Simon Fraser University on this upcoming Friday.  I look forward to sharing my career advice and answering questions from the students about how to succeed in a career in statistics.  If you will attend this seminar, please feel free to come and say “Hello”!

Eric Cai - Official Head Shot

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A Story About Perseverance – Inspiration From My Old Professor

Names and details in this blog post have been altered to protect the privacy of its subjects.

I met my old professor, Dr. Perez, for lunch recently.  We have kept in touch for many years since she taught me during my undergraduate studies, and she has been a good friend and mentor.  We had not seen each other for a few years, but we have been in regular contact over phone and email, exchanging stories, updates, photos of her grandchildren, frustrations, thrills, and perspectives.  It was nice to see her again.

I told her about the accomplishments and the struggles in my early career as a statistician so far.  I am generally satisfied with how I have performed since my entry into the statistics profession, but there are many skills that I don’t have or need to improve upon.  I want to learn distributed computing and become better at programming in Python, SQL, and Hadoop – skills that are highly in demand in my industry but not taught during my statistics education.  I want to be better at communicating about statistics to non-statisticians – not only helping them to understand difficult concepts, but persuading them to follow my guidance when I know that I am right.  I sometimes even struggle with seemingly basic questions that require much thinking and research on my part to answer.  While all of these are likely common weaknesses that many young statisticians understandably have, they contribute to my feeling of incompetence on occasion  – and it’s not pleasant to perform below my, my colleagues’, or my industry’s expectations for myself.

Dr. Perez listened and provided helpful observations and advice.  While I am working hard and focusing on my specific problems at the moment, she gave me a broader, more long-term perspective about how best to overcome these struggles, and I really appreciated it.  Beyond this, however, she told me a story about a professor of our mutual acquaintance that stunned and saddened me, yet motivated me to continue to work harder.

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How to Find a Job in Statistics – Advice for Students and Recent Graduates

Introduction

A graduate student in statistics recently asked me for advice on how to find a job in our industry.  I’m happy to share my advice about this, and I hope that my advice can help you to find a satisfying job and develop an enjoyable career.  My perspectives would be most useful to students and recent graduates because of my similar but unique background; I graduated only 1.5 years ago from my Master’s degree in statistics at the University of Toronto, and I volunteered as a career advisor at Simon Fraser University during my Bachelor’s degree.  My advice will reflect my experience in finding a job in Toronto, but you can probably find parallels in your own city.

Most of this post focuses on soft skills that are needed to find any job; I dive specifically into advice for statisticians in the last section.  Although the soft skills are general and not specific to statisticians, many employers, veteran statisticians, and professors have told me that students and recent graduates would benefit from the focus on soft skills.  Thus, I discuss them first and leave the statistics-specific advice till the end.

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Christmas: A Great Time To Accelerate Your Job Search – Guest-Blogging on SFU’s Career Services Informer

I am excited to publish my new post as a guest blogger on the Career Services Informer, a blog on career advice from Simon Fraser University’s Career Services Centre.  (I volunteered as a Career Peer Educator there for 6 years.)  I recount how I successfully used the winter break during my 8-month Master’s program to network and conduct information interviews, which eventually led to a job that I started 6 days after the last exam in my degree.  While your classmates and colleagues may be resting over the Christmas holidays, you should take advantage of this lull to make a strong impression on potential employers and conduct information interviews with them.  Employers tend to be less busy during this time of the year, so this is also a good time for them to meet with you and share their advice.  Pursuing this contrarian strategy will give you an advantage, and this is why Christmas is a Great Time to Accelerate Your Job Search.

sfu csi

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Opening Doors In Your Job Search With Statistics & Data Analysis – Guest Blogging on Simon Fraser University’s Career Services Informer

The following post was originally published on the Career Services Informer.

Who are the potential customers that a company needs to target in its marketing campaign for a new service? What factors cause defects in a manufacturer’s production process? What impact does a wage-subsidy program have on alleviating poverty in a low-income neighbourhood? Despite the lack of any suggestion about numbers or data in any of these questions, statistics is increasingly playing a bigger – if not the biggest – role in answering them. These are also problems your next employer may need you to adress. How will you tackle them?

sfu csi

The information economy of the 21st century demands us to adapt to its emphasis on extracting insight from data – and data are exploding in size and complexity in all industries. As you transition from the classroom to the workplace in a tough job market, becoming proficient in basic statistics and data analysis will give you an edge in fields that involve working with information. This applies especially to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and business, but it also applies to health care, governmental affairs, and the social sciences. Even fields like law and the arts are relying on data for making key decisions.

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