College of Arts and Sciences Offers New Major in Mathematical Statistics
by sarah hojsak
October 2, 2023
The ever-evolving mathematical discipline of statistics is used across industries and throughout areas of everyday life. Drexel students will now be able to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Mathematical Statistics, thanks to a new major offered by the Department of Mathematics.
The well-rounded major bolsters interdisciplinary collaboration at Drexel, drawing on the expertise of College of Arts and Sciences faculty members while partnering with other programs across the university that involve the various applications of statistics. Students in this program will gain a practical and theoretical foundation that will equip them with the tools needed to drive change at the forefront of a rapidly growing field.
We spoke with Professor and Department Head of Mathematics, J. Douglas Wright, PhD, about everything you need to know if you’re considering a major in mathematical statistics.
Why did you decide to create a new major in mathematical statistics?
The math that is used in industry—such as schools, hospitals, and tech companies—often involves statistics. Statistics is broadly applied everywhere, but we didn’t have a major that was dedicated to it. Moreover, if you look around the Philadelphia area, there aren't many universities that offer a degree in statistics that isn’t part of another program, like business or public health.
There seemed to be an opportunity for us to do something that is more focused on statistics itself than on one particular application of statistics. We have a lot of faculty at Drexel, both throughout the university and in the math department, who have expertise in the subject and wanted to do more teaching in that direction.
What are some of the courses a mathematical statistics major will take?
We want the students who major in this to not just be able to deploy well-known statistical methods, but we also want them to be able to contribute to developing new methods, such as machine learning and data science. The major has a good blend of theoretical material, which is really the heart and soul of what statistics is. These are very mathematically sophisticated courses, which require knowledge of calculus and linear algebra.
We also created quantitative methods courses and applied electives, which are drawn from all around the university. Because statistics is used in so many different disciplines, a lot of our departments here at Drexel have their own versions of these classes, tailored to what they specifically do. By taking these classes, our students will learn how statistics is used in a variety of fields. These include classes in bioinformatics, econometrics, genomics, physics, computer sciences and information sciences. There are classes from the Department of Criminology and Justice Studies—for instance, Crime Prediction Using Open Data—so if you’re interested in societal issues, that’s a class you could take.
What is the value of a degree in mathematical statistics?
The job world is hungry for mathematicians and statisticians. If you look at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, for mathematics and statistics, the job outlook growth rate is 30% over the next 10 years—much higher than the average growth rate of 3% for all occupations. Drexel is a career-oriented place. We’re all about training people for careers—and not just a vague career, a specific career. The average person may not understand what a mathematician does, but if you tell someone you’re a statistician, they know what you do. You sort through data; you figure out what the numbers mean. Someone might not know what a derivative is, but everybody knows what a batting average is. If you major in mathematical statistics, you’re going to know a lot about math and statistics, you’re going to be highly employable and you’re going to be able to work in a lot of different areas.
I think there’s been a shift in how students look at higher education. It seems students going into college increasingly don’t have as specific a career track in mind as they did when I went to school. But majors like statistics are versatile. As a statistician, you can be the ‘numbers person’ in any profession. Sports analytics is all statistics. You can go into entertainment and be the person who figures out if a show should be renewed or canceled.
How is the field of statistics changing?
We’re awash in numbers and data. There's more data accessible to more people than ever before, and computers are more powerful than they’ve ever been, so there’s a real need to develop methods to deal with this stuff. Anytime you read about artificial intelligence, like ChatGPT or the thing that draws pictures that look like Mickey Mouse blended with the Burger King, those are all using statistics on some level. The more mathematical and computational knowledge you have going in, the more you will be ready to contribute to those changes going forward. It's a pretty exciting time for people in that business.
What are you most looking forward to as students enroll in the new major?
The math department teaches an incredible number of students from around the university, but we don’t have many of our own majors. I’m looking forward to having more students join the department. We have a number of faculty who are interested in probability and statistics, so the more students we have in these majors, the more upper-level courses we can run that get into the cool, hardcore math stats stuff that we haven’t gotten to teach very often. We have a great record of undergrad research in the math department, and this could help even more students get involved in undergrad research with our more probabilistically-minded faculty members.