You’re a Statistician, Harry!


Joey Stanley


June 24, 2019

The job hunt was not successful this year. I applied to about two dozen positions, got interviewed for five of them (yay!) but ultimately got zero offers (boo…). I’m disappointed, sure, but it’s probably for the best anyway: it took longer to write my dissertation than I anticipated, so it probably wouldn’t have been feasible to finish it and graduate by August. Plus, I have funding for one more year. But, the funny thing is I’m now in this weird position where the bulk of my dissertation has been written, but I have about another year left as a student. What can I during this time? I considered a lot of options, but I think I’ve settled on something fun: I’m going to try and get an M.S. in Statistics!

How is this possible?

As it turns out, UGA offers a “secondary” Master’s degree in statistics. It designed so that UGA students who are seeking degrees in other departments can walk away with a Master’s in statistics as well. I’d take the required courses, fill out some paperwork, write a thesis, and boom—I’ve got an MS. I wouldn’t be part of the statistics department so I’ll have to continue getting funded through my home department (linguistics), but I would get a full-fledged degree from them by the time I graduate.

I’ve known about this option for a while now, and the main thing holding me back was my lack of a strong mathematical background. I took calculus in high school and quite enjoyed it, but that was more than 10 years ago, and I’d actually need three semesters of calculus to be able to do well in some of the core stats courses. So I decided it was a nice thought but was ultimately not going to happen. When the realization came that I’d probably be around for another year though, I looked at the requirements, talked with the graduate coordinator, and put together a schedule. It’ll be a busy year, but I think I can make it work.

The math problem still hasn’t gone away, so my goal this summer is to fly through differential, integral, and multivariate calculus on my own before the semester starts in August. Fortunately, it looks like I can learn everything I need through Khan Academy, which is awesome. I’m already auditing Mathematical Statistics during the summer so when take it for real in the fall I’ll know the material well enough to pass. So far, it has been coming back pretty quickly, so I feel pretty good about it all.

Why bother?

When I was weighing my options for what I could do during my last year, it was all based on how I could improve my job prospects for next year. My first and the most obvious option was to just hunker down and crank out a bunch of publications to lengthen that CV. This is a good plan, but ultimately I decided I probably wouldn’t be able to get them done in time for potential employers to see them anyway. I have a couple projects in various stages of the publication pipeline right now, so I’ll continue working on those, but that won’t be what I spend 100% of my time on.

Well so then I looked at perhaps strengthening the teaching part of my job applications. I’ve been funded through research assistantships this whole time, which has been great! But that means I’ve only had the opportunity to teach twice and I think universities like to see more teaching experience than that. So I thought about getting the graduate certificate in University Teaching, which would involve some actual courses in pedagogy. I figure if I couldn’t impress them with experience, maybe I could with training and certification. I’ll admit, it didn’t sound that fun, but some of the courses did look somewhat interesting. However, I found out that I’m ineligible for the certificate anyway because I need to have taught four sections while at UGA to qualify, which I have not. So, I scratched that idea.

I think I would have taken ones like adult learning, how to do proper assessment, and skills for being able to teach an online course.

So then I considered getting the graduate certificate in GIS. It’s not totally out of the blue: as a dialectologist, it would be nice to have some actual geography training and it might put me ahead of other potential applicants for positions that wanted a hard-core sociolinguist. The certificate would have been feasible too: I’d take the Intro to GIS course over the summer, and then it would be just two courses in the Fall and two courses in the Spring. In fact, that was what I planned on, and I’m currently taking the Intro to GIS course online right now (and loving it!). But, as I looked through the course offerings, it turns out that the really fun ones that I wanted to take weren’t going to be offered this year. That means I’d have to take things like working with aerial photography or forestry-related courses or something to satisfy those electives, which wouldn’t be particularly fun or easy.

I really wanted to do things like spatial statistics, programming in GIS, and cartography.

All the while, this statistics possibility has always intrigued me. I have always had a knack for quantitative methods in linguistics and feel like I have a better-than-normal grasp of the statistics that linguists use. My undergraduate minor in linguistic computing exposed me to coding, and I’ve learned a lot of R programming since coming to UGA. A lot of the jobs I applied for wanted someone with skills in quantitative linguistics, and while I think I have the skills they want, I had a hard time proving it since my publications so far haven’t been particularly quantitative. I figure an entire degree in statistics might do the trick this time around and would definitely make me stand out. Plus, it’s a nice skill to have to fall back on: it opens doors to college-level teaching opportunities in statistics and to industry jobs as well. So I finally reached out to the statistics graduate coordinator, explained the situation, and he said it would definitely be a possibility.

So what’s the plan?

Right away, I had to consider what track I wanted to be on with this degree. The stats department offers a thesis and a non-thesis option for their MS. The non-thesis track has a comprehensive exam at the end and requires two extra elective courses. That sounds great because there are lots of courses I really do want to take. The problem is I just don’t have the time.

My other option was to do the thesis track. There are slightly fewer classes required, which is good for me, but that of course means I’ll have to do a thesis. So I guess I’m writing a master’s thesis in statistics! I don’t know what I’ll write on yet, but it’ll definitely pertain to statistics used in (socio)linguistics, possibly involving some simulations and stuff, but we’ll see. I’m kind of excited about the idea of doing that actually. Plus, it’ll be really weird I think to write a master’s thesis after doing a Ph.D. dissertation.

So I’ve got a busy year ahead of me. After learning as much calculus as I can this summer, I’ll take three courses in the fall, three in the spring, and do some consulting work over the summer while I write my thesis. It should be a blast.