Alumni Spotlight

Jessica Alvey

Major/Emphasis: Statistics, BS and MS
Current Position Title: Biostatistician

Company Name: Pediatric Critical Care Division, University of Utah

Why she picked her major:

I changed my major from Physiology and Developmental Biology to Statistics about halfway through my first year at BYU. While I still had a great interest in science, I found myself more drawn to the types of challenges that math-related classes offered. As a bonus, statistics allowed me the opportunity to answer important questions in a variety of disciplines that I was interested in. The ability to learn statistical theory and find ways to apply that theory to real-life problems was just super cool.

How schooling helped prepare her for her current position:

My schooling provided me with opportunities to develop creative, useful answers to questions through class projects. These gave me time to think about how the course content applied to real life problems. Usually, these projects also required some sort of write up or presentation, which has been especially useful in my current position. Presentations gave me the chance to ensure I understood my project well enough to explain it to someone else.

Her advice to those currently studying:

Studying with my classmates was one of the most influential practices I developed while at BYU. Not only did I make great friends, but I had so many opportunities to explain concepts to others. I found that when I could explain something to a peer, I better internalized the concept myself. In my current position, I often present statistical ideas to others, so this habit also helped me really develop concise, meaningful ways of conveying ideas to other people. I can't emphasize how important this tool can be!

Get involved in research and teaching assistant positions if at all possible! These experiences really added depth to my college experience. Being a teaching assistant for both introductory and higher-level courses enabled me to explain statistical theory to audiences with a wide range of statistical background, which are often the types of groups that I encounter at my current job. As a research assistant, I got to be involved in a unique project and present our findings at JSM. This gave me exposure to other types of research currently going on in statistics, and it helped my resume stand out when I started interviewing for full-time positions. 

My final recommendation is to attend the ASA Utah Chapter meetings. It's a great time to get to know statisticians in the area and network!

Benjamin Nealy

Major/Emphasis: Statistics, BS; Biostatistics, MSPH 
Current Position Title: Senior Statistician - Computation
Company Name: Eli Lilly & Company

Why he picked his major:

I chose to study biostatistics because the name sounded interesting, and the prerequisites matched with some courses I'd already completed. I hadn't heard of it before I started, but quickly came to love the variety and complexity of challenges for which statistics can be used. Statisticians get to play in everyone's yard, which really appeals to me.

How schooling helped prepare him for his current position:

The most helpful things I learned at BYU were how to communicate well with others, how to form working relationships, and how to work with other disciplines to accomplish a common goal. By taking classes that sounded interesting in addition to those required for my degree, I was able to find connections to statistics as well as develop personally and professionally. This helped me form a strong network of colleagues who opened doors to internships, graduate school, and my current employment. On the technical-skills side, R programming has been my most useful (and marketable) skill by far.

His advice to those currently studying:

Get as much active research experience as possible. If a professor mentions a project that captures your interest, ask them how you can contribute. If they can't offer you payment, offer to work for free. Do whatever it takes to be involved. Practice cleaning and analyzing real-world data, setting research goals, and meeting deadlines. Use this experience to decide if this is a path you want to pursue further - you'll need to seriously consider a graduate degree if you want to find a role which uses the things you are learning. Research experience will be as or more helpful than your courses, and will be a hugely influential factor in graduate program and career placement.  Practice statistics programming languages, especially python and R. 

Find a branch of statistics that you enjoy! Everything in the world has data behind it, so feel free to explore and find areas that interest you. Don't stress grades too much and don't get caught up in the stress of academic culture. I recently graduated from a respected graduate program after being accepted with mediocre grades. This was all thanks to my research experience and networking. I've found that my personal relationships have taken me much further than my academic record. Do the best you can, but don't miss out on time spent with friends, researching what excites you, and developing hobbies.