Amanda Golbeck on why choose statistics

April is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month, a timely opportunity to help raise the awareness and understanding of the field.

To aid this quest, a number of renowned Wiley Editors, Editorial Board Members and Authors have taken the time to tell us why they embarked on their journey in their chosen fields, what inspires and excites them, and why they’d encourage you to take the plunge!

Over the next 4 weeks, the Wiley Network will publish some selected responses for you to read and share with your colleagues, students and friends. All responses will feature on throughout April.

To start Amanda L. Golbeck, statistician, social scientist and academic leader, shares her story.

Happy Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month!


My career path into statistics was catalyzed by the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite. Because the U.S. government thought, “We’d better catch up!”, I was selected for a special class (from fifth to twelfth grades) where we were given our STEM courses a year early. I especially liked the mathematics and was good at it, and it was special that my dad and I continued to bond while working out problems together at the kitchen table. At the same time, I was immensely curious about people: the differences and similarities among them, as well as factors that can affect the status of members of groups. I eventually found the field of statistics to be a great way for me to connect mathematics and people.

I continue to be inspired by statistics, because we can use it to learn so much about how to improve lives and contribute to social justice. I share this vision with the late Elizabeth L. Scott (1917-1988), who was a mentor when I was a graduate student in statistics at UC-Berkeley, and who is the subject of my recently published biography/microhistory (Equivalence: Elizabeth L. Scott at Berkeley). Scott completed a PhD in astronomy before settling into a career in statistics, and while she never lost her love for astronomy, I believe that her interests in helping to solve societal problems was one of the factors that especially attracted her to the field of statistics. Her work to improve the status of academic women, including providing methods to evaluate their salaries relative to those of academic men, was particularly impactful all across the country.

Channeling the Mary Tyler Moore television show from the 1970s, imagine me enthusiastically and happily throwing two hats into the air to celebrate my work! One hat is that of dean, where I am the associate dean for academic affairs in a college dedicated to improving the health of all members of our community. Here I get to do organizational leadership, where I bring the benefits of statistical thinking to academic policies, processes, planning, decision-making, and really everything that is involved in the academic affairs enterprise. The other hat is that of faculty member, where I am a professor of biostatistics in a department of talented statisticians who regard themselves as family. Here I get to exercise thought leadership on the big picture of my profession together with national and international groups of mathematical scientists and others.

Statistics is a field that lets a thousand flowers bloom. There are so many ways to be a statistician, contexts to work in as a statistician, and ways to contribute to society as a statistician! I have never been bored, either in terms of thinking about the philosophy of statistics, its methods, or its applications. The door has always been open for me to find a new path within the field of statistics. Statisticians have traditionally been looked at to provide leadership within research project teams. Now that the field is maturing, statisticians are increasingly being looked at to also provide leadership within their organizations. Statisticians make great leaders because, among other things, they have well developed listening and strategic thinking skills. A book that I recently co-edited provides a window into statisticians as leaders and encourages statisticians to develop their leadership competencies (Leadership and Women in Statistics).


Amanda L. Golbeck is a statistician, social scientist, and academic leader. She is known for her book on statistician Elizabeth L. Scott (Equivalence: Elizabeth L. Scott at Berkeley), her book on leadership (Leadership and Women in Statistics), and her pioneering definition of health numeracy. In 2016, Golbeck was awarded the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies (COPSS) Elizabeth L. Scott Award “For her outstanding efforts in enhancing the status of women and minorities, fostering new leadership opportunities for women and men, promoting diversity at all levels, and advocating for a more inclusive, open and supportive atmosphere in statistical sciences.” She is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA), was elected to be a member of the International Statistical Institute (ISI), and was a Fulbright Specialist to the University of Latvia in Riga. Currently Golbeck is a member of the editorial board of Significance Magazine, chair of the AMS-ASA-MAA-SIAM Data Committee that oversees the Annual Survey of the Mathematical Sciences, a member of the ISI management committee on women, and president-elect of the ASA history of statistics interest group. She is a professor in the Department of Biostatistics and the associate dean for academic affairs in the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.