Mario Cortina Borja 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!

This month 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.

In continuing our series, Professor Mario Cortina Borja, Professor of Biostatistics in the Population, Policy and Practice Programme at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health shares his story.


1. How or why did you choose statistics as a career path/study area?

I have always liked mathematics, maps, and the type of facts you find in The Economist’s ‘The year in review’, so it was easy to choose doing mathematics and actuarial science as an undergraduate.  Originally I wanted to be a demographer, hence the actuarial science part, but soon decided to do statistics as a subject and I have never regretted taking that path.  I owe much of my mathematical background to the National Autonomous University of Mexico. I’ve been an applied statistician for many years; by temperament I have always behaved professionally as a fox in terms of Isaiah Berlin’s essay about the fox (who knows many things) and the hedgehog (who knows one important thing).

2. What inspires you about statistics?

The history of statistics is fascinating, there are so many concepts that we take for granted which started from very great minds, some of whom are alive. Also, perhaps uniquely among scientists, statisticians can contribute meaningfully to any scientific area.  Sound statistical principles are essential for good science, and collaboration between statisticians and other scientists should aim to achieve a “seamless flow between statistical and subject-matter considerations” (Cox DR & Donnelly CA (2012) Principles of Applied Statistics, Cambridge University Press).

3. What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

I like the academic environments where I have always worked, there are always interesting projects to work on.  I enjoy supervising PG students and mentoring junior colleagues.  There are excellent computing and library facilities at UCL.  I have been very lucky to have worked with many brilliant colleagues, statisticians and non-statisticians, and I continue learning from them.

4. What would you say to students/Early Career Researchers who may be considering statistics as a study option/career choice?

If you like mathematics, facts and coding, there is no better career than Statistics: it’s an interesting, rewarding and useful profession. That might sound rather dull but it’s true!
Mario Cortina Borja has been at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health since October 2000; he was appointed Professor of Biostatistics in the Population, Policy and Practice Programme in 2015. Mario has a BSc in Actuarial Science and an MSc in Statistics from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and a PhD in Statistics from the School of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Bath.  Before coming to UCL, Mario was a statistician at the Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, a research officer in applied mathematics at the School of Chemical Engineering in the University of Bath, a lecturer, then senior lecturer, in Statistics at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, and, for five years, consulting and teaching officer in the Department of Statistics, University of Oxford.

Mario is an applied statistician and has published papers in many fields – mostly in epidemiology and clinical subjects but also in linguistics.  He was appointed chairman of the editorial board of Significance in 2015 to which he regularly contributes articles.