Rob Taylor, Linda Sharples, Neil Sheldon and Neville Davies 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 the last day of the month, Rob Taylor, Linda Sharples, Neil Sheldon and Neville Davies share their stories.


Rob Taylor

1. Why did you choose Statistics as a career path? 

I was interested to work in a subject where I could apply mathematical techniques to something of real world importance, and statistics seemed more relevant than other areas of maths.  Initially my interests were in experimental design and the so-called agricultural field experiment.   I was even offered a job working at the Shell research facility at Sittingbourne in Kent to do this but in the end I decided not to take this and instead to further my academic studies in statistics.   Over time by studying statistics at a higher level I became increasingly drawn to its applications to modelling and forecasting the economy and as such became drawn to time series methods and the use of econometric time series techniques.  Although some of the less intelligent modern politicians choose to decry “experts” as soon as they issue forecasts the politician doesn’t like, the work of statisticians in modelling and forecasting our economy is vitally important to our national interest.

2. What inspires you in your chosen topic?

It is a combination of wanting to improve, develop and expand the toolkit of time series methods available to statistical practitioners and government forecasting agencies, coupled with a rather nerdy enjoyment of the underlying maths!

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

First and foremost the nerdy maths stuff (see above!) but also the feeling of achievement when you see the statistical methods you develop being used by practitioners.

4. What would you say to students/early career researchers who may be considering the topic as a study option or career choice?

Do what genuinely excites and interests you.   That way you will most likely never be bored by your career choice!

Biography: Robert Taylor holds both PhD and ScD degrees from Cambridge University. He has previously held academic posts at the Universities of York, Birmingham and Nottingham. He is a fellow of the Journal of Econometrics. Robert is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Time Series Analysis, a Co-Editor of Econometric Theory, and an Associate Editor of Econometric Reviews and of Econometrics and Statistics.

Linda Sharples

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

I had some inspirational lecturers in my undergraduate Maths degree course, particularly Prof Adrian Smith. I was offered a PhD place which really set me off down this track. I also had worked with many great people in the Biostatistics Unit in Cambridge.

2. What inspires you about statistics?

It combines the rigour of Maths with really interesting applied problems. 

3. What’s been the most exciting thing about your career in statistics?

Tukey said, ‘the best thing about statistics is you get to play in everyone’s back yard’. I like that it’s useful in so many areas and it never stops throwing up interesting challenges.

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

You will never be bored and there is opportunity to make a contribution to a huge range of very important problems, from politics to medicine, psychology to economics and agriculture.

Biography: Linda Sharples is currently a Visiting Scientist at the MRC Biostatistics Unit (BSU).

Until September 2013 Linda led a programme of research in statistical methods for health technology assessment at the BSU, with particular emphasis on trials of surgical procedures, diagnostic strategies and service delivery. These methods were motivated by, and fed back into, observational and experimental studies and decision models arising from a long-standing collaboration with clinicians at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge.

Linda Sharples currently holds a position as Professor of Statistics at the Leeds Clinical Trials Research Unit. There she leads the Comprehensive Health Research Division which has a focus on musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, skin and dental trials. She has a first class honours degree in Mathematics and a PhD in Statistics, both from Nottingham University.

Neil Sheldon

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

It was a happy accident. Straight from university I had taken a job teaching mathematics, and I was asked if I would be prepared to teach statistics as well. Knowing nothing of the subject, I did some reading and immediately found it fascinating. Within a few years I had taken a professional examinations with the Institute of Statisticians. Later I did research on probability density function estimation, and an MPhil thesis on the philosophy of statistical inference.

2. What inspires you about statistics?

The whole gamut from the technical aspects to the applications. I find the elegance of mathematical statistics quite beautiful, and the applications of statistics are everywhere. I really enjoy the breadth of the subject, with statistics and data underpinning so much of the world around us. No area of human enquiry is off-limits to a statistician.

3. What’s been the most exciting thing about your career in statistics?

My four years as the Royal Statistical Society’s Vice President for Education and Statistical Literacy. My term of office coincided with reforms to A levels. I was able to push – successfully – for statistics to be a compulsory part of A level mathematics for the first time, and for the focus to be on interpretation and understanding of real data using technology.

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

I can only really speak for the education sector, where statistical skills are an essential part of many academic subjects: not just mathematics, but the sciences and the social sciences too. Also, educational administration is largely driven by statistics and it is of enormous importance for management teams to have statistical expertise available to them. So both in the classroom and in leadership there is a lot for statisticians to do.

Biography: Neil Sheldon is Chairman of the Teaching Statistics Trust, and Reviews Editor of Teaching Statistics. Neil’s professional and personal interests span mathematics, statistics, philosophy, Language and Linguistics, and he is a keen jazz fan. For more about Neil, visit

Neville Davies

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

I was inspired by the teaching of Professor Clive Granger in time series analysis while completing the MSc in Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Nottingham – this led me to want to embark on a teaching career in statistics. It also opened my eyes to the usefulness of the subject within a wide range of other subjects where data are used or produced.

2. What inspires you about statistics?

It can be regarded as the science of doing anything and can help everyone to get information from data.

3. What’s been the most exciting thing about your career in statistics?

There are three things: completing a PhD in Time Series Analysis under the supervision of Professor Paul Newbold; becoming Director of the Royal Statistical Society Centre for Statistical Education; conceiving and developing the CensusAtSchool data collection and resource creation project for school aged students and their teachers in several countries.

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

There is never a dull moment in learning, teaching and doing research in statistics. The subject can be challenging in carrying out any of these activities, but because you are usually helping others to make sense of the world, they can be enormously rewarding. By the way, I have never met an out-of-work statistician!

Bio: Neville Davies completed a BSc, MSc and PhD at the University of Nottingham. From 1972 – 2009 he spent 37 years teaching and carrying out research in statistics at Nottingham Trent University. In that time Davies spent several periods visiting universities in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. In 1994 he became Professor of Applied Statistics and in 1999 Director of the Royal Statistical Society Centre for Statistical Education. He has served on several Royal Statistical Society committees, national advisory boards and professional bodies. In 2009 Davies moved with the Centre to the University of Plymouth and retired from there in 2014. He has an Emeritus position in statistical education at Plymouth and have been a Trustee of the journal Teaching Statistics since 1999. He continues to be enthused by developments in applications of statistics and contribute to helping improve the learning and teaching of the subject at all levels.