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Photo Credit - Hannah Minns

Alice Richardson

Statistician

Australian National University

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[STEM] is filled with passionate women and men who want to improve people’s lives.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I’m a statistician and Director of the Statistical Consulting Unit at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. I collaborate with research students and academics from a wide range of disciplines to ensure that they apply the best statistical study design and analysis principles to their research.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I chose statistics because I enjoyed maths and was good at it, but I also enjoyed helping people. In my third year at University I found I was enjoying the statistics course much more than the mathematics ones, and I had an amazing female lecturer who really encouraged me to consider further study in Statistics. One thing followed another and I ended up in a University teaching undergraduate statistics as well as collaborating with researchers from every Faculty of the University.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

I tackle obstacles by keeping in mind that if a door doesn’t open the first time you ask, then ask again! And in a different way! And try a slightly different door! The one that opens is the one that most likely is meant to be. And whichever door does open, stay curious and be open to learning new things.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

I wish younger me had known that there were more options after studying mathematics than becoming a school teacher! Don’t get me wrong, school teaching is an incredibly responsible and important profession and I think I would have found it very rewarding. If I had known when I was an undergraduate student that there was this whole world of applying statistical methods to important research problems, then I think I would have gotten into statistics and statistical consulting earlier.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

Most scientists are passionate people, who feel that they are on a mission to discover more about how the world works, and thereby making the world a better place. That’s pretty much exactly how I feel too - I love working in STEM because I love the way evidence is used to help improve people’s lives.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

My advice to women contemplating a career in STEM is to remember that statistics is at the heart of most (if not all) STEM disciplines. Every number generated in a scientific study has a context, in other words it was derived from making some sort of observation or measurement. Often that data was supplied by a person who provided it freely and willingly. By remembering that people are involved at one level or another of many STEM careers is really important for girls who may think that STEM is a lonely career path. Not at all! It’s filled with passionate women and men who want to improve people’s lives.

INSPIRATION

My inspiration comes from Florence Nightingale, who has not only the developed the nursing profession but was also a passionate statistician. Her graphs and tables of numbers helped to sway the British Army’s approach to hospital care which ultimately benefitted hospital patients worldwide. Florence worked really hard but she also said that “however exhausted I might be, the sight of long columns of numbers was perfectly reviving to me.” I feel the same way! The prospect of a researcher with a column of numbers, or in modern terms, a spreadsheet in a statistical analysis program, revives me and is what gets me in to the office every day.