Doing a PhD in Statistics

Doing a PhD in Statistics

We live in a data-rich world. The study of statistics allows us to better understand data, measure uncertainty, and calculate risk. The applications of such knowledge are widespread – from economics to medicine. A PhD in Statistics will give you a deep understanding of the mathematical framework which underpins data analysis as we know it. Read on to find out the key information about a PhD in statistics, and whether it is worth it for you.

What Does a PhD in Statistics Focus On?

A Statistics PhD programme can focus on:

  • Statistical theory and statistical methods
  • Bayesian statistics
  • Covariance modelling
  • High dimensional data
  • Probability theory
  • Causal inference
  • Extreme value theory
  • Non-parametric regression
  • Symbolic computation
  • Applied statistics

The list above is only a small sample of the many different areas within probability and statistics. Many PhD research projects place a particular emphasis on statistics within environmental, biomedical, and social science.
Aside from this there is also overlap with other field such as computer science, applied mathematics, and linear algebra.

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Entry Requirements for A PhD in Statistics

Most Statistics PhD programmes require applicants to have, or expect to obtain, a bachelor’s degree (or international equivalent) in Mathematics or Statistics. However, many Statistics PhD research projects also accept applications from graduate students with a bachelor’s degree in other subjects if they involve a significant mathematical component (such as Data Science, Physics, or Computer Science). Many universities expect first class honours due to the high competition for places, though for some institutions second class honours (2:1) is adequate.

It is also common for universities to accept second class honours (2:1), if the graduate has a master’s degree or relevant work experience.

Universities typically expect international students to provide evidence of their English Language ability. This is usually benchmarked by a IELTS score of 6.5 (with a minimum score of 6 in each component), a TOEFL (iBT) score 92, a CAE and CPE score of 176 or another equivalent. The exact score requirements may differ across different universities.

Duration and Programme Types

The typical doctoral programme in Statistics takes 3-4 years full-time, or 6 years part-time.

A PhD research project in Statistics can focus on a particular application of statistics. For example, you may undertake a PhD in statistical genomics or biostatistics, which would involve interdisciplinary work and additional training modules to understand how statistics can improve biological and genetic study.

In addition to the statistics course modules, you will likely undertake ‘transferable skills‘ training in communication, management, and commerce – all of which are skills a good postgraduate research student needs.

As with most PhDs, you will have to complete a dissertation at the end of your postgraduate research project, and undertake an oral examination known as the viva, where you are required to defend your dissertation to a supervisory committee/dissertation committee usually made up of two examiners.

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Costs and Funding

Annual tuition fees for PhDs in Statistics are typically around £4,000 to £5,000 for UK/EU students. Tuition fees for international students are usually much higher, typically around £20,000 – £25,000 per academic year. Tuition fees for part time programmes are typically scaled down according to the programme length.

Some Statistics PhD programmes also have additional costs to cover laboratory resources, administration and computational costs.

Together with EPSRC and other national funding sources, many Universities offer postgraduate studentships which cover the tuition fees for Statistical PhD programmes. EPSRC DTA research studentships are available in all areas for UK and EU students. Students who are normally resident in the EU but not in the UK are eligible for EPSRC PhD studentships, but the awards in such cases currently cover only the course fees, not maintenance stipends.

Available Career Paths in Statistics

One of the key advantages of Statistics is that it is a fundamental concept which underpins most industries. Consequently, there are an abundance of career paths available for Statistics PhD doctorates such as agriculture, forensics, machine learning, informatics, geosciences, law and biomathematics.

Examples of common destinations for a Statistics PhD student include:

  • Actuarial Science – Actuaries are responsible for analysing data to help non-specialists make informed decisions about risks. A good understanding of probability and investment is crucial in this field. Salaries for Statistics PhD students in this field vary, but with around 10 years’ experience typically are around £60,000.
  • Environmental statistician – In this role, Statistics doctorates use their knowledge to contribute to environmental study. This can include monitoring climate patterns, carrying out flood risk assessments, or transforming large amounts of temperature data into information for the public.
  • Data Analyst – Some people use their PhD in stats to become data analysts, responsible for data management, developing automated processes, tracking KPIs, and more. Data analysts can be found in various industries form logistics & transport to marketing. Again, with experience Statistics doctorates in this path can expect a lucrative salary.
  • Medical statistician – PhD graduates in the medical field aid health research in a number of ways, for example analysing data from clinical studies to identify patterns. The NHS, private health companies and the pharmaceutical industry are common employers for those with a PhD degree in statistics or applied statistics.
  • University lecturer – Often PhD students opt to stay in academia. This can be as a university lecturer where you will teach students about statistical theory.
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