What is statistics and analytics?

The results of our individual decisions, such as the choice of financial investments or whether to smoke cigarettes, have a major effect on our lives. On a greater scale, decisions made by major organizations have a profound impact on the lives of large numbers of people. For example, the amount of medicare benefits, flood insurance rates, the location of school district boundaries, the approval of controversial drug treatments, the location of a hardware chain’s stores, and an airline’s routes and fare schedules are all consequences of decisions made by governmental or corporate entities that affect all of us. Although seemingly diverse in their nature, these decision problems have much in common. In each case, the possible decisions can be formulated in a quantitative manner and from them a “best” option can be chosen. Moreover, these formulations are usually quite complex, often requiring the collection and analysis of large amounts of data and the handling of elements of uncertainty. Consequently, the decision-maker must rely heavily on mathematical and statistical techniques, as well as sophisticated computer software, to formulate and analyze the problems.

Gathering and analyzing pertinent data is a crucial part of the decision-making process. In many cases, data sources are already available (for example, census data might be used in establishing school district boundaries); in others, experiments have to be designed from which to extract data (for example, medical tests might be devised to obtain reliable data on the effects of different drugs on a specific medical condition). Once the data has been collected, it must be interpreted to ascertain its implications. This gathering and assessing of data is known as statistical analysis.

Uncertainty arises (and is, in fact, pervasive) in almost all areas of the social, managerial, and physical sciences that use mathematical modeling for understanding and interpreting phenomena. In economic and financial models, the uncertainty introduced by human behavior must be taken into account, while in insurance models the analysis of risk often depends upon the random effects of nature. The concept of uncertainty is formalized quantitatively in the study of probability. The study of risk as it applies specifically to the areas of financial analysis and insurance is called actuarial science.

Decision problems are complex in that they must take into account not only all the factors that can affect the decision but also must consider the consequences of a particular decision. Since these factors rarely provide unanimous support for a specific decision, the possible decisions must be weighed against each other. Often, quantitative measures (e.g., costs and benefits) can be assigned to various factors and outcomes and mathematical optimization techniques used to determine the best decision. This aspect of analysis is a major component of operations research.

The Statistics and Analytics (STAN) program, the undergraduate program of the Department of Statistics & Operations Research at the University of North Carolina, encompasses the study of these quantitative techniques relevant to the problem of decision-making, interpreted in its broadest sense. Students who choose the BS degree in Statistics and Analytics will obtain a solid background in the fundamentals of calculus, probability, operations research, and statistics, as well as proficiency in the use of relevant computer software. Those students who wish to become actuaries will find this degree program an excellent preparation for their future work and, specifically, for the exams that must be passed to become fellows in the professional actuarial societies.

Students with the BS degree in the Statistics and Analytics program typically will have a wide range of choices for employment upon graduation. The job markets for actuaries, statisticians, and operations research analysts have been quite strong in the past and are expected to remain so in the foreseeable future. In addition, students with excellent grades who desire more education in these areas will find a large number of opportunities for graduate study. Recent graduates have gone on to obtain higher degrees in Statistics, Operations Research, Biostatistics, Industrial Engineering, Psychology, Public Health, and City and Regional Planning. Combined with a few years of work experience, students with this degree will find that they are also well prepared for obtaining an MBA.

A further opportunity for students who have entered the University with advanced placement credits and who have maintained a B+ average in the STAN program is represented by the 5-year BS-MS certain graduate courses in their senior year, students can complete a Master of Science degree in Operations Research with a single additional year of study. For the specific requirements, see OR 5-year program.)