UP’s Department of Statistics hosts a graduate learning camp to address shortage of academics in the field

Posted on July 23, 2019

The Department of Statistics at the University of Pretoria (UP) recently hosted its first graduate learning camp aimed at addressing the shortage of a new generation of practitioners in academic statistics.

At the two-day graduate learning camp held at UP’s Future Africa Campus up-and-coming young South African academics within the discipline of statistics were exposed to and empowered with knowledge on Computational and Methodological Statistics and Biostatistics. The event also highlighted the objectives of the fundamental methodological research in statistics together with computational aspects of the modern era.

“Our ‘fortunate’ problem in the statistics community is that as soon as our students graduate with a statistics degree, especially at UP, the industry absorbs them almost immediately. As a result, it remains an immense challenge for us to retain postgraduate students and encourage them to study further and that is a crisis,” said Dr Johan Ferreira, senior lecturer in the Department of Statistics at UP.

“There is an extraordinary need for academics and students in statistics and it has been so for the past 10 years. Statistics is the crucial backbone of buzzwords in the modern era such as data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning. About a year ago, together with the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI), we decided to embark on cultivating a research excellence platform in the form of this graduate learning camp, which is aimed at attracting not only UP students but statistics graduates across different South African universities. This platform brings students together and allows them to network with leading experts in the statistics community and among themselves."

The graduate learning camp preceded the first International Symposium in Statistics and Biostatistics, where over 15 international and national speakers from the statistics community were in attendance, including Professor Sudipto Banerjee from the University of Los Angeles, Dr Joe Cappelleri, Executive Director of Biostatistics at Pfizer in the US, and Professor Ding Chen from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“With this camp, I am hoping to gain an insight into the world of statistics, see what is happening out there. We are fortunate to have world experts coming from all different walks of life to present in so many disciplines of topics relating to statistics. It’s a great opportunity to come here and engage with different minds from different universities,” said Nicola Taylor who is studying towards her honours in Statistics at Stellenbosch University.

“Thus far I have already gained so much insight into research and tips on how to write research reports. The greatest thing I am hoping for from this camp is advice for my honours and research going forward because I am planning on doing my master’s degree, so it is crucial for me to get advice from world experts who have been there and done it. It is a great honour and I feel very privileged and humbled to attend this camp,” said Gopika Ramkilawon, a Mathematical Statistics honours student at the University of Pretoria.  

Ferreira advises graduates to further their studies in Statistics as the need for graduates with analytical as well as computational know-how will remain extraordinarily desirable in the future across a range of disciplines.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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