...what? say it ain't so. In a follow up to my post about writing skills of PhD students, this post points to the International Society for Bayesian Analysis (ISBA) bulletin where this discussion got started. Luke Bornn, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia and editor of the Students' Corner in the bulletin, asks this question of a number of a high profile Bayesians. My favorite entry (probably due to the orangutan analogy) is by Kerrie Mengersen, repeated here
Recent studies have shown that orangutans quickly recognise when they are being copied by a human and respond with delight, trying increa- singly outrageous activities which lead to mutual entertainment and understanding. PhD students could spend more time with orangutans. Extrapolating wildly from these stu- dies, they could learn three important skills. 1. Translation A very common comment by employers is that statistics PhD students need to develop commu- nication skills. An orangutan likes clear, succinct and informative messages. What is it that you do? Why should I care? What does your technical work mean? Practise talking about your work to every orangutan that you meet, including those in pubs, in suits and sitting in conference rooms. Find a level of communication that works for you and for them. 2. Integration Whether they remain in research lab or ven- ture into the jungle of the ‘real world’, most sta- tistics PhD students will work as part of a team. Like the orangutan, team members are more like- ly to respond enthusiastically to your ideas and involvement if they see that you are trying to un- derstand them. What is their perspective of the problem? What are their needs, timelines, skills and perspectives? How can you work together for mutual benefit and push each other to new achievements and insights? 3. Differentiation It may come as a surprise, but most people in the world don’t know what a statistician does. It may come as more of a surprise that neither do most statisticians. Interacting with an orangu- tan will help to identify what it is that you do that is different. What is your (ecological) niche? What do you contribute that is different from an information scientist, a computer scientist, a ma- thematician, a spatial scientist, an engineer? And again, why is this important? Why should the orangutan interact with you? Importantly, decla- re yourself as a statistician. If we don’t recognise ourselves, how do we expect others to recognise us and demand our unique skills? Apart from these three attributes, orangutans can also teach life skills like swinging through trees and scratching your head with your foot. These are always useful additions for a student’s cv.

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13 January 2011