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The number crunchers

Swimming in stats pays really well if you can make sense of data and aid the process of decision-making. Rahat Bano reports

education Updated: Nov 25, 2009 10:28 IST
Rahat Bano

In a reeling economy in 2008, campus interviews at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, fetched an average pay package of Rs 7.5 lakh a year, the highest being Rs 10 lakh. At the institute’s Delhi centre, the highest packages were Rs 8.8 lakh to Rs 9.5 lakh a year. See the obvious? Number crunching pays, and really well at that, if you have a good degree in statistics.

Initially used by governments to collect data on the population and economy, this 17th century science is now utilised in fields as diverse as agriculture, medicine, drug testing, insurance and finance, market research and sport.

Statisticians harvest, analyse and explain data in ways that help decision-making in governments, industries and research. The Central government recruits postgraduates in statistics, mathematical statistics and applied statistics for the Indian Statistical Service.
A big chunk of the ISI alumni get into analytics, banking and finance and software development. Knowledge process outsourcing firms are absorbing stats students as well. Some become actuaries, professionals who use mathematical and statistical methods to predict risks and uncertainty and for valuation of financial products. This is the “greatest draw” for Delhi University students.

A Hindu College topper, Sanchit Maini did a Master’s in actuarial science from Melbourne in 1999 and began his international career. A fellow of the Institute of Actuaries of Australia and the Institute of Actuaries of India, he has worked in GE Financial Assurance in the US, Watson Wyatt in London and Delhi, and BNP Paribas Assurance, Paris. “I wanted to do something in applied maths. After doing engineering drawing in Classes XI and XII, I realised engineering wasn’t for me. I would advocate statistics to anyone interested in applied maths and the probability theory,” says Maini, now deputy chief actuary with Max New York Life, New Delhi, where his role includes risk, financial and value management, actuarial aspects of business planning and oversight on product design and pricing.

Away from the financial world, another statistician uses his MSc stats training for drug testing. DU alumnus Ajay Singh writes reporting analysis plans (RAPs) on how statistical analysis needs to be done in drug trials at GlaxoSmithKline, Bangalore. “We analyse data from lab tests, ECGs and vital signs of subjects in drug trials and create tables or listings based on the data,” explains Singh, executive (statistics).

MC Agrawal, professor of statistics, DU, claims that in the 42 years of his career, he has never seen any student remain jobless. “It’s semi-ready material that needs to be baked, and which can then fit anywhere,” he says.

Abhay Gopal Bhatt, head, stat math unit, ISI, Delhi, adds, “Statistics is a subject used almost everywhere — academics, pharmaceuticals, insurance, bio-informatics, software development, and market research.” Statisticians with some grounding in social science can contribute to psephology, too, say Agrawal and Bhatt.

The job scene is so good, that it is bad news in a way — few statisticians opt for a career in academics, since industry woos them so hard.

What's it about?
Statistics is the science of applying mathematical principles to gather, analyse and present numerical data in a usable manner.

This 17th century science finds use in such diverse fields as agriculture, medicine, drug testing, economics (econometrics), insurance and finance, software development, market research and sport, where careers are to be made in working on scorecards of cricketers

Clock Work
A statistician’s average workday at a pharmaceutical company:
9 am: Reach office. Start creating data sets for which tables and listings have to be made
10.30 to 11 am: Tea break
11 am: Analyse the data which has come from the data management team. After creating the displays, start writing the report
12.30 to 1.30 pm: Lunch
1.30 pm: Continue working on the report
4.30 pm: Send the report to senior statistician
5 pm: Leave for the day

The Payoff
At the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, the highest pay package was more than Rs 10 lakh per annum in 2008-09. The average pay was above Rs 7.5 lakh per annum. At Delhi University, the average pay package for MSc stats candidates is about Rs 4 lakh to 4.5 lakh per annum

Good maths background
. Strong quantitative and analytical aptitude
. Logical thinking
. Good communication skills
. Team spirit
. Decision-making ability
. Infotech skills (required to use certain statistical softwares)

How do i get there?
Take maths through the Plus Two level. Opt for a Bachelor’s degree in statistics, offered at many institutions. A postgraduate degree in statistics helps in professional growth. To become an actuary, Sanchit Maini, deputy chief actuary with Max New York Life, New Delhi, suggests take a first degree in maths, economics, finance or statistics, which will equip you with good numerical and analytical skills. Or, go for a Bachelor’s degree in actuarial science offered in many universities abroad. You then need to clear certain exams conducted by the Institute of Actuaries of India while working in a firm dealing with actuarial work. The Union Public Service Commission conducts the examination for recruitment to the Indian Statistical Service. This exam is open only to postgraduates in stats and certain allied disciplines. More details available at

Institutes & urls
. University of Delhi (Hindu College, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Sri
Venkateswara College)
. Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata (with centres in Delhi and Bangalore,, and
. Indian Institutes of Technology, Kanpur and Mumbai and
. Narendrapur Ramakrishna Mission, Kolkata
. St. Xavier’s, Kolkata
. Loyola College, Chennai

Pros & Cons
. Intellectually stimulating work
. You have to keep learning
. Many well-paying jobs in the industry, and also the options of an academic career.
At the same time, it might be a niche job
. A lot of profiles entail long working hours

There is big scope in market research

An industry insider on the prospects for statisticians in India

What’s the job scene for statisticians in market research?
Very solid. There’s heavy application of statistics in market research (MR) today. It’s required in the local market research industry — consumer durable or FMCG companies — where you work with clients.

You do projects for them, which involves a lot of analysis. In this work, you run statistical tools and use statistical modelling.

A lot of statistical modelling is also now done in India for overseas clients by market research KPOs (knowledge process outsourcing companies) or KPO divisions of India-based MR companies.

Many market research KPOs in India are now working for overseas clients. Nielsen has a statistical modelling centre in India for overseas clients.

Then, many market research agencies are setting up research and development centres in India, not for external client work but solely for R&D. Nielsen has a large team working at its R&D centre in Mumbai.

Are they all postgraduates in statistics?
They are not necessarily all statisticians. We have both PGs and graduates in statistics and maths.

How do the salaries of PG degree holders in economics, stats and maths compare?
The average salaries are quite similar.

Qualities you look for in candidates for statisticians’ profiles?
An application-oriented mindset is essential. You should be a good team player — whether it’s R&D or client project, you have to function in a team.

Prasun Basu, executive director, The Nielsen Company, India Interviewed by Rahat Bano