Statistical consultation work at universities

As part of my responsibilities I manage a statistical consultation unit in my Chair at Umeå and also take care of a university-wide Centre for consultation. SLU has in fact a good centrally organised and paid consultation service with dedicated staff. Every major campus at Umeå, Ultuna and Alnarp has a unit supporting students and staff with statistical advice. Apart from that the statistical staff is often also involved in statistical teaching. Recently statistical consultation has also stretched to consultation in R programming, as skills in scientific programming and computing are actually not as widespread in natural sciences as one would think. All statistical consultants are organised in a centre referred to as Statistics@SLU. This centre was originally founded in 2002 as Biostokastikum by Bo Ranneby and Dietrich von Rosen with an initial remit for research but then changed its focus towards consultation.

Statistics@SLU has been a new experience for me during the last three years, as statistical consultation mostly meant additional “homework” at the other places I worked before and was therefore often avoided by those charged with it. Indeed, statistical consultation on top of research, teaching and administration can be a burden and a major distraction.

Therefore it is a good idea to organise this important mission properly by setting aside funds and dedicated staff. Still a centre of statistics like Statistics@SLU is not without its challenges: Not everybody values statistical consultation and takes this kind of service for granted. Internal funding is always scarce at any university and retiring statisticians are not always replaced. And the statisticians engaging in consultation are often not well recognised for their work and face problems when applying for promotion, because their workload often does not allow them to accumulate the necessary publications.

That is why it is so important to have a Centre where all consultants are united and can exchange their experience but also support each other. The Centre can effectively negotiate terms with the heads of departments, the deans and the vice chancellor. In this effort we are advised and guided by a steering committee and I am grateful for their commitment. This is also helpful to gain different perspectives.

This year we have again received good feedback for our work from both students and staff. For the consultants involved it is valuable to know that their efforts are appreciated. My Department has supported my consultation unit at Umeå by providing the funds to employ another statistician and the Faculty of Forest Sciences is kindly contributing towards funding the space charges of a dedicated consultation room that we intend to name after one of my predecessors, Prof. Bertil Matérn, an eminent Swedish statistician. The development of statistical consultation looks promising and we hope to secure continued central support for the good work that is done for students and staff.

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