Jerry W. Highfill
Kansas State University
PhD course work
Colorado State University
Health Effects Research Laboratory
United States Environmental Protection Laboratory
When higher levels of college mathematics no longer provided practical applications, I began to realize that I wanted no more of that kind of mathematics. I had performed calculations of standard deviations by hand, which almost made me decide to avoid a college statistics course. However, my advisor thought that I should reconsider that decision because the course was simply an introduction to statistics. My advisor was right!
Statistics presents different challenges than those offered by mathematics. Statistics is more wordy, utilizes different logic, and is directed toward a broad range of questions and applications. Yet to comprehend many of the statistical concepts, I needed lots of theoretical mathematics that did not appear to be relevant earlier. Statistics is a great field for men and women.
I have worked as a statistician for three federal government agencies, each committed to health and environmental research. In these professional settings, I have had great latitude in determining which problems to address and how the work should proceed. I have done research for problems arising from water and waste water evaluation and treatment as well as in many fields of animal testing including pulmonary toxicology and carcinogenesis. Some of the most challenging work has recently arisen from animals exposed to several regimens of ozone at different exposure temperatures where the animals' heart rates and body temperatures were measured every ten minutes for several weeks. I have worked on a study to measure the effect of smoke from coal on humans.
As my knowledge and experience increased, my responsibilities broadened from "helper" to "collaborator" and "principal investigator." Translating a line or two of mathematics into expressive prose at first seemed nearly impossible, but recently it was gratifying to tell research leaders, "This is how we approached the problems of inhalation exposure involving concentration and time and how we approached repeated exposures over several days at several chamber temperatures. Our designs should also function well for compounds. These are the statistical models; you can apply the models to your data if you desire. Would you want to see copies of our publications?"
My mathematics mentor suggested that science and mathematics meet at the highest theoretical levels. This observation still appears to be valid. If you consider working in a technical field, commit yourself early to the study of mathematics and statistics. This knowledge will serve you well, and, with time, it will serve many others.