40 Years of Statistical Consulting at ANU

2022 marks the 40th anniversary of statistical consulting at the ANU. In 1982, the Statistical Consulting Unit was established and in 2021, it became the Statistical Support Network. To commemorate this milestone, RII organised a symposium on Thursday 20 October featuring a lunch, historical reflections, assessments of the impact of statistical consultation, presentations of current work, and examples of areas of future growth. 

Professor Keith Nugent, Deputy Vic-Chancellor (Research) gave an opening address in which he highlighted some of the major achievements of statistical collaboration at ANU. He also noted that Big Data, computing power and rise of data science mean that evidence based decision making is also continuing to be of great importance, and collaboration with statisticians in SSN can support all of those quantitative research endeavours.

Associate Professor Julie Smith of the National Centre for Epidemiology & Population Health presented on “The Time Use Survey of New Mothers” with her statistical collaborator, Mr Bob Forrester. Julie introduced the background to the research, a ground-breaking study in the early 2000s on how new mothers in Australia spend their time. Bob’s statistical expertise brought a repeated measures mixed effects model to bear on the data, addressing both the repeated measures of time use made by mothers and the unbalanced nature of the data. The impact of the study was huge – it helped bring time use data to the foreground so that it was easier for economists and politicians to make use of the data in national accounting and policy development. The study results were even picked up by the World Health Organisation’s Council on the Economics of Health for All.

Professor David Lindenmayer provided the following remarks in advance of the event. “My whole career was made through collaborations with statisticians. I have been able to work with some of the very best people – Ross Cunningham, Wade Blanchard, Jeff Wood, and Alan Welsh. Such wonderful and generous people – who answered my dumb questions for years if not decades, who provided such amazing advice and direction. People who brought amazing insights from such incredible other fields like brain scanning, shipwreck risks and production engineering. I quickly realized that statistics was evolving 10 times faster than ecology and the collaboration across fields was critical for ecology to answer key questions. I told Ross Cunningham that if I ever had the resources to employ people, then the first thing I would do would be to employ a statistician. I have kept my word on this for more than 25 years – statisticians are such important people, people whom are often unappreciated or underappreciated for the extraordinary contributions they make. I am hugely grateful for the honour to have worked with such bright, generous, insightful people in statistics.”

Associate Professor Alice Richardson, current Lead of the Statistical Support Network, brought the presentations back to the future with a run through the history of the locations and administrative structures of the Statistical Consulting Unit followed by the Statistical Support Network. She also spoke about the vision and values of the SSN and how it might achieve sustainable support into the future.

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To finish off proceedings, Dr Ross Cunningham, foundation Director of the Statistical Consulting Unit, and Associate Professor Alice Richardson, current Lead of the SSN, cut the anniversary cake.

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Alice Richardson addressing the in person and online audience.