JSM: accessible for first-year grad students?

A friend of mine has just finished his first year of a biostatistics program. I’m encouraging him to attend the Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM) conference in San Diego this July/August. He asked:

Some of the talks look really interesting, though as a someone who’s only been through the first year of a master’s program, I wonder if I’d be able to understand much.  When you went as a student, did you find the presentations to be accessible?

I admit a lot of the talks went over my head the first year — and many still do. Some talks are too specialized even for an experienced statistician who just has a different focus… But there are always plenty of accessible talks as well:

  • Talks on teaching statistical literacy or Stats 101 might be useful if you’re ever a TA or consultant
  • Talks on data visualization may focus on communicating results rather than on technical details
  • Overview lectures can introduce you to a new field
  • Some folks are known for generally being accessible speakers (a few off the top of my head: Hadley Wickham, Persi Diaconis, Andrew Gelman, Don Rubin, Dick DeVeaux, David Cox, Hal Varian… and plenty of others)

And it’s worthwhile for a grad student to start getting to know other statisticians and becoming immersed in your field.

  • There’s a nice opening night event for first-time attendees, and the Stat Bowl contest for grad students; in both of those, I made some friends I keep seeing again at later JSMs
  • Even when the talk is too advanced, it’s still fun to see a lecture by the authors of your textbooks, meet the folks who invented a famous estimator, etc.
  • You can get involved in longer-term projects: after attending the Statistics Without Borders sessions, I’ve become co-chair of the SWB website and co-authored a paper that’s now under review
  • It’s fun to browse the books in the general exhibit hall, get free swag, and see if any exhibitors are hiring; there is also a career placement center although I haven’t used it myself

Even if you’re a grad student or young statistician just learning the ropes, I definitely think it’s worth the trip!

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