Math and Science
Ph.D. in Statistics
Denka Markova is a biostatistician for a contract research organization that monitors various clinical trials for new drug development. Markova has held this position since July of 2011 and said her work has been a great experience so far. Originally from Bulgaria, Markova came to the U.S. as an international student and completed her undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics at Henderson State University in Arkansas. She went on to complete a master’s and Ph.D. program in statistics at Baylor University. The Ph.D. program took longer than usual for Markova, who accepted an internship at the FDA in Washington DC in the last year of her doctoral program and thus had to work on her dissertation and internship at the same time. Eventually, she completed her Ph.D. in December 2011.
Why did you decide to study statistics in college?
Honestly, I was doing math in undergrad, but when I started looking at job opportunities, there were not many with pure math. I did some research and several friends recommended statistics. I chose a general stats department because I could pick if I wanted to go into business or biostats.
I noticed you have both a master’s and doctorate in statistical science. How did the Ph.D. program build on what you learned in your master’s program?
The Ph.D. program was actually directly after the undergrad program. It took four years to complete the Ph.D. However, they offered a declaration of a master’s after a couple of years of course work (just in case you don’t make it through the dissertation process). However, I did not have to write a separate thesis. The master’s was based on a general oral examination.
How did your degrees prepare you for your current career?
I loved the diversity of my degree. I could have done pretty much anything with statistics. I chose a biostat field because I got interested in it. The program prepared me very well. I am not sure how other departments are, but at Baylor, they stressed a lot on presentation skills. Also, we had to meet with other students or professors and do consulting type of statistics on different disciplines. This is exactly what I am doing right now and I could not be more thankful for my choice of a school.
What was the most interesting part of majoring in statistical science? What was the most challenging part?
The most interesting part was the fact that you can apply what you learn in class to any subject. It’s such a versatile degree. While in school, I worked with people from social sciences, environmental sciences, psychology, and human health. It was amazing how much other things you can learn while doing statistics.
The most challenging part was the persistence that is required! One of my undergrad advisors had told me before I went to grad school that “it wasn’t about being smart, but about being persistent.” It took me a while to realize it, but you have to be persistent. You have to keep up. And the dissertation is something else.
What skills did you obtain in your college education in statistics that you put to use in your current line of work?
Statistical analysis, programming, modeling, presentation, consulting, and teaching.
Do you have any words of advice for students who are considering majoring in statistics in college?
It is not easy, but it is definitely worth it. The salaries are very good, and there is always a need for statisticians. Overall, if I had to do it again, I would do statistics again. Also, the job I have right now is very rewarding. So, you get to do some very exciting things.