MATH 6627 2013-14 Practicum in Statistical Consulting

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"The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone's backyard." -- John Tukey

Breaking News

September 4, 2013: New room: VH 1018

Wednesday classes will meet in Vari Hall 1018. Note that this is moved from the originally assigned room N812 Ross.

August 26, 2013: New wiki server for MATH 6627

This year, the wiki pages for MATH 6627, Practicum in Statistical Consulting, are on the server: You need a userid to access this server but anyone interested in auditing the course (in person or on line) is welcome to do so. Please write to [Georges Monette] for a userid on the server.

August 20, 2013: Low supply of textbooks in the bookstore

The textbook: Murnane and Willett (2011) Methods Matter will be used from the very beginning of the course.
  • Thee are only 3 books in the bookstore, as of August 20, 2013.
  • One book is on 2-hour reserve in Scott Library
  • You can order from or
  • There's a kindle edition at 2/3 the hard-cover price.


General Information

The official up-to-date version can be found at


Class Meetings

  • We will meet every Wednesday in the Fall term from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm in Vari Hall 1018 (note that this is a change from the originally assigned room of N812 Ross).
  • The first meeting is on September 11.
  • There is an optional R Tutorial/Seminar on Monday, September 16 from 3:30 pm to 5 pm in N638 Ross.
  • There will be occasional meetings with teams working on consulting projects in the Winter term. Normally, these meetings are attended only by team members, sometimes the client and, sometimes, the instructor.


As undergraduates we learn statistics through a sequence of courses each focusing on some part of statistical theory. The problems we solve in these courses use the tools learned in the course. When you have to solve real-world statistical problems, it is rare that there are clear clues about the appropriate theories or methods you need to use.

In fact, many problems are best handled with eclectic solutions borrowing from many areas of knowledge. Not only do you need to draw on your statistical knowledge but also on all your accumulated knowledge and experience in life: your understanding of the subject matter of the problem, your creativity with mathematical models, your ability to visualize and communicate, your interpersonal skills to help you understand your clients' possible anxieties with statistics, your insight in working with your own anxieties, etc, etc.

The goal of this course is to help you develop the skills and confidence to solve real-world problems. You will learn about the key role of many statistical concepts that are rarely seen in detail in standard courses. You will also learn the vital role of visualization and graphics, communication (listening even more than talking) and presentation skills.

The course will help you develop skills in a number of areas:

  1. programming and data management skills in R: Although the emphasis in this course is entirely on R, many jobs expect a strong knowledge of SAS -- take every opportunity you can to also learn SAS. Consider, if you are a beginner, the courses offered through the Statistical Consulting Service. If you work with clients who use another package, e.g. SPSS or Stata, you might have to learn enough about them to show your clients how to perform their analyses using their own packages. A recent feature in SPSS and SAS allows R to be called from these packages. If you have a solution that is too advanced for SPSS or SAS, you can prepare code in R and provide a client with the ability to perform the analysis from the package that is familiar to them.
  2. graphics to visualize data and models
  3. how to work as a statistical consultant/collaborator in the analysis of scientific problems
  4. developing presentations skills
  5. developing an understanding of the role of statistics as a discipline and as a profession in science and business
  6. acquiring basic concepts and techniques related to the analysis of hierarchical and longitudinal data -- a large proportion of the problems our students deal with in consulting involve problems that can be approached through these techniques
  7. understanding ethical issues related to statistical practice

We begin the course by developing a thorough understanding of applied regression. Most statistical problems involve studying relationships among variables and a deep understanding of the concepts of regression gives us the basis with which to understand a large class of statistical methods, many of which are extensions of the ideas of regression.


  • We will read through Methods Matter by Richard Murnane and John B. Willet.
  • Consult and contribute to our list of useful links and references: [1]

Course Work

There are 5 components:

  1. [15%] Weekly wiki contributions:
    After each class prepare a sample exam question and answer on the material presented in the class. Post the question and answer in MATH 6627 Sample Exam Questions. Sign your contribution with your initials. Due: before noon on the day of the next class.
    a contribution to the course blog, which can be anything relevant to the subject of the course, including
    • links and comments to statistics in the news,
    • links and comments to items concerning consulting, statistical paradoxes and fallacies, etc.
    • links to your contributions to wiki,
    • questions and comments about the course,
    • replies to other contributors' questions or comments about the course.
  2. [25%] Individual and group assignments, some with short presentations:
    Six or seven assignments on material covered in the course. About half the assignments are individual assignments and half are group assignments with pseudo-random groups. Some group assignments will involve short group presentations to the class. These presentations will be rigidly limited to a maximum time -- typically 15 minutes followed by 5 minutes for questions. Getting the interesting aspects of your message across in a limited time is challenging and requires good preparation and coordination.
  3. [5%] Odd jobs: In a consulting course, there's always a host of interesting questions and problems that come up. You accumulate grades for odd jobs when you take on the responsibility to research and answer one of these questions and post the results on the wiki, perhaps in the form of a short tutorial helping others solve similar problems in their work. Insert a link to your work in this file: /Odd jobs.
  4. [30%] Group consulting project due March 1, 2013.
    You will work on a major consulting project in which you will collaborate with a real client to produce a deep and probing consulting report and analysis. The project is very likely to involve hierarchical regression models. The grade is based on the overall quality of the project (10%) and on your personal contribution to it as evidenced by a common statement on individual contributions to the project(10%) and on your understanding of the issues and concepts in the project as shown in the final presentation (10%).
  5. [25%] A final in-class 3-hour exam on the material of the course. If you produce good sample questions, you might find a question very close to yours on the exam. The timing of the exam will be discussed. It could be held in the December exam period or in early January.

Note that some modifications are possible pursuant to York's Senate Policy on Academic Accommodation for Students with Disabilities.

Course organization

  • In the first half of the fall term we will look at statistical concepts that are important in interpreting what statistical analyses mean for real research questions. There is strong emphasis on applied regression. If you want to brush up on regression, I highly recommend the text by John Fox: Applied Regression Analysis and Generalized Linear Models, Second Edition and An R Companion to Applied Regression, 2nd ed. also by John Fox and Sandy Weisberg. I will be happy to have either put on reserve at your request. The rest of the fall term will be devoted to extensions of basic statistical models that are particularly useful in dealing with more advanced problems frequently encountered in current consulting. The final part of the course will be devoted to your consulting projects culminating in your presentation of your analyses and interpretations.
  • You will have the opportunity to organize and present short presentation on assignments.
  • Starting from the second week, you should work on contributions to the wiki in the form of sample exam questions and blog entries. Also work on individual Assignment 1 (due week 2) and on the individual Assignment 2 (due week 3) and on team Assignment 3 (due week 4).
  • I assume that you can quickly acquire a working knowledge of R. Consider taking the SCS short course on R. We can schedule a few special tutorials if anyone feels the need.
  • The final exam will give you a chance to show how you have reflected on the material of the course. It will consist mainly of essay questions possibly drawn for your own sample questions if they turn out to be good.
  • The major consulting project will involve working in a team with a real client on a moderately complex analysis. You will meet your client in November. The final project and presentation will be completed no later than March 1, 2013. I will be available to meet with your team to discuss your progress.
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