From Economics Major to Statistics Professor

Dr. Brad Barney meant to become an economics professor, but then he fell in love with a different field.

“I just fell in love with how applicable statistics was to the [diversity] of problems you can solve,” he said. “I loved how you could work in any field you want because they all need statistics.”

He is now a visiting statistics assistant professor at BYU. This came after earning a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2003, and then pursuing a master’s in statistics at BYU with the intent of getting his PhD in economics.

The statistics degree was simply to prepare him for a career in economics, but feelings soon changed.

“As I got into the more advanced classes, I saw what you could really do rather than just the . . .  trivial application,” he said. “You see the diversity of problems statistics can help with.”

He received his master’s at BYU in statistics in 2007 then went to Texas A&M for his PhD degree in statistics.

Though he switched subjects, teaching was always his end goal.

“There is something exciting about [teaching]. Students come in knowing little about the subject then leave knowing some of what you know,” he said.

After his PhD, he got a job as assistant professor of statistics at Kennesaw University in Georgia. Barney worked there from 2011 to 2016. He had been looking to come back to his alma matter, especially because Barney and his wife have no family in Georgia, and so when he found an opening at BYU for a visiting professor in statistics, he applied.

“Making the cross-country trip one or two times a year just gets kind of old,” he said.

The location and good memories of BYU were also a huge factor in the move.

“I feel like I can help make those [memories] for someone else,” Barney said.

He got the visiting professor position and moved here to Utah with his wife and his four children, who are between the ages of three and 10. He began his temporary teaching job at BYU in Fall 2016, which took some adjustment.

“I still have to get used to calling professors by their first name rather than doctor so-and-so. I think they’ve been very welcoming of me. I feel like a colleague,” he said.

Barney is excited to teach and continue with his research here at BYU. His research interests include modeling U.S. mortality rates at the county level, modeling preterm infant growth in the first few weeks of life, and applying Benford’s Law to accounting data.

He recommends for students who want to be statistics professors to take all the math classes they can, not just the required courses. He still remembers the sage advice he received as a statistics student from Dr. Gilbert Fellingham.

“The sentiment I remember is you are your average. What you are consistently doing: That is who you really are. That applies to my career,” Barney said. “Sometimes I have really productive days, sometimes not so much, but as long as I have a good average… that gets me where I need to go.”

By CreelaBelle Howard Posted on