Australian Bureau Of Statistics graduate profile image - Nelson

Nelson Chua

Australian National University
Graduate methodologist, Household Statistics Section
Nelson Chua studied a Bachelor of Statistics (Honours) and a Bachelor of Actuarial Studies and is a graduate methodologist in the Household Statistics Section at the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

What's your name and job title? 

Nelson Chua – graduate methodologist, Household Statistics Section.

What did you study? When did you graduate?

A Bachelor of Statistics (Honours) and a Bachelor of Actuarial Studies; graduated in 2018.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised on the Gold Coast, but moved to Canberra to study at the Australian National University. During the later years of my undergraduate degree, I was involved in a summer research project and was employed as a casual tutor for some introductory statistics courses.

How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it? 

I was a successful applicant for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Graduate Development Program. I’ve currently spent just over a month in the job. 

How did you choose your specialisation? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?

My initial motivation for moving interstate to study was my interest in becoming an actuary – such a degree was not offered by any tertiary institutions in Queensland back in 2014. However, over the course of my degree, I found statistics far more interesting and enjoyable.

What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?

The interview process was not as time consuming compared to other graduate programs, but very competitive. In 2018, the main components of the process were the online application, online video interview and in-person interview. In addition to behavioural questions, as an applicant for the Methodology stream I was asked technical questions relevant to the role, including time series analysis and survey estimation. The questions are quite challenging, but you are fortunately given perusal time to gather your thoughts and comprehend the large block of text that they hurl at you. 

What does your employer do?

The ABS is responsible for the collection, analysis and publication of data and statistics of national importance. The ABS plays an essential role in helping businesses and other government agencies make informed data-driven decisions. 

What are your areas of responsibility?

I’m involved on a project that involves investigating the use of a new method to improve the precision of indigenous health statistics. I mainly work on tasks to do with survey data integration and analysis.

Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?

My work hours are currently split half-and-half between project work and an internal course. The internal course has lectures, tutorials and assessments in a similar vein to a university course, and has been very useful in strengthening my theoretical knowledge of survey estimation.

What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here? 

Most public service jobs have a hierarchy that provides ample room to ascend. A great benefit of the Methodology division is that it has plenty of interesting projects on a wide variety of topics including machine learning, data confidentiality and discrete optimisation, allowing you to continue learning as you make your way up. 

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

I would have jumped straight into a PhD in statistics. However, I opted for job experience first in order to seize the opportunity to apply my skills and knowledge in practice.

What do you love most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most? 

Working in the Methodology division allows me to thrive and grow as a statistician. There are plenty of learning opportunities in the form of internal courses, workshops and seminars. I am also able to work alongside experienced and knowledgeable colleagues who share the same passion for statistics that I do.

I also love being able to have an inside perspective on the statistical production process. In particular, I was surprised by how much of a non-trivial problem it is to produce the output that I took for granted when doing university assignments.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job?

The project I’m working on is very challenging and requires extensive technical knowledge. For a fresh graduate like me, it can be difficult to have a clear picture of the overall project.Fortunately, I have an excellent project supervisor who has been able to ease me in with various tasks of smaller scope so that I can gradually gather parts of the picture. 

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  • By extensively studying the introductory material in the first one to two years of university, you can save a lot of effort in the later years that predominantly focus on applying the basics (it might be too late if you’re reading this though).
  • Find a job in a field that you’re passionate about – it improves your chances of landing a job in the first place and is important for general wellbeing. 
  • Be critical about statistics reported in the media. Check the source and evaluate the findings for yourself.