How College Basketball Led Me To A Career in Statistics

Megan Robertson, Amherst College '15

Megan Robertson.JPG
 

I spent countless hours running around the worn pavement of my driveway, imagining I was tossing up buzzer-beating game winners and listening to the roar of the crowd. I distinctly remember standing at the foul line in the middle of a summer rainstorm to make sure that I got my practice in.

From a young age, I was convinced that I would be the next Connecticut Husky or Tennessee Volunteer, that I would have a record-setting career and win a few national championships before continuing on to a professional career. These lofty ambitions had been fueled by my innate ability to tower over my middle-school aged group and grab some rebounds.

Fast forward to high school, and I find myself the only freshman to make the varsity team. This carried the distinction of also being the only freshman to ride the end of the bench during the majority of games that season. Around this time it was starting to become clear that UConn or Tennessee were not in the cards, but I knew that I still had a passion for the game. I wanted to play at a competitive level, but did not want to sacrifice academic quality to play basketball. Amherst College presented a competitive athletic program while also providing the academic freedom and challenges that I sought.

Arriving on campus as a bright-eyed first year in the Pioneer Valley,  all I was really sure about was that I wanted to play basketball. In addition to adjusting to college sports, I took a variety of courses first semester. That course load consisted of math courses, which I decided to continue taking later that year because I had some fantastic professors. It was also during my freshman year that the movie Moneyball came out. The film exposed me to the possibility of combining statistics with athletics. Thanks to some Google searches, I quickly learned about the research that had been done with baseball data, and the types of data available for professional basketball games. I was hooked, and I enrolled in my first statistics course my sophomore year. By graduation, I had a degree in statistics and plans to enroll in a Master’s of Statistical Science program at Duke University.

As with every collegiate athlete, my career ended after four years competing in a sport that I loved. Basketball had been such an integral part of my identity since I was a young girl practicing free throws in the rain.  When I arrived at Duke in the summer of 2015, it was a strange transition to not be spending so much time in the gym and to have more free time on my hands. Basketball was not so much of my identity at Duke. I played pickup and intramural games, but I found myself dedicating more of my time towards studying statistics and the interests I found through numbers and writing code. I still found ways to combine my love for basketball with statistics. I completed a few projects using sports data in graduate school and worked on my Master’s thesis in collaboration with the Charlotte Hornets. However, my statistical interests extended beyond professional athletics and I worked with crime data, music data and more. Without athletics and basketball, and I guess you could say the inspiration I got from Moneyball, I do not think I would have discovered a passion for statistics when I did.

My devotion to play basketball helped me find Amherst. While at Amherst, this dedication for athletics led to me to statistics. Although I first became interested in statistics because of its applications to sports, I learned about the interesting and effective applications of statistics beyond athletics. Every industry, from healthcare to consulting, uses data that needs to be analyzed. This journey and interest has taken me to Nike, where I just joined the team as a data scientist. I am thankful to basketball, for directing my path toward Amherst College, and for helping me discover another passion that I have been able to develop into a career. 

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Megan currently works as a Data Scientist for Nike in New York City. She graduated from Amherst College in 2015 and received a Masters of Statistical Science in May 2017. Connect via LinkedIn or her website.