David Robertson has risen from a PhD student to a Senior Research Associate at the BSU in just a few years, now focusing on developing methods to design and analyse clinical trials. Read on to find out how David started his career at the BSU, what a typical day in his role involves, and his advice on forming and developing strong collaborations.
What did you do before joining the BSU?
I did my undergraduate and master’s degrees in Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, with an increasing focus on Statistics over the years. However, I was still unsure whether to apply for a PhD, and immediately after graduating I worked for a year as an analyst in a bank. While I had a good experience working there, it became clearer that a career in finance was not quite what I wanted to pursue, and so I ended up accepting an offer to do a PhD at the BSU in 2013.
What different roles have you had at the BSU?
Over the past seven years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have progressed in a variety of roles at the BSU. I stayed on in the BSU as a research associate straight after finishing my PhD in 2016, starting only four days after my viva! In 2018, I was awarded a three-year Biometrika Fellowship, and last year I concurrently started a senior research associate position.
What does a typical day in your role involve?
Each day can look quite different, which is one of the things I enjoy about the role! Some days are full of meetings with colleagues at the BSU and external collaborators, where we discuss research ideas and ongoing projects. As well, one of the great things about the BSU are the regular talks and seminars that take place. On other days with fewer meetings, I try to set aside good chunks of time to work on various individual and collaborative projects. This primarily involves writing code and running simulations on the computer, but I also work out mathematical details by hand.
What does your workspace look like?
At the BSU, I work in a shared office at a desk with two monitors and plenty of space to store papers and books. During the current lockdown I’ve been working from home, using one of the monitors from the office and logging in remotely to my computer in the office. I’m thankful that I can continue to work effectively with this set up, although I’m looking forward to when we can all be back in the office again!
What are you working on at the moment?
My research focuses on developing methods to design and analyse clinical trials that adapt to the interim data collected during the study. Currently I’m working on a couple of projects looking at trials that use response-adaptive randomisation. This is when patients are randomised to different treatment options based on the accrued response data, so that (for example) more patients end up being assigned to the best treatment. I’m also involved in writing a review of how to estimate treatment effects in adaptive clinical trials in an unbiased way. Another project I’ve been spending a bit of time on recently is called DECOVID (https://www.decovid.org/), which aims to use electronic health records from hospitals to answer clinical questions about COVID-19.
What is your favourite part of your job?
I really enjoy the freedom and flexibility to explore different areas of clinical trial methodology, and I’ve been very fortunate to have wonderful colleagues and line managers who have enabled and supported me in doing so.
Another part of the job I particularly enjoy is when I’m analysing the results of a computer simulation – it’s quite exciting to see new results for the first time and sometimes they can be surprising!
What is your least favourite part of your job?
One thing I’ve found challenging is learning how to manage working on multiple projects simultaneously, particularly in balancing short-term and longer-term research. It’s sometimes necessary to say no to new projects which can be a hard thing to do…
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Particularly during the lockdowns of the past year, I’ve been very thankful for the community and various weekly activities that have continued online at my local Church – they’ve been a real encouragement in these difficult times!
What advice would you give to anyone considering your role?
Over the years I’ve seen the importance of forming and developing good collaborations both internally and externally. Particularly when starting one’s career, it’s great to get involved in collaborative projects and to work with researchers from different areas of Biostatistics. Sometimes successful collaborations can start from meeting someone at a conference or seminar, so you never know when these opportunities may arise!
Blog post by David Robertson