Job title: Associate Professor in Applied Statistics
Institution: University of Bristol
Based in the Nutrition Theme of Bristol Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), member of the Steering Committee and Career Development Lead within the NIHR Statistics Group, member of the Statistics Workstream within the NIHR Methodology Incubator.
1. How did you get interested in statistics?
My maths degree at the University of Sheffield turned into a degree in probability and statistics due to the options I had selected, and the ones I enjoyed most were related to medical statistics. I then went on to do an MSc in Biometry at the University of Reading, followed by a PhD in Epidemiology.
- Describe your career path so far.
I spent the first seven and a half years of my career as a statistician at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton. This included undertaking my PhD part-time, plus substantial periods of time were based in various medical research centres in India. I was then appointed a Research Fellow in Statistics at the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC – University of Bristol) for two years full-time then two years part-time. Since 2007 I have been a Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, then Associate Professor at Bristol Dental School which includes the Nutrition Theme of Bristol BRC, working part-time (50 to 80% full-time equivalent). Although I have worked across a number of different areas, my main research interests are (i) lifecourse determinants of health, in particular body composition, (ii) physical activity and sedentary behaviour, and (iii) oral health research. My main teaching interest is making statistics accessible to non-statisticians, particularly undergraduate and postgraduate dental students, and I lead the theme of Evidence-Based Practice within Bristol Dental School undergraduate curriculum.
- What have been your career highlights?
There have been several highlights of my career so far, many of them occurring during my work in India. The most bizarre moment was when I needed to find a power source for my laptop to enter the body composition data we had just collected in people’s homes for an inter-observer study. I ended up sitting in a tiny open-fronted sweet shop being watched by many of the children from around the neighbourhood – certainly not something I would have thought could happen to a statistician! More recently I was a co-applicant on two successful grant applications to study oral health in children in Australia, which will enable me to experience being a visiting academic to the University of Adelaide (if Covid-19 allows!).
My greatest teaching achievement to date has been to transform the provision of statistics teaching in Bristol Dental School. I have done this through designing and running a quantitative research methods course that uses innovative methods and is very well-received by dental undergraduate students.
- What challenges have you faced?
A continual challenge is to find time to fit everything in, as there are so many interesting research ideas, teaching and other opportunities, but nowhere near enough hours in the day to pursue even a small proportion of them. It is particularly tricky as a methodologist to support clinicians and others who need our expertise, while at the same time building our own careers.
- What type of skills you use in your job?
In addition to statistical skills, the main things I need to be able to do are communicate well both orally and in writing, supervise students and staff, and manage my time effectively.
- What do you do in a typical week?
My time is juggled between a wide variety of research, teaching, management and administrative tasks, and there’s no such thing as a typical day/week which is one of the reasons I enjoy it. For example, last week I attended planning meetings for both an RfPB and renewal of our Nutrition Theme (Bristol BRC), wrote an exam paper (maths for clinicians), led an internal panel providing feedback on a progression application within Bristol Dental School, and undertook some training for running online interviews for prospective dental students, among other things.
- What do you find most interesting or motivating about your job?
I find it very satisfying to be able to use my expertise to help non-statisticians understand statistics, and also contribute to improving the application of statistical methods to medical research.
- Who has influenced you most up to now?
Lots of people have influenced and inspired me over the years, including Prof Hazel Inskip who was my very first line manager at the University of Southampton, and also Prof Andy Ness who has helped me shape my career since starting work at the University of Bristol in 2003.
- If you could change one thing in the world of health research, what would it be?
It should be a requirement for all journals to send their articles to a statistician for review, as too many published findings are based on inappropriate analysis methods or have not be interpreted correctly.
- What advice would you give to someone considering statistics as a career?
It’s important to start by gaining experience of a range of statistical methods, types of studies and clinical areas. However, as your career progresses you should aim to find your own niche area, else you may feel you are being pulled in too many directions at once. However this can be very challenging, and I’m still not completely sure what my niche area is!