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Career Perspectives: A Conversation with Arnold van Aswegen

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Explore FSP Careers

In this new installment of the Career Perspectives series, we had the privilege of interviewing Arnold van Aswegen, Associate Director of Functional Service Provision (FSP) at Cytel. Arnold, who is based in South Africa, has been an integral part of Cytel’s FSP business since March 2020. During the discussion, Arnold shares insights into his extensive professional journey, his current role at Cytel, his experiences within the immuno-oncology domain, and the key attributes necessary for joining the esteemed FSP team at the company.

Can you give us a little background on your career and your professional journey so far? 

After completing my Bachelor of Science in IT Management, my initial aspiration was to become a programmer. However, in 2006, I started working at a CRO company in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where I discovered my passion for statistical programming. Medical research and the future of patient health excited me. Working with patient data and recognizing its potential to impact future healthcare outcomes has since fulfilled my daily purpose. I love this job!  


What is your role at Cytel and what do you like best about it? 

I have been a statistical programmer for several years, steadily building my career. But what I enjoy the most is interacting with people from all walks of life and located in various countries. At Cytel, as an Associate Director in FSP Statistical Programming, I get the opportunity to interact with individuals from all over the world with diverse backgrounds and cultures. Engaging with colleagues and witnessing their professional growth and development has been incredibly rewarding. Moreover, being able to merge my passion for people and patient healthcare within this role is very satisfying.  


Collaboration is often crucial in roles such as yours. How do you foster collaboration and teamwork within your team or across departments to achieve project objectives? Which departments or teams do you closely collaborate with?   

Absolutely! Collaboration is essential for success in our industry. I love to talk (laughing as I say this), which I believe facilitates collaboration within my team and with the sponsor I support. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted our ability to efficiently work remotely, utilizing a variety of communication channels. Whether through email, MS Teams, or video conferencing, fostering an inclusive environment where everyone can voice their thoughts and contribute is what really matters. By promoting open dialogue and leveraging the diverse strengths within the team, I cultivate effective collaboration across departments.

Within Cytel, I collaborate closely with various teams, including the FSP Partnership Management team, project leads, recruiters, and my programming colleagues. On the sponsor side, my interactions extend to statisticians, study managers, data managers, oncology lung medical scientists, medical writing, programming leads, and support programmers. These ongoing and transparent communications are essential for achieving research objectives and advancing innovative treatments for patients in need. 


How has your experience in statistical programming specifically supported projects within the immuno-oncology space, and what are some of the challenges you have encountered? 

My extensive experience in statistical programming has prepared me to lead projects in the immuno-oncology space with precision and passion. I have been able to pull teams together, provide clear direction, and offer mentorship that develops a problem-solving mindset within the team. Maintaining meticulous attention to detail, I have delivered high-quality outcomes consistently. It always excites me to learn about alternative therapies, and the inherent complexities of novel research in this therapeutic area fuel my creativity.  

However, the ongoing challenge lies in managing team dynamics and resources. This involves managing rotating resources, onboarding new team members, and effectively leveraging everyone’s skills while ensuring growth and adhering to project timelines. Maintaining this delicate balance is crucial for meeting project deadlines without compromising on quality.  

My broad experience across various project stages has been instrumental in navigating these challenges. It has enabled me to offer guidance to team members who may lack prior experience and support them in completing tasks efficiently. Conversely, I also benefit from learning from colleagues with expertise in specific areas and gaining insights into alternative approaches and methodologies. This diversity of perspectives enriches the learning experience and reinforces the understanding that there are multiple paths to achieving our shared objectives. 


Can you discuss any innovative approaches or methodologies you’ve implemented that have resulted in improved outcomes or accelerated timelines for our clients? 

In the FSP environment, apart from innovation and continuous improvement, collaboration within a united team stands out as one of the most impactful tools. By aligning strategic assignments with individual strengths and nurturing a shared goal among team members, we ensure optimal project outcomes. Moreover, most of our projects support the sponsor end-to-end, providing many growth opportunities in all areas and across various levels of experience, which is fantastic.  

As a study programming lead, I have leveraged the skills of my team members and used innovative automation programming to support our study. This approach reduced the need for repetitive tasks, resulting in faster task completion and increased efficiency across the team. Additionally, while leading two sister studies, I could extend these efficiencies to both projects, further streamlining processes and reducing resource and time requirements to meet project deliverables.


In your opinion, what sets Cytel’s FSP business apart from other companies in terms of its approach, capabilities, and expertise? 

Cytel FSP brings together brilliant minds who passionately work together to solve complex challenges. Our FSP team members deeply care about the sponsor’s intricate research objectives, ensuring meticulous attention to detail and unwavering commitment to advancing patient healthcare.  


What qualities do you look for when hiring new members for your team, and how do you assess these qualities during the interview process? 

We consider expertise and experience, but I also value ambition and willingness to learn in potential candidates. A collaborative mindset and cultural alignment with our team are equally important.    


What growth opportunities are available for employees within FSP? How do you ensure that your team remains competitive and innovative? 

Cytel offers a range of technical and managerial career opportunities within the FSP business. While many statistical programmers are interested in honing their technical skills, there is ample opportunity to develop therapeutic area knowledge or additional domain expertise that could help them become subject matter experts. By sharing knowledge, encouraging active participation in team meetings, and leveraging individual talents, we cultivate a culture of innovation and competitiveness that drives success in our partnerships.  


What advice would you give to aspiring statistical programmers or individuals aiming for roles within the field? 

For aspiring statistical programmers, it is important to have a strong appetite for learning and problem-solving. While technical expertise is undoubtedly crucial, it is necessary to refine your soft skills, be flexible at work, and strive to bring out the best in your fellow colleagues or team members to ensure shared success.  


What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of working in this industry and at Cytel? 

The most rewarding aspect of my work is knowing that my contributions directly impact the advancement of healthcare for patients.


Lastly, what are your main interests outside of work? 

I enjoy regular exercise by going to the gym and soaking up nature while hiking. I take delight in both cooking and eating great food. But above all, I love traveling, both within my own country South Africa and abroad. God created such a beautiful world, and all we need is to love one another and make the most of every day.  


Casual - Arnold van Aswegen


A career at Cytel FSP provides opportunities to be involved in unrivaled biostatistics and operations research projects to improve drug development success rates. To learn more about a career at Cytel, or to explore our openings, click below:


Explore FSP Careers

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