In this edition of the Career Perspectives series, I interview Jessica Bhoyroo, Cytel Clinical Data Manager based in Basel, Switzerland.
As a student, Jessica was looking forward to a career where she could constantly acquire new scientific skills and feel that her work is useful to others. She graduated in Clinical Operations and Clinical Data Management.
Before assuming the role of a data manager, Jessica worked and trained as a Clinical Research Associate as well as a Study Coordinator in France (Montpellier) and in the U.S. (Tulsa, Oklahoma). These experiences helped her gain a better understanding of the journey of the people she was potentially going to work with.
“If you know and understand what other people do, then you are in a better place to help them.” - Jessica
Data management is an essential part of clinical research and requires collaboration with several teams, starting with data collection to analysis. Jessica’s love for interacting with people and her enthusiasm made this role an intuitive career choice for her.
How did you become associated with Cytel and what is your current role? What do you like best about it?
I had been working with a company for several years and felt the need for a change. I took a break and traveled around the world for almost a year and a half and when I got back, we were still in the middle of the COVID pandemic. When I started looking for a data manager role in Switzerland, a friend told me about Cytel. That’s how I became a part of the Cytel family as a Clinical Data Manager.
I really enjoy working at Cytel for several reasons. Primarily, I am keen on learning new things, and I had the opportunity to become certified as an IBM eCRF designer; this allowed me to add another string to my bow and helped me discover new tasks that I really enjoy doing. Moreover, this is my first experience of working in a company that provides clinical research services, and in this way, I can continuously learn new processes and have interesting discussions on different aspects of my role, which is very different from what I did before. It also gave me the opportunity to learn and become certified on a new data management tool that I was not familiar with before.
I was made the Lead Data Manager for several studies quite early on, which for me is a proof of trust from the higher management. This is definitely an important motivating factor for any employee of a company.
Another key factor for me is how well communication flows at Cytel. If you need help or are not confident about something, there is always someone who is willing to help you resolve the issues. My colleagues here are always happy to be involved in ways that make daily working life easier and smoother, and this is something I both appreciate very much and have never experienced in the past.
What combination of knowledge, skills and technical competencies are required to work at Cytel Data Management?
If you are working in clinical research, you must have knowledge about the clinical drug development process, be aware of the clinical best practices and the different guidelines and industries standards linked to data management.
Additionally, to work at Cytel in the Data Management department, you definitely need to be enthusiastic and proactive. The clients will expect you to be efficient, understand your work, and provide them guidance and solutions whenever there is a need. It is also very important to be honest and transparent; this is also something we expect from our clients. All issues and concerns must be highlighted to keep the trust between both parties and to ensure that the projects are efficiently delivered.
At Cytel, you also get to learn and practice how to manage work for several clients, on different tools, across different time zones and in different therapeutic areas, simultaneously. Flexibility is a key requirement for this role as every client is different and may have varying needs.
You might be the only data manager assigned to a study, but you must closely work with other departments to get the work done which requires you to be a team player. It is also essential to know and understand the role of these various departments you will be working with.
New ideas and suggestions are also always appreciated and welcome at Cytel Data Management group.
What in your opinion are the benefits of early collaboration with biostatisticians and statistical programmers?
When I started working at Cytel, I was surprised by how easy it was to communicate with my colleagues working in other departments. This ease of communication and collaboration is essential to adhere to project timelines and provide the best solutions and outcomes to our clients.
A data manager has a central position throughout the course of a study. We are in touch with the sponsor, the biostatisticians, the programmers, finance, project management etc. Collaboration is the key here and having a team spirit is essential. The sooner we start interacting with each other, the better is the quality of work delivered, and it also makes it easier for the sponsor to closely work with us.
The teams need to assist each other starting from the design of an electronic case report form to database lock. A data manager works closely with the statisticians and the programmers to ensure that correct data is collected, nothing important is missing and that there is compliance with health authorities. It’s important to cover all the bases at the beginning as it can impact the data analysis and submission to heath authorities. Each of the teams bring a different set of eyes to the documents, and that reduces the chance of overlooking anything.
What kinds of data challenges are encountered in rare disease drug development and how should sponsors respond?
This is my first experience of working in rare diseases. It is interesting as I get to learn about new diseases and new therapies.
However, working in rare diseases is not easy and has challenges. The sponsors usually have a lot invested in trying to get a new product to the market. Data managers need to ensure that all the concerns and decisions are carefully considered. It is our responsibility to propose solutions when a sponsor has doubts, and not hesitate to assert our opinion when necessary. It requires a lot of team effort and constant brainstorming to ensure that data is correctly collected and that the patients are safe throughout the study duration.
One of the biggest challenges is patient recruitment; rare disease means not many patients. A data manager provides feedback on the eCRF and participates in discussions with the sponsor to make it easy for the sites to recruit enough subjects to obtain adequate and accurate data in the given time. It is also common to get protocol amendments in rare diseases trials. In such a scenario, a data manager must be proactive and work closely with the sponsor. The sponsor needs to feel that they can rely on us and at the same time provide prompt replies as the data managers may need to work with biostatisticians and programmers, and any delays can affect everyone’s work.
What excites you about working in this field and at Cytel?
For me, being a data manager is not just a job, it is also a state of mind. You cannot be a good data manager if you are not keen on communication, and if you are afraid to assert your opinion and challenge some ideas that are not in line with yours. We need to be one step ahead of others and be proactive.
I really enjoy working as a data manager at Cytel because it is easy to interact with my colleagues. People here are open-minded, proactive and willing to share their knowledge -- these are some of the most important strengths of the Data Management department at Cytel.
Cytel provides its data managers the opportunity to discover and learn new tools and get certified. We are adept at multitasking, following up on any new ideas, and addressing the questions and concerns from our clients. We even encourage each other to be part of different initiatives that can help us in our day to day to work.
What advice would you give to younger women just starting out in clinical data management?
My advice is to always be yourself, to never be afraid of voicing your opinion and to always be transparent.
What are your main interests outside of work?
I love traveling and discovering new places and new cultures and meeting new people; this is what led me to go on a backpacking trip around the world. I visited amazing places and met fabulous people. It was so far the best experience of my life!
I also enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I recently bought a house, and I am now discovering the joys of DIY (“Do It Yourself”)! Also, one of the coolest things I have been enjoying for years is playing board games with my friends. We have board games night or weekend quite often. These are always good excuses to prepare a great dinner or book cool places where we stay for two days just to play!
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and sharing your journey.
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About the interviewer:
Mansha Sachdev specializes in content creation and knowledge management. She holds an MBA degree and has over 11 years of experience in handling various facets of marketing, across industries. At Cytel, Mansha is a Content Marketing Manager and is responsible for producing informative content that is related to the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries.