Our Career Perspectives' series is back!
Cytel has industry-leading experts in statistical programming with years of SAS® Programming expertise, combined with in-depth knowledge of specific clinical subject matter, which allows for competent and on-time completion of tasks. Our extensive service offering includes CDISC migration, mapping to SDTM and statistical programming.
In the first blog of 2018, we talk to Lisa, who is based in Boston, to find out more on her career path, achievements, current role at Cytel and her interests outside of work.
Have you always been passionate about programming and did you know early on this would be your career choice?
No – not at all, I stumbled across it! I have worked in two other industries prior to this. My bachelor’s degree is in Electrical Engineering, I completed this at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. I worked in that field for a few years, in the computer industry, and then worked in IT while I was getting my Masters in Biostatistics. I knew from the start that I would not be an engineer forever and always intended to get my Masters, but wanted some world experience to help me decide what direction to go in. As an engineer, I had a lot of exposure to, and interaction with, manufacturing lines. I became interested in processes and quality. So when I went to grad school I decided to go into statistics and right away not only found biostatistics but something that was just innate to me. I learned SAS as one of the tools I needed for my Masters. I was very fortunate to have strong mentors and every day felt excited because it was like putting a puzzle together.
What is your current role?
I am an Associate Director of Statistical Programming, I have all the responsibilities of a statistical programmer including developing SDTMs, ADaMs, and TLFs for client deliverables. In addition to this, I am a lead programmer on studies, responsibilities include: assigning tasks to the programming team, guiding and mentoring the programmers and monitoring the budget. A recent promotion has taken me to Associate Director and I have the added responsibility of personnel management and development, as well as more insight into the business side of Cytel, which is something I am excited to learn about.
What has been your journey to your current role at Cytel?
Cytel has always impressed me as a company, they present themselves in a positive light, they respect employees as individuals and allow people to work to their full capability, this is important in a Contract Research Organization (CRO). My journey with Cytel started as a contractor, I was fortunate enough to know some of the team beforehand and my integration in the business was seamless. The level of responsibility given to me from the beginning allowed me to utilize all my skills and expertise. Cytel went through a period of growth and this offered me the opportunity to move into a permanent management role, which is something I have aspired to do and I've not looked back since!
How has your transition been from the sponsor side into a CRO?
I am naturally a people person, I love interacting with other departments, and the CRO environment allows me to engage with other functions as well as clients. The new role has added variety and breadth in my work (the focused programming is balanced with project oversite). It has been exciting and interesting to see the business side and I am looking forward to working on new proposals and implementing them.
What career achievements are you most proud of?
This industry has given me lots of opportunities to work on things that really matter. The first submission I worked on was worldwide. The study stopped early for efficacy and was then fast-tracked. Those 12 months that we prepared the submission and then responded to regulatory requests were intense! It came down to hours before the FDA gave their approval – the team was all on a call finalizing things until the early hours of the morning. Later that morning, after we received approval, our Vice President sent an email out that has stayed with me, essentially he said “Because the study was stopped early and we were fast-tracked, this oncology drug will now impact 9 months’ worth of patients who would not otherwise have had access and whose lives we have now extended”. The drug provided overall survival above other treatments and these patients were given another option. As you work the crazy hours it is easy to get lost in the details, but once that announcement is made and you hear a different perspective - it is pure elation, and pride to be part of something so important, I will never forget that feeling.
What most inspires you about working in this field?
How can we not be inspired in this industry? The outcome of what we do and the people who do it. We are doing things for the right reasons. Everyone who works in this industry is dedicated to making a difference, real team ethos and strong work ethic.
What would be your top tips for early career statistical programmers looking to develop in this field?
1) It always helps to know the bigger picture – what does the puzzle look like? How and where does your piece fit? This is a crucial part of integrating into a team and understanding the impact everyone has on each other.
2) It is ok to have a programming preference (ADaMs, SDTM’s, TLF’s), but learn and do it all! Step out of your comfort zone and undertake tasks that you don’t usually do! When you do ‘soup to nuts’ you gain that broader perspective that makes you more valuable, and able to be more effective.
3) Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The only dumb question is the one that isn’t asked …
4) This industry small, you will cross paths with people multiple times in your career, always keep your professionalism and integrity.
What are your personal values?
Setting realistic expectations, honesty, and transparency. I think there is always more than one way to solve a problem and it's good to think outside the box and be flexible and creative. Learning new things and remaining positive is important and approach every “mistake” as a learning opportunity.
It helps to enjoy what you do and the first step in that is to respect and enjoy the people you do it with. I think it is important to respect everyone and realize that we can all learn from one another. Diversity is also important to gain a wide perspective on things. Roll all this together and I believe in knowing who we are, what we are capable of (and what we are not) and being true to that. Ultimately, that ends with integrity – when I sign my name to something it means I have put my stamp, of what is important to me, on it.
What are your main interests outside of work?
I enjoy spending time with my family. I have two teenagers with very different interests which take us anywhere from track meets to 4-H events and anything in between. A few years back we visited the Finger Lakes area of New York near where we used to live and rekindled our love of the area so we bought a house on one of the Finger Lakes. We spend as much time as possible there, it is so peaceful. I love to explore the area or just sit on the deck and watch the sunrise, or birds, all with either a camera or a book by my side. When we are home, now that the chauffeur duties have subsided, I can actually spend time with my husband seeing live music or going to the movies.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and sharing your journey.
Catch up on the series
Cytel biostatisticians and programmers are active and well regarded in industry associations and communities around the world. Would you like to join our talented team? We have roles for statistical programmers at all levels across our global locations. To find out more about rewarding careers with us click below.