Interview with Nigel Howitt
The guest in this episode represents the sponsor of this show – Nigel Howitt – current chair of PSI.
After a short introduction of Nigel and his experience with PSI, we will cover the following topics:
- How can someone, that is interested become a new PSI member?
- What rules are there for students?
- If you’re a data scientist in the pharma industry- is PSI the right association?
- How to get most out of PSI?
- What are the different ways, you can become more engaged within PSI?
- How can you get involved with one of the PSI committees?
- What’s the role of the SIGs and how do you get involved there?
- What Nigel is recommending new members of PSI as first steps?
- What are your highlights of the PSI conference in Amsterdam?
Finally, we’ll also discuss how to get most out of the conference.
About Nigel Howitt
Nigel is the Global Head and Executive Director of Biostatistics at Covance, covering Phases I to IV. His department consists of 100 statisticians, based in US, UK, France, Spain, Italy, China and Australia. He joined Covance in September 2016.
Nigel has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for leading global CROs for 24 years. He started his pharma career at Parexel as an Assistant Statistician, and following a number of growth promotions, became the Manager, Biostatistics in 1999. In 2004, Nigel joined PRA Health Sciences as their Director, Analysis and Reporting (which consisted of Biostatistics, Programming and Medical Writing), initially for UK and later for Europe. In 2009, he was appointed Global Head of Biostatistics for PRA, where he led a department of 50 Biostatisticians and DMC (Data Monitoring Committee) Specialists. The department reported Phase I to IV studies, DMCs and data integrations.
Nigel is active in professional statistical organizations. He was the President of EFSPI (European Federation of Statistics in the Pharmaceutical Industry) between 2008 and 2010, and is currently the Chair of the Board of Directors of PSI (Statisticians in the Pharmaceutical Industry).
Nigel has Bachelors in Mathematics and Statistics from Bradford University (UK) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Mathematical Statistics from Cambridge University (UK).
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Alexander: You are listening to The Effective Statistician Podcasts a weekly show with Alexander Schacht, Benjamin Piske, and Sam Gardner designed to help you reach your potential, lead great science and serve patients without becoming overwhelmed by work.
This is an interview I did with Nigel Howard some years ago when we started the podcast. He was the chair of PSI, and we were discussing getting the most out of a PSI membership, and becoming a PSI member is something that I can highly recommend. I’m a PSI member for years. I have been very, very active in it and I just love this community. Not just because they helped me with this podcast. So stay tuned for this discussion with Nigel and listen to this replay, if you haven’t listened to it yet.
Welcome to another episode of The Effective Statistician, and today I’m alone, I’m not with my co-host Benjamin Piske because he’s sick, but I am together with another guest and that is Nigel Howard, who’s currently the chair of PSI. Hi Nigel!
Alexander: Very good. Maybe not everybody else or listeners knows you already, so maybe you can introduce yourself a little bit, what your career has been up to now? And what your role includes at PSI?
Nigel: Certainly, so I’ve worked in the Pharma industry for 24 years and am currently the global head of Biostatistics at Covance. Regarding PSI, I actually served on the PSI Scientific Committee, of which I know you’re currently a member. And I’ve also been on the board twice. Firstly, I was elected as the European Director and more recently, I was the Commercial Director. I then became the chair of PSI last year.
Alexander: Okay, very good. So in terms of your experience at PSI, can you tell us maybe a story around what kind of very good experience was PSI has been?
Nigel: I must admit, I think this is a very difficult question because PSI offers so many different things. For me some of my highlights, firstly, I’ve attended many of our annual conferences, which I think are world-class, to be honest, I hardly missed anything since 2000. I’ve also attended early on in my career, the introduction to Industry Course, which is absolutely fantastic. Also, a very big fan of the PSI’s career day, which has been rebranded recently as a taste today and which is a great way of bringing recruiters and students together.
Alexander: Yeah, I think the courses are really great courses for all beginners to get a first sense of the industry. So if you’re just new out of University, it gives a great overview and gets you in contact with lots of other people that are at the same stage.
So talking about that, if you are not yet a member of PSI, how can you actually become a member of PSI?
Nigel: It’s actually really easy. So if you go into our website, there’s a link there, then you can complete an online application form from there, and also to actually become a member now is the society is much more open. We’ve relaxed the entrance criteria. So it’s much easier to become a member and actually a four-member as well.
Alexander: Okay, and so for students, are there any other rules?
Nigel: Not really, I won’t say there are any rules as such, but a few things to think of, if you are a student is first, we provide free membership for students and with that free membership they’ll get quarterly newsletters, and they’re also getting regular updates from the PSI. It’s also an excellent way for the students as well to connect with future employees. So if there are any students out there I recommend that they apply to become members.
Alexander: And we also have lots of webinars and I guess the students can also attend these webinars for free, isn’t it?
Nigel: Yes, you’re totally right, they can.
Alexander: Now, in recent years besides the Statisticians, there has been this term of Data Scientists coming up more and more. So if you are a Data Scientist then PSI is the right Organization for you.
Nigel: I’d say we hope to be, but we do need to put some more structure in place in the first place, though. So for any member, you have to make offerings to entice people to join. And so we’re currently working on the board and moment to think about how we can entice Data Scientists that work in the Pharma Industry to our society. But as I say, it needs a bit more structure.
Alexander: Yeah, I think here in this podcast, we already talked about the Data Science Sessions that will come up in this year’s conference program. And we also had a recent webinar about Data Science and Big Data within the Pharma Industry. So I think there are a lot of emerging trends in this area and more non-clinical trial data is explored which has more of these Big Data and Data Science problems.
Nigel: Yeah, I agree Alexander, and as I say we’ll be doing a lot more in the future as well. I do think for Data Scientists, it would be a good time to join PSI in the future. But as we said, there needs to be a little bit more thought from the board as to what our strategy is. And also put the offering together as well, to make it a good for me.
Alexander: And I guess if you are a Data Scientist, then potentially you could play a part in this role in shaping the future within PSI.
Nigel: Exactly. I think a good way of the thing that we’re looking at the moment is a good way of starting that and developing that interest, might be through creating a special interest group for Data Scientists, so that it creates that area for people with the same interest and then hopefully we can develop it from there.
Alexander: So special interest group for all our listeners, groups of like-minded Statisticians that are working together on a specific topic. There are various benefit risks, there’s one about HTA, one about more tools related, and a couple of other special interest groups. And they meet very regularly and work on all kinds of different things.
So, a common thing when I’m talking to PSI members is that they get more out of PSI, the more they get involved with PSI, and the more active they are on PSI, do you have an idea about why this is the case?
Nigel: Yeah, I think to be honest Alexander, I think it’s true of any society in that the more that you put in the more that you get out, but it’s definitely true in terms of PSI, for myself, for instance, I mentioned before I’ve been a member of the scientific committee, this is my second time on the board. I can certainly say that I’ve gained so much from being a member. I have also attended many scientific meetings, many training courses, and attended the I.T. Course, I think fruit as well. I’ve developed a very good Professional Network and I’ve made many friends as well. Actually, I’m a season ticket holder for the West Rugby club, one of the friends I go with is a friend that I made from PSI. And I’ve got many other friends as well that I keep in contact with outside of work as well I made through PSI.
But also in terms of the scientific side of things, I think it really helps me to keep ahead of the changes within the industry, particularly as my role now as a Director, I’m not working day to day or directly with statistics anymore, so it’s really good to go along to the conferences and scientific meetings to find out what the changes are. So it really helps me with my day-to-day job.
Alexander: Very good, so you have actually touched on a couple of different ways of how you can become more engaged with PSI. We talked about the special interest groups, we talked about webinars, we talked about different committees. So in terms of these committees, how can you actually get involved with them? So let’s say, for example, there is a scientific committee, how does it work?
Nigel: Okay, so the easiest way really is again through our website. There’s actually a tab on the website there which will take you to or will give you details of how to apply. So you can send an email to our MCI who are executive office. And if when you do apply as well, if there’s any particular committee that you’re interested in, please put a preference as well. And we would consider, you don’t have to be elected as well to become a member of a committee. We only use the elections for people who want to become directors on the board.
Alexander: So it’s really easy to get involved, also with the special interest group, It’s usually just a contact. There are also different special interest groups that you’re interested in and get onboard there.
Nigel: Yes. So the Special Interest Groups, before I thought we were talking about the committees.
Nigel: Okay, yeah. For these SIGs yeah, firstly, we’ve got 11 SIGs that are ongoing and you mentioned a few of those earlier Alexander, such as risk-based, also the HTA, but we’ve got 11 on there. For those of you who aren’t aware of those, again if you go to the website, you’ll see a full list of the different SIGs that are available to the members. I recommend going there if there’s any that they’re interested in. I totally agree, the best way of getting involved is to talk to the organizer of that SIG and say, you’d like to become a member and then you’ll be included in their mailing list.
Alexander: Yes. I think the mailing list is really important because that’s basically the backbone of the Special Interest Groups. I’ve run the benefit-risk one for quite some time, and that was quite active and is quite active. In terms of the findings of these resources, you can either go to the homepage of the vlog, theeffectstatistician.com, and then find your way there or you can also go directly to psiweb.org and look for the different links that we just talked about.
So coming back to the new members, what would be the good first steps for new members of PSI?
Nigel: Okay. I think for junior members, I really recommend they apply to go on the introduction to Industry Course particularly if you’re young in your career, you just join the industry. It’s an excellent course to go on, it gives you about 6 modules I believe when I did it, and it covers many different areas of the Pharmaceutical Industry. I think it’s really good for people to go on this as well, you know, it’s good for any member, but particularly if you’re in a CRO, I think it’s really helpful because it gives you the kind of insight into some of the areas that you don’t work with, on a regular, on a day-to-day basis. It gives you a much better understanding of the overall industry, so I’d recommend that they go, you know, they put their name down for that. Maybe look at the Scientific Program and the Webinar Program as well and pick a few meetings that might be of interest there. For senior members, I would recommend coming along to one of our annual conferences, and again maybe look at the Scientific Program as well just to see things that are interesting in there. But as I mentioned earlier our conference is world-class and it caters to both Junior and for very experienced team members.
Alexander: Yeah, the conferences are really the highlight of the year, so to say, for this year’s conference that will happen in early June in Amsterdam, what are your highlights for this conference?
Nigel: Well, firstly it is in a beautiful location and a very historic City. The conference is amazingly put on together by the Scientific Committee yearly. It seems to get better and better, this year though they’ve organized 2 pre-courses, there are six plenary sessions, There are 26 parallel sessions. There’s also going to be an excellent poster section that will post the session which will have a great reception coupled with it. There are also lots of opportunities to network as well. On Monday there are 2 networking events, one of which will be for Korean Statisticians. And then there’s another one on Tuesday. And the great news is that, although it’s only April time, there are over 300 statisticians who are already registered. But it’s still not too late, so if you’re interested, I recommend you get your names down as soon as possible.
Alexander: Yeah, I think that we had a record number of abstract submissions, both for the oral presentations as well as for the poster session. And also we broke the record in terms of registration numbers by the end early bird of the rate, which has passed already. But still, there is really great value for money to go to the conference. If you have any problems convincing your supervisor to approve your travel. I would say go back in a couple of earlier episodes, I talked actually about different reasons how to convince your supervisor and you can also find these on the show notes on theeffectivestatistician.com. In terms of the conference, I think the conference is great for just getting the scientific content already, but I think to really get everything out of the conference, there are more you can do. What would be your personal tips to get the most out of a conference?
Nigel: Okay, I think, firstly is to read the program and abstracts in advance, so that you make the most out of the conference. As I mentioned earlier there are 26 parallel sessions. So it’s really helpful if you read the abstracts in advance, so you know exactly which ones you are going to go to so that you make the best use of your time. I also recommend that people go along to the networking events as well, and make use of the breaks, coffee breaks, and lunch breaks as an opportunity to meet up with old colleagues and also to make new connections. Another good thing that I recommend people do and we do it within Covance is for people that go and when they come back from the conference is to give summary presentations to the colleagues so other people within their organization can also benefit as well.
Alexander: Actually that is one of the tips for your supervisor to approve the travel to the conference because you can, later on, give a trip report to all your colleagues and speak about what you have learned and from there give additional value back to your organization.
In terms of the conference, I want to give 4 further tips that would be good and Nigel maybe you can comment on these. I think the first one is to be a good networker at the conference will help a lot, because PSI is all about being a good community and for that it’s really important that you are also a good networker. And even though many of the participants will be quite introverted, because I think as a statistician there are a lot of introverts. It’s still very good to go to people and talk to them, listen to them, be interested and always try to follow up on connections. I think another good opportunity is to maybe set up some coffee chats in advance with people that you would like to connect with. Maybe there are people that you rarely see, for example, maybe you work with the CRO or maybe you’re at CRO or you work with the sponsor and you want to actually meet these business partners, that’s a great opportunity. But also to speak to new people and see what they are about, what their stories are, what their experiences are. I think that especially Networking events, but also, the poster session are very, very good opportunities. Finally. I think it’s as Nigel said, it’s really a lot about the preparation. So if you know in advance which sessions you want to go to, which talks you wanna hear, that’s a huge opportunity because I’ve been at PSI conferences a couple of times and I always felt really a lot of difficulties by choosing between two different parallel sessions because all are so applicable to our day-to-day jobs, that it is sometimes really hard to choose. Nigel, what do you think?
Nigel: Oh, I absolutely agree. And I’ve heard that feedback many times before. So if just spending that little bit of time beforehand, and then marking out exactly which ones you plan on going to, just get much more out of the whole conference.
Alexander: Yep. And by the way, there’s an app for that. There are also conference apps that you can download and which you can use to plan out your conference. So that’s very nice as well.
Nigel: Yeah, is that already available Alexander? I know it’s been built, but is it ready now?
Alexander: Yeah, that is ready now, so check that out on the conference homepage. And there are instructions, on how you can find this conference app.
Nigel: And I think it has all the abstracts in there as well, doesn’t it Alexander?
Alexander: Yes, it has the abstract, it has the photos of the speakers, the bios of the speakers. So that’s actually also very good to connect to see whether there’s maybe some ones that came from the same University like you. So that’s a good opportunity to speak to people. And I really like the networking events, in the evening while having a drink together. It’s quite relaxed and it’s quite nice to talk about or kind of different things that are related to the industry, but also about things that are completely not related to the industry.
Okay, thanks so much Nigel for this very nice interview. Just to sum up a little bit of the key things, it’s really easy to become a PSI member, it’s free even for students to become a PSI member. The more you give into PSI the more you will actually get out of PSI and there are a couple of different ways to get involved with PSI, for example with the Scientific Committee or Special Interest Groups. And as a first step is really great to start with the IT course, but there is much more content coming in the next year’s. Do you want to shortly talk about the video on demand that we are working on?
Nigel: Yes. Also, a really interesting initiative at the moment and that should be coming out in the next few months. But what the plan is, as a benefit of membership is that all PSI members will get free access to webinars that we do, to the Journal Club, they will be put in this hosted area, and also we’ll be putting some of the hot topics when we have a scientific meeting where we’ve got a hot topic will put it in there, the recordings as well. There will also be some training courses that we’ve done. We’re going to record those and put them on there and it is going to be all totally free for members.
Alexander: This is amazing value for very little money over the annual membership. Okay, thanks a lot. That was a nice final quote and see you all hopefully in Amsterdam.
Nigel: See you then, thank you Alexander.
Alexander: Thank you.
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