Postdoctoral Position09 Feb 2017
I will soon be advertising for a Postdoctoral Researcher in Biostatistics/Epidemiology/Data Science (3 years) to come work with me in the HRB Clinical Research Facility Cork (CRF-C). The official job description should be online in the next two weeks. In the meantime, I wanted to take the opportunity to explain the work of the CRF-C, my expectations for the role, and what the person filling to role can expect of me.
NOTE: None of the information below constitutes a formal, binding description of the role, which will instead be communicated via the formal hiring processes of UCC HR. You are welcome to get in touch with any queries, but I may not respond until after the post is formally advertised.
The CRF-C is funded by the Irish Health Research Board to support patient-focused research conducted at University College Cork (UCC), its associated hospitals, and other healthcare facilities in and around Cork. The support offered by the CRF-C includes space to conduct clinical investigations, research nurses, research assistants, a pharmacy, sample storage facilities, study monitors, regulatory expertise, data management, and what I do - study design, data analysis, and methodological research.
You will be working in the Statistics and Data Analysis Unit (SDAU), which currently includes one member of staff – me! So you can perhaps imagine how happy I am to double its size. So what are “we” responsible for? First, we consult or collaborate on a varied portfolio of patient-focused research projects. More specifically, we contribute to the design of studies and data management processes; we write statistical analysis plans; we tidy and analyse data from studies; and we report the results. Further, we conduct multiple training events each year, in both statistical programming and statistics. Lastly, and most importantly from an academic standpoint, we conduct methodological research aimed at improving patient-focused research.
The SDAU’s remit is to contribute broadly across the patient-focused research community in and around Cork. However, we primarily contribute through collaboration. Importantly, we don’t run a consultancy service. What this means for you is that you won’t be expected to spend your time calculating sample sizes for studies you didn’t help design.
Unlike many academic units, we run the SDAU like a business that we are trying to grow. We are expected to recoup our costs each year, typically through research funding. This means we bill our collaborators for our contributions to research. This means that our collaborators are also our clients. We conduct our business accordingly, though we never shy away from hard truths or support wrong-headed choices.
The ideal candidate will be experienced with statistical programming (R or SAS), have a good understanding of statistics/biostatistics (with expertise in least one method or model), have experience with experimental study designs, and have an academic interest in methodological research. While the last characteristic is an absolute must, I am happy to bring on someone who is lacking in another area. In other words, if you have a strong background in biostatistics, but little programming experience, that’s ok, you will learn. Conversely, if you are an experienced programmer and want to improve your statistical skills in a clinical research environment, I can train you. However, you have to be trainable, which means that you must be mathematically inclined and very comfortable working with numbers. Regarding methodological research, your interests can be in applied methods (i.e. how can we improve the use of existing methods) or in the development of novel methods, or in meta-research.
What can you expect to gain through the post?
- You will have access to lots of data, from a wide variety of research projects. This means you should have ample opportunity to identify and develop an area of methodological research that you will lead, with my support. You will also have access to a variety of experienced researchers to collaborate with and learn from.
- You will gain experience working in both academic and industry-led patient-focused research, and working in a regulated research environment.
- You will gain experience working on multiple projects at any one time.
- You will develop professional skills (time management, communication, etc.).
- You will develop consultancy skills (e.g. talking clinicians off the ledge when their study doesn’t go as planned).
- You will have opportunities to improve your teaching and public speaking.
- You will have opportunities to improve your writing.
- You will gain experience applying for grants.
- At the end of 3 years (if not sooner), you should be prepared to continue along an academic career track. However, you will also be skilled enough to be employable outside of academia if you so choose.
Opportunities aside, you will still be stuck working with me on a day to day basis. So what’s that like?
I am primarily motivated by the enormous amount of research waste that is generated every day, much of which is caused by poor data handling and analytical practice. So while the researchers I work with get up every day hoping to improve human health, I get up every day hoping to improve their research practices and inferences. I have no interest in inventing the next great statistical method (nor the capability) – I just want to help as many people as possible correctly apply existing methods. Further, I think the best way to improve research quality is to shine a light on it, and so I do my best to work in a transparent manner, and will expect you to do the same. I develop workflows and processes that that contribute to the quality of my work. I don’t make things up as I go (anymore…), but rather I design and manage analyses. This will be a somewhat foreign way of working for some academics, but a valuable one, for both the quality of the research you conduct, and your own career development.
While I want to conduct high-quality, impactful research, I don’t care about the optics of publication. This might be good or bad for you. The good is that I won’t view your career as a means of advancing my career, but if you want or need someone to push you to publish for the sake of publishing, I’m not going to be very helpful for you.
I don’t have a particular research project in mind for you. This isn’t to say that I don’t have ideas for you to run with, it’s just that I am happy for you to make your own path. This is very different from many postdoctoral positions that are funded by a specific research grant. This is great if you have your own ideas to explore (which, as an academic, you should), but there is more risk for you.
I will put your career development first. Your Postdoc is your window to think and conduct research without the looming pressures of lecturing, marking, committees, reviewing, editing, and so on. It’s also your opportunity to further develop skills that you might not have time to devote to later. I was lucky enough to have mentors early in my early career to let me grow my own way, and so I will do the same for you. So I won’t expect you to work on things that don’t build your skills or contribute to your intellectual development. In fact, nothing would make me happier for you to focus on your big ideas so I can ride your coat-tails to fame and riches. The success of the post, from my point of view, is reflected more in the job you land next than in the number of posters you stand next to.
Cork is great (I’m not from here, but I love it). UCC is nice. Both the CRF-C and the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health are packed with nice, smart, competent people, which counts for a lot. If you want to know anything else about me, it’s all on twitter.