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  • Writer's pictureRachel Phillips

My experiences as a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at ICTU

Hi there I’m Anca! I joined Imperial Clinical Trials Unit (ICTU) as an NIHR Pre-Doctoral Fellow in 2018 after finishing my Master’s degree in Medical Statistics from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Here, I had learnt a plethora of knowledge that I was keen to make use of so I chose to apply for the NIHR Pre-Doctoral Fellowship. I felt it was a really great opportunity for me to start my career in Medical Statistics as it provided me with the support and training to take me to the next stage of my career, which I was uncertain of at the time. So, after a pleasant (and successful!) interview, I was sat at my new shiny desk at the White City Campus. I spent the first couple of weeks getting to know everyone in the unit where I was warmly welcomed, and bringing myself up to speed with the areas of research that were being undertaken by others in the unit. The Statistics team that I joined was made up of a super friendly bunch of Trial Statisticians, Doctoral Fellows and Research Fellows - I was surrounded by a wealth of knowledge!

My first project as a Pre-Doctoral Fellow was working alongside Victoria Cornelius and Suzie Cro to investigate the current practise to adjust for rescue medication in randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Coming from a maths & statistics background, I had to first undertake some research from a clinical perspective; what is rescue medication? Why is it used in clinical trials? Once I was able to understand the issues I was evaluating, I devised an optimised search strategy to identify all the papers that were related to the research question. From there, I was able to extract all the information I needed to analyse, such as; was rescue medication defined in the paper? Was it reported in the paper? After summarising and analysing the results from my data extraction, I was ready to start writing my first academic paper. This was both a challenging and rewarding experience as my systematic review was subsequently published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology (see publications - a real milestone in my academic career! I also had the opportunity to present my work at the International Clinical Trials Methodology Conference in October 2019 in Brighton. This was a really fun experience and a chance to meet and network with other academics in the Medical Statistics field.

As part of my NIHR fellowship, I was given the opportunity to mentor an intern, Ellie Van Vogt, (see blog: in statistical methodology. During this time, myself and Ellie worked on a project undertaking regression analyses for adverse events data of binary and count outcomes in clinical trials (as well as attending weekly yoga classes together to stay Zen!). I am really pleased that Eleanor has since been awarded a NIHR Pre-Doctoral fellowship at ICTU with Suzie Cro as her supervisor! As part of her fellowship, Ellie is fully funded to undertake a Masters in Health Data Analytics and Machine Learning at Imperial College London. Good luck, Ellie!

One of the perks of working at a University is that you can get involved with teaching students. I was an assistant tutor for peer group workshops and Stata tutorials for the Introduction to Statistical Thinking and Data Analysis module as part of the Master’s in Public Health. This involved helping students develop their understanding of linear regression, logistic regression, and survival analysis techniques. I was also able to follow on the fellowship as a Teaching Fellow for the Global Master’s in the Public Health programme. This involved planning and delivering live webinars to students online and leading weekly office hours.

My fellowship opened my eyes to many potential careers, both in academia and industry (see Jack Elkes’ blog for his take on industry versus academia careers: In the end, I was fortunate to find a PhD topic that suited my interests and I was awarded a fully funded PhD in conjunction with the MRC-NIHR Trials Methodology Research Partnership in the Department of Biostatistics and Health Informatics at King’s College London. My PhD project seeks to provide a unified approach for the statistical analysis of post-randomisation variables applied in clinical trials in mental health. I feel that my NIHR fellowship has given me the relevant skills set and the confidence to embark on the next chapter of my career. Thank you to everyone at Imperial who made my Fellowship such a positive experience - you will all be missed!

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