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.

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).


How to get out most from your PSI membership – Interview with Nigel Howitt PSI Chair

(0:00) This is the last episode before the PSI conference starts in 2018 next week in Amsterdam. (0:09) On Wednesday next week there’s a session on regulatory topics for which you can submit (0:15) questions. You can submit them either by sending an email to alexander at the effective statistician (0:21) dot com or directly on the conference homepage.If you submit them to me I will then get the (0:28) questions to the conference and also provide a summary of all the answers (0:34) from the panel after the conference. And now the music. (0:42) Welcome to the effective statistician with Alexander Schacht and Benjamin Pieske.

(0:47) The weekly podcast for statisticians in the health sector designed to improve your leadership skills, (0:53) widen your business acumen, and enhance your efficiency. (0:57) In today’s episode number 11 we’ll talk with Nigel Howard. He’ll speak about how to get most (1:06) out of your PSI membership, how to become a PSI member, and we’ll also talk a little bit about (1:12) the upcoming conference.This podcast is sponsored by PSI, a global member organization dedicated to (1:20) leading and promoting best practice and industry initiatives for statisticians. (1:25) Learn more about upcoming events at Now today’s episode is actually very very special (1:34) because you will learn lots of things about PSI and why I’m actually a raving fan of this (1:42) association. It’s for me probably the best association for statisticians in the industry (1:48) that I know and that’s why I’m also very very proud that PSI is sponsoring this show.(1:55) So stay tuned for the interview with Nigel. 

(2:02) Welcome to another episode of the effective statistician and today I’m alone. I’m not with (2:09) my co-host Benjamin Pieske because he’s sick but I’m together with another guest and that is Nigel (2:16) Howard who’s currently the chair of PSI.Hi Nigel. Hi, hi. Very good.So maybe not everybody (2:26) of our listeners knows you already so maybe you can introduce yourself a little bit. What’s (2:34) your career has been up to now and what your role includes at PSI? So I’ve worked in the (2:42) pharma industry for 24 years. I’m currently the global head of biostatistics at Covance.(2:49) Regarding PSI, I’ve actually served on the PSI scientific committee which I know, (2:56) well which you’re currently a member of and I’ve also been on the board twice. Firstly I was (3:04) elected as the European director and more recently I was the commercial director. (3:12) I then became the chair of PSI last year.Okay, very good. So in terms of your experience with PSI, (3:21) can you tell us maybe a story around what kind of a very good experience with PSI has been? (3:27) I must admit I think this is a very difficult question because PSI offers so many different (3:33) things.

For me though, some of my highlights are firstly I’ve attended many of our annual (3:42) conferences which I think are world class.To be honest, I’ve hardly missed anything since 2000. (3:51) I’ve also attended early on in my career the introduction to industry course which is (3:57) absolutely fantastic. I’m also a very big fan of the PSI’s career day which has been (4:03) rebranded recently as a taster day which is a great way of bringing recruiters and students together.(4:09) Yeah, I think the ITIT course is really a great course for all beginners (4:15) to get a first sense of the industry. So if you’re just new out of university, (4:23) it gives a great overview and gets you in contact with lots of other people that are (4:30) at the same stage. So talking about that, so if you are not yet a member of PSI, (4:41) how can you actually get a member, become a member of PSI? (4:46) It’s actually really, really easy.So if you go onto our website, (4:51) you can actually, there’s a link there, then you can complete an online application form from there. (4:59) And also to actually to become a member now, the society is much more open. We’ve relaxed (5:06) the entrance criteria.So it’s much more easy to become a member and actually a full member as (5:13) well. Okay.

And so for students, are there any other rules? I wouldn’t say there’s any rules as (5:24) such.But a few things to think of if you are a student is firstly, we provide free membership (5:32) for students. And with that free membership, they’ll get quarterly newsletters. The quarterly (5:41) newsletter and they’ll also get regular updates from the PSI.It’s also an excellent way for (5:46) the students as well to connect with future employees. So if there are any students out (5:51) there, I recommend that they apply to become members. And we also have now lots of webinars (5:59) and I guess the students can then also attend these webinars for free, isn’t it? Yes.Yes. You’re (6:05) totally right. They can.Now, in the recent years, besides statisticians, there has been this term (6:12) of data scientists came up more and more. So if you’re a data scientist, is then PSI the right (6:20) organization for you? I would say we hope to be. But we do need to put some more structure in place (6:28) in the first place.So for any member, you have to make an offering to entice people to join. (6:40) And so we’re currently working on the board at the moment to think about how we can (6:48) entice data scientists that work in the pharma industry to our society. (6:53) But as I say, it needs a bit more structure.Yeah, I think here in this podcast, we already (6:58) talked about the data science sessions that will come up in the this year’s conference program. (7:08) And we also had recently a webinar about data science and big data within the pharma industry. 

(7:16) So I think there’s lots of emerging trends in this area and more non-clinical trial data (7:26) is explored, which has more of these kind of big data and data science problems.(7:33) Yeah, I agree, Alexander. And as I say, I think we’ll be doing a lot more in the future (7:38) as well. So I do think data scientists, it would be a good home to join PSI in the future.But (7:44) as I say, there needs to be a little bit more thought from the board as to what our strategy is (7:53) and to also put the offering together as well to make it a good home for them. (8:00) And I guess if you’re a data scientist, then potentially you could play a part in this role (8:06) in shaping the future within PSI. Yeah.(8:10) Exactly. I think a good way of starting that and developing that interest (8:20) might be through creating a special interest group for data scientists. So that creates that (8:28) area for people with the same interest and then hopefully we can develop it from there.(8:34) Yeah. So special interest group for all our listeners are groups of like-minded (8:39) statisticians that are working together on a specific topic. There are various benefit, (8:46) risk.There’s one about HDAs.

There’s one about more tools related and a couple of other (8:57) special interest groups. And they meet very regularly and work on all kinds of different (9:04) things.So a common theme when I’m talking to PSI members is that they get more out of PSI (9:15) the more they get involved with PSI and the more active they are on PSI. (9:24) Do you have a thought about why this is the case? Yeah. I think, to be honest, Alexander, (9:31) I think it’s true of any society in that the more that you put in, the more that you get out.(9:37) But it’s definitely true in terms of PSI. For myself, for instance, I mentioned before I’ve (9:45) been a member of the scientific committee. This is my second time on the board.I can certainly (9:51) say that I’ve gained so much from being a member. I’ve also attended many scientific meetings, (10:03) many training courses. I attended the ITIT course.I think through it as well, (10:10) I’ve developed a very good professional network and I’ve made many friends as well. Actually, (10:17) I’m actually a season ticket holder for WASP Ruby Club. And one of the friends that I go with (10:25) is a friend that I made through PSI.And I’ve got many other friends as well that I keep in (10:33) contact outside of work as well that I made through PSI. But also in terms of the scientific (10:41) side of things, I think it really helps me to keep ahead of the changes within the industry, (10:50) particularly as my role now as a director. I’m not working day-to-day directly with statistics (10:59) anymore.So it’s really, really good to go along to the conferences and scientific meetings to 

(11:05) find out what the changes are. So it really helps me in my day-to-day job. (11:10) Very good.So you have actually now touched on a couple of different ways of how you can (11:15) become more engaged with PSI. We talked about the special interest group. We talked about (11:23) webinars.We talked about the different committees. So in terms of these committees, (11:31) how can you actually get involved with these? So let’s say, for example, (11:36) with the scientific committee, how does that work? Okay. So, well, the easiest way really is, (11:42) again, through our website.There’s actually a tab on the website there which will take you to (11:51) and give you details of how to apply. Or you could send an email to our MCI, (12:03) who are our executive office. When you do apply as well, if there’s any particular committee that (12:10) you’re interested in, please put a preference as well.We can consider that. You don’t have to be (12:18) elected as well to become a member of a committee. We only really use the elections really (12:26) for people who want to become directors on the board.So it’s really, really easy to get involved. (12:36) So also with the special interest group, it’s usually just to contact the chair of the different (12:43) special interest groups that you’re interested in and get them on board there. (12:51) Yes.Yes. Yes. So, yeah, the special interest groups.So that’s, yes. Sorry, before I thought (12:57) we were talking about the committees. Both.(13:00) Yeah. Okay. 

(13:00) Both, I see.(13:01) Okay. Yeah. For the SIGs, yeah.Firstly, we’ve got 11 SIGs that are ongoing at the moment. (13:07) And you mentioned a few of those earlier, Alexander, such as the risk-based one, also the HTA. (13:19) But we’ve got 11 on there.For those of you who aren’t aware of those, again, if you go onto the (13:25) website, you’ll see a full list of the different SIGs that are available to the members. I recommend (13:32) going there if there’s any that they’re interested in. I totally agree.The best way of getting (13:38) involved is to talk to the organizer of that SIG and say you’d like to become a member and then (13:45) you’ll be included in their mailing list. Yes. Yes.I think the mailing list is really (13:50) important because that’s basically the backbone of the special interest groups. 

(13:55) I’ve run the benefit-risk one for quite some time and that was quite active and is quite active. (14:07) In terms of finding these resources, you can either go through the homepage of the blog, (14:16) the, and then find your way there.Or you can also go directly to (14:24) and find there all the different links that we just talked about. (14:32) So in terms of coming back to the new members, what would be good first steps for new members (14:39) of PSI? Okay. I think for junior members, I really recommend they apply to go on the (14:48) Introduction to Industry course, particularly if you’re career young, you’ve just joined the (14:53) industry.It’s an excellent course to go on. There’s about six modules, I believe. Well,  (15:01) there was when I did.It covers many different areas of the pharmaceutical industry.

I think (15:09) it’s really good for people to go on this as well. Well, it’s good for any member, but particularly (15:14) if you’re in a CRO, I think it’s really helpful because it gives you insight to some of the (15:19) areas that you don’t work with on a day-to-day basis.It gives you a much better understanding (15:25) of the overall industry. So I’d recommend that they put their name down for that. Maybe (15:33) look at the scientific programme and the webinar programme as well to pick a few meetings that (15:40) might be of interest there.For senior members, I would recommend coming along to one of our (15:47) annual conferences, and again, maybe look at the scientific programme as well just to (15:53) see things that are interesting in there. But as I mentioned earlier, our conference (16:00) is world-class and it caters for both junior and for very experienced team members. (16:10) Yes, the conference is really the highlight of the year, so to say.For this year’s conference (16:15) that will happen early June in Amsterdam, what are your highlights for this conference? 

(16:22) Well, firstly, it’s in a beautiful location and a very historic city. (16:31) The conference, again, it’s amazing what the scientific committee have put together. (16:41) Year on year, it seems to get better and better.This year, though, they’ve organised two (16:48) pre-courses. There’s six plenary sessions. There’s 26 parallel sessions.There’s also going to be (16:57) an excellent poster session which will have a DRIX reception coupled with it. (17:07) There’s also lots of opportunities to network as well. On Monday, there’s two networking events, (17:14) one of which will be for career new statisticians, and then there’s the gala dinner on Tuesday.(17:21) And the great news is that although it’s only April time, over 300 statisticians have already (17:29) registered. But it’s still not too late. So if you’re interested, I recommend you get your names (17:36) down as soon as possible.Yeah, I think this year we had a record number of abstract submissions, (17:43) both for the oral presentations as well as for the poster session. And also we broke the record, (17:49) I think, in terms of registration numbers by end of the early birth rate, which has passed already, (18:00) but still says it’s a really, really great value for money to go to the conference. 

(18:05) If you have any problems convincing your supervisor to approve your travel, I would (18:13) go back in a couple of earlier episodes.I talked actually about different reasons how to convince (18:22) your supervisor. And you can also find these on the show notes on the (18:31) In terms of the conference, I think the conference is great for just getting (18:39) the scientific content already. But I think to really get everything out of the conference, (18:48) there’s some more you can do.What would be your personal tips to get most out of the conference? (18:56) Okay. I think firstly, actually, is to read the program and abstracts in advance (19:04) so that you make the most out of the conference. As I mentioned earlier, there are 26 parallel (19:12) sessions.

So it’s really helpful if you read the abstracts in advance so you know exactly which (19:19) ones you’re going to go to so that you make the best use of your time. I’d also recommend that (19:30) people go along to the networking events as well and make full use of the coffee breaks and lunch (19:37) breaks as an opportunity to meet up with old colleagues and also to make new connections. (19:45) Another good thing that I recommend people do, and we do within Covance too, is for people that (19:54) when they come back from the conference, is to give summary presentations to the (20:00) colleagues so other people within their organization can also benefit as well.(20:05) Actually, that is one of the tips for your supervisor to approve the travel to the conference (20:11) because you can later on give a trip report to all your colleagues and speak about what (20:18) you have learned and from there give additional value back to your organization. 

(20:24) In terms of the conference, I want to give four further tips that would be good and Nigel, maybe (20:33) you can comment on these. I think the first one is to be a good networker at the conference will (20:41) help a lot because PSI is all about being a good community and for that it’s really important that (20:51) you are also a good networker.Even though that many of the participants will be quite introvert (20:59) because I think as statisticians there’s lots of introverts of us, it’s still very good to (21:08) kind of go to the people and talk to them, listen to them, be interested and always try to follow (21:17) up on connections. I think another good opportunity is to maybe set up some coffee (21:24) chats in advance with people that you would like to connect with. Maybe there are people (21:32) that you rarely see, for example, maybe you work with a CRO or maybe you’re at a CRO and you work 

(21:39) with a sponsor and you want to actually meet these business partners there.That’s a great opportunity. (21:47) But also to speak to new people and see what they are about, what their stories are, what their (21:56) experiences are. I think that especially the networking events but also the poster session (22:03) are very, very good opportunities.Finally, I think it’s, as Nigel said, it’s really a lot about the (22:10) preparation. So if you know in advance which sessions you want to go to, which talks you want (22:18) to hear, that’s a huge opportunity. Because I’ve been at PSI conferences now a couple of times (22:27) and I always felt really a lot of difficulty choosing between the different parallel sessions (22:35) because all are so applicable to our day-to-day jobs that it’s sometimes really hard (22:43) to choose.Nigel, what do you think? I certainly agree and I’ve heard that feedback many times (22:52) before. So you’re just spending that little bit of time beforehand and then marking out exactly (22:57) which ones you plan to go to. You just get much more out of the whole conference.

(23:02) Yep. And by the way, there’s an app for that. There’s also conference apps that you can download (23:09) and which you can use to plan out your conference.So that’s very nice as well. (23:15) Yeah. Is that already available then, Alexander? I know it’s been built, but is it ready now? (23:20) Yep.Yep. (23:21) Correct. (23:22) It’s ready now.And so check that out on the conference homepage. (23:29) And there are the instructions how you can find this conference app. (23:34) And I think it has all the abstracts in there as well, doesn’t it, Alexander? (23:39) Yeah.It has the abstracts. It has the photos of the speakers, the bios of the speakers. (23:45) So that’s actually also very, very good to connect to see whether there’s maybe someone (23:52) that comes from the same university like you.So that’s a good opportunity to speak to people. (24:00) And I really like the networking events in the evening while having a drink together. 

(24:08) It’s quite relaxed and it’s quite nice to talk about all kinds of different things that are (24:13) related to the industry, but also about things that are completely not related to the industry.(24:21) Okay. Thanks so much, Nigel, for this very, very nice interview. (24:28) Just to sum up a little bit of the key things, it’s really easy to become a PSI member.(24:34) It’s free even for students to become a PSI member. The more you give into PSI, (24:43) the more you will actually get out of PSI. And there’s a couple of different ways to get (24:48) involved with PSI, for example, with the scientific committee or the special interest groups.(24:55) And as a first step, it’s really great to start with the ITIT course. But there’s much more kind (25:02) of content coming in the next years. Do you want to shortly talk about the video on demand (25:09) that we are working on? Yes.

(25:12) Yes, that’s a really interesting initiative at the moment. And that should be coming out (25:18) in the next few months. But what the plan is as a benefit of membership is that all PSI members (25:28) will get free access to webinars that we do, to the journal club.They will all be put in this (25:38) hosted area. And also, we’ll be putting some of the hot topics where when we have a scientific (25:47) meeting where we’ve got a hot topic, we’ll be recording those and putting those on there as (25:52) well. There will also be some training courses that we’ve done.We’re going to record those (25:56) and put those on there. And it’s going to be all totally free for members. (26:00) This is amazing value for very, very little money of the annual membership.Okay. Thanks a lot. (26:10) That was a nice final quote.And see you all hopefully in Amsterdam. (26:16) See you there. Thank you, Alexander.(26:18) Thank you. (26:19) We thank PSI for sponsoring this show. Thanks for listening.Please visit (26:26) to find the show notes and learn more about our podcast (26:31) to boost your career as a statistician in the health sector. (26:34) If you enjoyed the show, please tell your colleagues about it.

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