What makes a statistician more valuable to an organization?
How does a statistician’s work culture differ from working in a large company to working with a smaller organization?
Would statisticians be able to bring more value to their work, especially when working with smaller companies?
When the term “statistician” comes to mind, it is easy to picture a person who sits for hours behind a desk working with numbers and mathematical analysis. However, there is something more to statisticians than what actually meets the eye. More than just the expectation of a person being a brilliant person who understands numbers better than the average individual. The truth is, statisticians are the ones who have the capacity to bring change to the table, especially because they know what the numbers are telling them. In this episode, Kim and I talk about how statisticians become the big fish in a small pond when they work with smaller organizations.
Here are some key learnings you may be interested in as you listen through this episode:
- Statisticians’ contributions to change is increases when they get involved with smaller crowds.
- Statisticians working with smaller groups or agencies are required to develop better communication skills so they can easily collaborate with their teams and their superiors and actually drive goals towards extensive developments.
- Effective leadership is a must for statisticians who become a part of smaller entities because they get involved in decision-making procedures more actively.
- Statisticians who want to transfer from larger entities to smaller ones should be prepared to take on distinct huge responsibilities. Listen to this episode and share this with your friends and colleagues!
Chief Data Scientific Officer
Kim is Chief Data Scientific Officer at Exploristics and has over 15 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry working as a project statistician across multiple therapeutic areas in early development.
With a BSc in Mathematics from Bath University and MPhil in Statistical Sciences from Cambridge University, Kim worked for many years at GlaxoSmithKline prior to joining Exploristics. There, she championed new approaches to decision-making in clinical development through initiatives developing and promoting innovative designs and novel statistical methodology including futility analyses, predictive inference, prior elicitation and assurance.
During her time at GSK, she spent 2 years in the strategy and portfolio management group as a statistics and mathematical modelling director where she brought statistical rigour to the team and advanced the use of statistical methods in the wider analytical space. As part of this role, she drove the use of statistical prediction for decision-making at a strategic level through leadership of the development of a new “Fill and Flow” model. She also has experience supporting teams to assess and quantify the Probability of Technical and Registrational Success (PTRS) of compounds across drug development.
Kim is an active member of PSI and is currently Careers Director there leading initiatives to promote the industry to school and university students as well as supporting members working in the industry with continued professional development.
Alexander: You’re listening to The Effective Statistician podcast, a weekly podcast with Alexander Schacht and Benjamin Piske, designed to help you reach your potential, lead great sciences and serve patients without becoming overwhelmed to buy work. Today, I’m talking with Kim about how it is to be a small fish in a big pond and then a big fish in a small pond because we both have experienced this. So stay tuned for these really, really interesting discussions and what are the pros and cons of both.
Kim Hackquoil is a really, really great person. She has a lot of experience in the pharmaceutical industry and has had a really, really illustrious career, as you will hear in some minutes. So Stay tuned for this podcast episode where you can learn from her story and my story and how it might help you make some next career move.
I’m producing this podcast in association with PSI, a community dedicated to leading and promoting the use of statistics within the healthcare industry for the benefit of patients. Kim and I have both invested a lot of time at the PSI. Kim is currently sitting on the board of directors. I used to sit on the board of directors. So just from this experience, you can tell it’s a really significant community. Head over to psiweb.org to learn more about what PSI can do for you and become a PSI member today.
Welcome to another episode of The Effective Statistician. Today, I’m talking with Kim. How are you doing, Kim?
Kim: I’m very good today. Thank you, Alexander. How are you?
Alexander: Very good and I’m really looking forward to this chat because there’s a lot of similarities in Kim’s and my career. And we’ll talk a little about this today. Before we dive into this, maybe give a bit of an intro of your career up to now, especially up to the end of your career at GSK.
Kim: My name is Kim Hackquoil. I’ve worked in the industry now for 15 years. I started out in industry as a fresh graduate coming into GSK, started out as a study statistician as you do and moved my way up to project statisticians roles. Also, statistical leadership of a small therapeutic area within I’ve worked mainly in early phase clinical trials up to proof of concept and some dose ranging studies. I really enjoyed that area because I feel there’s a lot that statisticians can do in that study design piece. The work on lots of different therapeutic areas, which gave me a lot of variety in what I was doing. Within GSK, I also spent two years in the strategy and portfolio group, as a statistical expert but not within the clinical statistics role. Then, at the beginning of this year, I moved from that Pharma experience into a smaller CRO called Exploristics. And a lot of what we’ll probably be talking about today is that transition from big pharma to small CRO. But that’s the whirlwind tour of my 15 years of experience working as a statistician.
Alexander: I also worked 15 years at Lily and then had two years at UCB and now I’m at Veramed which is also near CRO specialized in statistics and programming like Exploristics. In that regard, things are so similar. We both started in big organizations, tens of thousands of people and we were these small fishes and now we are in these much smaller companies but have a much more influential role, much more at the management level and much more ability to drive things. When you left GSK, you had a lot of different options with your knowledge, both from a leadership perspective, from a strategy perspective, and from an early phase perspective. I’m sure you could have gone to all kinds of different things. You could have done consultancy on your own, you could have probably gone to one of the other big Pharma companies, you could have probably also gone to one really large CROs, full service here or things like this. But you went,like me, to another niche and smaller CRO. Why did you do this?
Kim: I think it’s obviously good to look at all of your options. There’s so many statisticians who are so sought after at the moment. It’s a dominant position I was supposed to be in, but I’m a great believer in choosing stuff that you enjoy. If you enjoy your job, you will do well at it. Having that kind of looking backwards, I suppose in my career, what I’ve done over the 15 years, I very much thought about what did I enjoy, what excited me about those roles and kind of not quite what I didn’t like? But there are always parts of a role that aren’t as exciting.
Alexander: There are always kinds of expense reports.
Kim: Yes. I am very much a glass half full kind of girl, but there’s obviously moments when things aren’t so good. I very much focus on what I enjoy? What did I want to do in the future? And also, what skills did I have that maybe I wasn’t using as much as I wanted to? At GSK the bits that I was most excited about and interested in were the study of design elements, really trying working with colleagues, working with non-physicians to find out what’s the problem we’re trying to solve and how can statistics help in that study designed to answer those questions. It’s almost like that thing. It’s almost that clarity from fuzziness that I enjoyed and then helping people by providing solutions they will add value. And so that was one element that I very much wanted to make sure was in whatever role I was doing next. Also, I’m a very much a people person, I enjoy working with people. Some sort of leadership role was something that I wanted to have. And I think for me, looking at lots of different companies, the thing that Exploristics provides, they’ve got a really fantastic simulation software for clinical study designs. And I think when you’re moving from a bigger company to a smaller company, it’s always important to be aligned with the culture and the values of a company. But I think it’s magnified when you go to a smaller company.It’s even more important for you to be aligned with the culture and the values and what that company is trying to do. For me, Exploristics had that culture. It’s trying to do with careers cloud and the simulation and supporting people in those study design pieces aligned completely with the bits that I was excited with and the bits that I enjoyed in Pharma.
Alexander: For those who are really interested in what a simulation tool is about, you can actually just scroll back in your podcast player and listen to the episode with Aiden Flynn, who is the CEO of Exploristics, where we talked about this simulation tool, that’s it.
Kim: That’s great, Alexander. And what I was just going to say was I think I had a preconception that if you worked for CRO, you didn’t get involved with making any of the decisions. You just got the study given to you. They design that way. You just had to kind of report it. I would say that is completely not the case. I think when you get under the cover and maybe this is somewhere beneath CROs and you might be about to say this Alexander, maybe it’s not true for all CROs. But I think for me, I really wanted to have that impact, have that consultancy, have that advisory element rather than just hear the protocol and perform the stats analysis that’s already decided upon, that bit doesn’t interest me as much.
Alexander: Yes, I think that’s a good point. If you think about it, I always also thought that CROs are only there to implement studies. As a statistician within Pharma, within protocol and maybe even SAP and everything, CRO does all the programming and all the details. But that is only one way you can work with the CRO. And maybe that was the same for you working within big Pharma. You often have this kind of relationship with CRO that the CRO is just there to implement. And implement flawlessly and there’s no wrong thing about this. I know there’s many people that just love that, that love making things really straight, optimizing things, doing it efficiently and delivering the tables in high-quality, gives a lot of satisfaction and that’s great to have because we definitely need these people in the industry. But that’s just part of the overall image and your role is much more kind of in this consultancy business. When you think about your work, how is the typical client interaction going?
Kim: It’s a brilliant question. So for me often, I will go into a meeting with a potential new client and I will know their name and their company and kind of that more or less about it. So, there’s a case within that meeting. I have to understand what the company is all about a little bit more because there’s obviously what you see on the website, but really it’s great to understand that next level beneath that. I need to understand what the client wants to consult on, what’s their problem, why are they needing some statistical support? And then also try to give them firm help in that and make sure that I put on examples that I either I’ve worked on in the past or the other people within Exploristics have worked on in the past to show them I understand what they’re saying, I understand the issue that here’s something I can help you with, and all of that needs to be done quickly on the fly in a meeting. And I appreciate that a lot of statisticians might not feel overly comfortable doing some of those things because you don’t get planning time or the thinking time. So it is very immediate, but it’s great. It’s really exhilarating in the sense that you come out of these meetings and someone’s walked in with a problem and you’ve been able to support them and say, ‘Look, there is a way forward and yes, we can help you with that. And here’s a plan of how we can do it’, and then with going away, putting together a proposal of how we can actually put that into action and be able to support them.
Alexander: That is exactly what you talked about earlier. The things that you really love from your early phase were kind of having this kind of fuzziness and creating clarity from it and putting some kind of fuzzy medical clinical problem into something actionable next steps from statistics and research method point of view.
Kim: Yes, exactly. And I think within that framework where you’re trying to have a half-hour meeting with a potential client, it’s really important to come across as authentic and give them some tangible examples that they can relate to and say, ‘yes, we have this experience.’. Build up the trust and I think you need to come across and be knowledgeable about your area and be able to talk to the client and actually the person you’re talking to might be a statistician. They might be very used to working with data in an unfamiliar area or they might be a medic or some other discipline within the pharmaceutical industry. Different people will need to be leveled in a way and again, you don’t know necessarily what level to pitch it until you talk. Be very adaptable and iterative in the way you would approach the conversation. I love talking to people and hearing things. Actually, one thing I’ve learned is by moving outside of Pharma into that consulting CRO world, I get to see and experience so much of that world outside of Pharma. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but when you’re working in a big Pharma company, you are very inward looking I think and rightly you work on your project and that project is everything and it’s important to network within a company and that’s kind of your number one networking piece. But when you’re working for a smaller consultancy CRO, actually you need to look more out. You obviously still look inward networking within the company, but that networking outside is more important. And I don’t know if you found that as well, Alex?
Alexander: Yes, absolutely. I think big companies have this tendency to focus internally. There are a lot of companies, these big companies, that have even changed cultures and initiatives to have more external focus. Whereas a smaller company by design has a much bigger external focus because there’s not so much internal. I think even more if you’re at the top level of a small company, one of the main areas of focus is, of course, externally. It’s about clients, it’s about collaborations and all these kinds of things. I also found it really interesting what you said about communication with these clients in these meetings. You need to become really great in your communication skills and you need to be a skilled listener so that you can adapt really fast. And then trust because this is the most important thing. At the end of the meeting, people on the other side of the table need to trust that you can help them. If you don’t have this perception, nothing moves forward. It’s the same within big Pharma companies. If you have your initial meeting with a physician, with a biologist, with a health scientist, whoever, at the end of the meeting, you need to build this trust. And of course, there may be a second, a third and a fourth meeting, it’s a little bit more kind of on steroids to get it done much faster because otherwise these clients potentially are gone. You need to learn the next one probably, but that is so straight. Also, I think it puts you much more outside of your comfort zone, isn’t it?
Kim: Completely. And actually, as you were saying, one thing you can always improve is your communication skills. No one is perfect at this and there always be a situation that you will be in. However, you think, ‘could I have done that better?’. And I think what’s really important is being self-critical, but not where you dwell on things because you can always do better. There’s always something that probably didn’t go 100% but let’s be realistic here. Next time you won’t do that again or you might do it differently and it’s all about that continued learning. I think that’s the same whether you’re in Pharma or CRO, that communication skills are super important and they are always something you can improve upon.
Alexander: Yes. You need to be humble enough to acknowledge your mistakes and self-confident enough to still perform well. We’d have both.
Kim: Yeah, well on it if it is perfect.
Alexander: Let’s talk a little bit more about the cultural aspect. Now you mentioned earlier that this difference in terms of culture from big company and small company and that this was one of the determinant factors for you to join Exploristics, which in the sense is actually a really interesting thing that culture plays such a big role. When I started in my career, I would never ever have thought about the culture of the company. Maybe I would have thought about the people that I’ll work with but never about the culture. Why is culture so important to you? What is the culture for you?
Kim: Tricky, but great questions are. Just before I delve into that, it’s not that I left GSK because the culture was bad. I would say the culture was amazing at GSK. It’s not that element, but I think when you’re looking at moving and looking at new companies, you very quickly either within the interview process or within just those informal discussions that you have with people, you pick up a scent of the company through the people you talk to and the culture and the approach to work, the coach approach to work-life balance and that element. So I would say if you are looking to move roles, talk to people who already work in the company because that’s the best way to understand whether you think you would fit there because of a cultural standpoint. Your question about what culture is for me, that is tricky. Culture for me, I think there’s obviously a work-life balance culture and think everyone through Covid has elevated in people’s minds a lot more. I have three kids. My husband works full time as well. And so we’re both working full time and have a young family. For me, having the flexibility and the culture that comes with that, that it’s okay to leave at 3:00 and then work again in the evening, that flexibility is important. The culture of continued learning is really important for me. Making sure that, as people in the company, can grow and develop, coming back to what I first said to, in the areas that excite you. Exploristics has a very innovative view to the company, having been part of developing the careers cloud software and the other elements within the company. It’s obviously consulting and actually provides the reporting of studies as well, but it has a very innovative view in a way we approach the work. I think trying something out, exploring what works, not necessarily just doing what we have done before and I think we’ve all been there where there’s a similar project, just do it that way. Coming back to those asking questions and being allowed to ask questions and having that approach to work is important to me as well.
Alexander: I think you’ve touched on a couple of different points. So one thing I think is really what is important for the company. Is it the people that were important to the company? Or is it the clients or is it a profit? Where’s the focus? I think that speaks a lot about the company. It’s not so much for me about what they wrote in the stainless steel of the front door. But what’s actually done?
Kim: It comes back to what I was saying about talking to people who work for the company because that’s the best way to understand what it would be like to work there and whether you would be a good fit from a cultural standpoint.
Alexander: Yeah and the priorities, I think that’s one thing is how they’re really lived. The other thing is also the trust level within the company. I think it’s really important. You touched on it by saying ‘I can work the time that best suits me’, and just kind of no 95 mentality that you need to be there and people trust you get a job done and they measure you by your output and not by the time you spent on that.
Kim: I completely agree.
Alexander: The other thing that is also related to trust is asking these questions because for me that has a lot to do with trust that you can be vulnerable. You can actually say, ‘I don’t know that. Can you help me with this’, and that’s fine. I think if there are areas where everything is a weakness, start directly, explore it. People talk about you behind your back or things like that and maybe slag you. If they talk good about you behind your backs is probably a good thing.
Kim: Although it’s still nice to know if people are saying good things about you.
Alexander: But usually you wouldn’t find out. It is a trust level; I think it’s really important for me from a cultural perspective. Priorities, trust are big things.
Kim: I completely agree. I think one of the other things around the culture as well, which is interesting, is that ability and it comes in a little bit with the questions being able to say, what if we do this and have a goal? If it doesn’t work, then that’s fine. You’ve had a goal. And we do not set in stone. I mean, this role that I’m doing within Exploristics and actually the role that I had at GSK before, this one in the strategy and portfolio group, both of them were new roles. You’d have a job description, but actually because they were new, I had the ability within certain bounds to shape them. By having that intuitive asking questions and thinking about it, you can shape a role a little bit more. That’s what’s exciting about both roles because I appreciate some people that would scare them that there isn’t a role. But for me, it allows you to ask the questions and follow where you think you can add the most value and prove yourself in that area.
Alexander: It was the same for me. When I switched to Veramed, I wanted to have this entrepreneurial piece to it. This kind of I shape my department, I shape my role; I want to work on the things that I can do really well and have an enormous impact on things, delegate things I’m not good at doing and not force by a strict job description, and grow with opportunities that come. As you said sometimes, you make a proposal, and it doesn’t work out but having the flexibility to try out things and grow, that was one of the key reasons for me as well.
Kim: And actually, you’ve made me think about another thing that I’ve been thinking about recently, if you think about the start of your career because you’re new to everything, you therefore do a large variety of stuff and some bits that you say you might be better out versus others. But as you move through your career, you will naturally hone in on what things you’re good at and, like you say, delegate or stay away from the things that you’re not. It might not be your skill set. Obviously, there are opportunities to grow your skill set and expand as well but I think, as you move through your roles should hopefully come to where you’re doing all the things that you’re superb at really well and sort of progressing in that
Alexander: I think it’s about expanding on your strengths and not investing an enormous amount of time into your limitations. If these are kind of great limitations, that’s an uncommon thing. Working on your limitations, you always maximum get average. If you work on your strength, you can become a really, really great statistician. The last part is you mentioned leadership. How is leadership now different in the small company for you? Because before, you probably are 6 or 7 steps away from the CEO, now you’re just one step away from the CEO. What’s that difference?
Kim: Completely fine. Actually, I think it was six when I left. It’s a fair few steps from the CEO at GSK, but obviously it’s a massive company. And yes, I now report to the CEO of Exploristics. What I think is it’s really interesting because of the level that I’ve kind of come in at Exploristics, I’m on that senior leadership team. I would say it’s easier to be a leader because you’re kind of already there. That doesn’t mean you’re a good leader because you’re in that position. Now in some ways it’s easier, but in other ways there’s a lot more responsibility that comes with it. I found sometimes within GSK it was hard to lead because I didn’t have that formal label or there’s lots of people trying to lead and they’re with muddy waters and that kind of thing. I’m not saying I wasn’t able to lead and I think I did some really significant roles that enabled me to do that and expand my skills, that it felt a little bit harder and a bit more pressured. Whereas now I’ll have an idea and say, ‘why don’t we try this’? ‘Yes. Let’s do it’. And then I can do it straight away. I’ve written some thought pieces and some blogs. I’ve written an abstract for a conference recently and I just wrote it and then it’s reviewed and then it’s done. It all happens quicker. In some ways, it’s easier to lead because it’s easier just to get stuff done and make those decisions. You don’t have to go up the chain and get everything reviewed in the same way because there’s few people above you. It’s different .
Alexander: I completely agree. If I think about driving changes in these big companies, it takes months, years. And when I think about it, I’m a little bit more than half a year with this Vera Med and what we all have changed with setting up within a week a new department. Already had many people into it revamped lots on the homepage about it. There’s so many changes within six months. This would have been impossible with these bigger organizations because you would have needed to talk to so many people and when everything is new, you never know who’s really now responsible. And then there would be these silos of all sets. And there’s so much politics that you don’t even know about because it’s two or three layers above you and it’s really, really hard, very often. Or about the budget. There’s your budget and another person’s budget and there’s a third person’s budget and whenever you want to do something, it affects multiple budgets, maybe impossible to resolve it. Whereas here, you just have a call with the CEO, job done. Things are so fast and that was one thing I really love about it. It gives me the opportunity to lead much faster.
Kim: I would completely agree with that. Actually, when you ask about leadership, the other bit is, ‘I’m not just this statistician. I think sometimes it’s really nice now that I have lots of other skills and that I can use outside of those stats skills. You get to see a lot more than just the stats that you wouldn’t have had the visibility to that business level decision-making. You said about entrepreneurial stuff, that element you wouldn’t have in a bigger company. Unless you were senior vice president, you wouldn’t get to see it. So I think I’m learning a lot about business. I think I would not have learned as well, which is nice to learn something.
Alexander: It’s really, really fascinating, how you make investment decisions and these kinds of things and what your risk-taking approach is, there’s a lot of great things to learn.
Kim: Actually, semi related to that, there was a talk by Hal Barron, who is chief medical officer at GSK. When he first started, I think back in 2018 and he had a talk that he did on Looking backwards to Join the dots in your Career, it was talking around his career. He was basically saying, when you’re deciding about your next move on whatever your next role and job might be, it’s really hard to look forward to where that might lead to. But as long as you do something that comes back to that interest you and something that excites you, something that’s using your previous skills and it’s a step forward, it doesn’t matter. But actually it’s when you look backwards, you can join the dots and say, ‘well, I did that role, which then I gained X, Y and Z skills’, then enabled me to do the next role. And forward like that is you’re looking backwards at the dots. At the time I remember thinking, ‘that’s really great. I like that idea but I hadn’t really experienced that yet’. And actually then, I’ve had my experience working as a clinical statistician at GSK, then had the experience of working in the strategy and portfolio group, which gave me experience in working in an agile environment, it gave me experience working outside of clinical statistics but still as a statistician, it gave me a lot of experience around working in that more business corporate environment and also having to sell myself a little bit more than thinking that bigger picture. Now the role that I’m doing within Exploristics, I can sit here and look back and say, ‘all of that experience of the clinical statistician, I can now talk knowledgeably with clients and I really miss talking to people about that. But then I’ve layered on that business exposure, the agile, the product development stuff, all the experience I got from strategy and portfolio group and you put those two experiences together and that’s really enabled me to kind of do the role that I’m doing now and hopefully be doing it well. So I’m now in that position where I can join the dots backwards a little bit.
Alexander: That’s exceptional. There’s also a really famous speech by Deep Drops, where he talks at a graduation ceremony, and he talks about his experience and how he did lots of different things including something like calligraphy at University and that’s why Lasers and Mac had great phones. He also talks about connecting the dots and I could completely relate to this. It is like me. I think with the podcast, with the leadership programme, with building teams within companies, having this experience also working within a company on a local, on a regional, on a global level, all together helped me to set up now this job at Veramed and this department at Veramed. It’s so fun to put all these dots together into something new. I completely agree. Thanks so much Kim. That was an awesome discussion. We talked a lot about how it is to change companies. What are the things that you are looking for? Career progression is something we talked about. We talked about building on your strength, doing the things that you really love doing and that you expand on. We talked about culture and what that means, quite a lot about leadership, entrepreneurial skills, fascinating. I really love this discussion. Is there one last piece you would give to the listener to take away from your story?
Kim: Wow. I should have known you were going to ask me this at the end. You know what, it would be to do what you enjoy because if you enjoy what you’re doing, it shines through and people will want to work with you. You spend a lot of time at work. Let’s make sure we enjoy what we’re doing. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve always enjoyed what I’m doing. My movements have been not because I haven’t enjoyed what I was doing, but because something else looked more exciting. Enjoy what you do. Make sure that you spend the time doing that.
Alexander: And all the other things will come pretty naturally. I completely agree. Thanks so much for this awesome discussion.
Kim: Thanks Alexander.
Alexander: I created this show in association with PSI. Thanks to Reine and Kacey who help with the show in the background and thank you for listening. Reach your potential, lead great sciences and patients. Just be an effective statistician.
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