Research Fellow: Dr Jennifer Thompson
Dr Jennifer Thompson
Research Fellow in the Tropical Epidemiology Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Length of career:
Career in brief:
After completing a masters degree in medical statistics, I worked as a trial statistician at the MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL. This role illuminated to me the many knowledge gaps in trials methodology and I became interested in pursuing a PhD in this area. The MRC Hubs for Trials Methodology Research was advertising a PhD on methods for stepped wedge trials and, although I had no prior experience with this particular trial design, I thought it was a great opportunity.
The research I conducted during my PhD identified ways to reduce the number of patients needed for a trial, identified problems with analysis methods commonly used and suggested solutions to these problems. I quickly met other key researchers in the field through my supervisors and through presenting work at conferences, and this led to me being invited to join a panel of experts developing reporting guidelines (known as CONSORT guidelines) for stepped wedge trials.
Since completing my PhD, I have continued to work in this area. I am now a Research Fellow in the Tropical Epidemiology Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, funded by the MRC. My research currently focuses on what to do when the number of clusters in the trial is too small for standard analysis methods to work.
I spend my days:
My days are quite varied. Some days I will spend most of my time writing code to run and analyse simulations studies which demonstrate how well analysis methods perform with different types of data. Other days I will also provide advice to colleagues conducting cluster randomised trials, spend time writing up results in research papers and teach on statistics courses.
A big highlight of my career has been participating in the development of reporting guidelines for stepped wedge trials. These guidelines are highly regarded and it was a great opportunity to use everything I had learnt during my PhD to help shape them.
The second highlight was finishing my PhD, as I felt that I learnt and developed a lot whilst completing it.
The impact of the MRC-NIHR Methodology Research Programme funding on my career:
The funding has been extremely important in my career. This funding allowed me to focus on trial methodology and identify important problems that needed to be addressed. I was able to develop coding skills, attend conferences to share results and create software to simplify implementation of my results.
More generally, the funding is vital to ensure the continued high-quality conduct of clinical trial research across a range of disciplines.
The biggest challenge is learning what projects to get involved with and what to turn down. I try to focus on projects that will have the biggest impact.
Skills I consider most valuable:
I’ve found that the most valuable skill is a willingness to learn and keeping time for reading books and research papers. Programming and communication skills are also key working as a trial methodologist.
I am inspired by:
I am inspired by all the people around me, personally and professionally, who are driven to make a difference in the world.
Words of wisdom:
I’ve found networking to be really important. Researchers should go to conferences, talk to the other speakers and present their own work.
I plan to continue to work in trial methodology as I think this can have a wide-reaching impact. I want to focus on increasing the uptake of new methodologies, as there is currently a lag in methods being developed and them being used in practice.
My next step is to start applying for my own funding to continue this research.
Correct as of: October 2018