Case study

PhD student in applied statistics — Dan Green

Dan loves the fact that his work in statistics can have a direct impact on people's health

How did you get on your course?

Following my BSc Mathematics, I enrolled on the MSc Medical Statistics at the University of Leicester. A National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Fellowship was advertised linking my completion of the MSc and Keele University, the first time these fellowships had been carried out. I applied and was successful, meaning when I completed the MSc I worked as a research assistant in statistics for two years with the option to submit a PhD proposal to begin at the end of that contract (which worked out).

Taking a degree in mathematics shows you're willing to study a complex subject to a high level and the options afterwards are very broad

Is your degree relevant to your role?

Taking a degree in mathematics shows you're willing to study a complex (often feared) subject to a high level and the options afterwards are very broad. I wanted to specialise in statistics as it was an interest and strength; the MSc was highly rated, and the application to the field of medicine has a clear purpose. Definitely the MSc was important to get to my current role, but after the BSc I could have taken many different options.

What does your PhD involve?

Typical day-to-day events include ensuring emails are up to date and preparing for any meetings in the day. I then set some analysis to run on a separate computer if available (they can take quite a long time to run). While that's running, I spend time writing up sections of my thesis (now in my final PhD year), and arrange particular documents to present at upcoming conferences/meetings. This can include organising an abstract of a piece of work or designing a poster for a meeting with my current funders.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

In five years time, I ideally see myself having completed my PhD and working in a postdoctoral research role. I would like to see 25% to 50% of my time being devoted to teaching/lecturing and the remainder focused on research.

What do you enjoy about your PhD?

The best thing is the impact that my work, and work with others, will have on the everyday person - finding out which particular treatments are of more benefit and even helping GPs to understand more about certain conditions. I also enjoy working in a team with people who don't have as much background in statistics and helping them understand a complicated technique.

I like the fact that my PhD, which can appear rather abstract at times (especially when you have a variety of numbers flying around on your computer screen while a section of analysis computes), can have a direct interpretation on medical research. I love translating what at first can appear complex and foreign, into a purposeful interpretation and meaning in research, which can provide essential knowledge and impact on the delivery of healthcare.

What are the most challenging parts of your PhD?

The most challenging area at the moment is producing the correct programming for the computer analysis I'm using. The processes can be quite lengthy, and if for some reason something is slightly wrong, it can feel like you've wasted a few hours. Trying not to let that get to you, and understanding that it is all learning, can be difficult.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to do a PhD?

If you're interested in statistics, look at the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) website, which has information on the best places to study statistics. In addition, there's a Young Statisticians Section (YSS). Send them a message on the social networks sites or visit the website to get in touch.

Find out more

See what else is on offer at the Royal Statistical Society (RSS).