Case study

Research associate (post-doctorate statistician) — Hannah Lennon

Hannah loves that her job has applications in the real world and can help health professionals make key decisions for their patients

How did you get your job?

I was very lucky. I searched for a research role on a jobs website and found one within the University of Manchester. This role in cancer studies immediately interested me and I applied that day.

It was my first application for a role after my PhD and the vacancy highlighted the desire for PhD students who are good with numbers.

Is your degree relevant to your job?

A strong general statistical background was fundamental, so my PhD in Mathematics was relevant.

However, the role centres on a different class of modelling tools than my PhD, so the relevance came from a strong understanding of how statistical methods are used in the real world.

I'd also gained the ability to pick up new ideas, process them and use them and this was a crucial component of the job.

The research skills, writing skills and ability to read scientific journals, which evolved from studying for my PhD, have been extremely important, but I think that non-PhD routes can equally equip students.

What are your main work activities?

Currently we're looking at the risks associated with developing cancer for type II diabetic patients, such as BMI and other lifestyle factors.

I'm also looking at the role body weight and changes in weight affect cancer treatments and survival time for cancer patients. This involves:

  • investigating modelling techniques which have been useful in clinical practice and applying them to our research questions;
  • reading journals to understand other researchers' approaches to tackle similar problems;
  • writing software code to allow clinicians to implement the models.

I communicate my work to other researchers, both within the university and around the world.

How has your role developed?

The way the role develops really depends on my ambitions.

I want to connect mathematical and statistical models with clinicians, to deliver personalised care targeting the outcome of a cancer diagnosis.

What do you enjoy about your job?

It is impossible to ever know too much about an area. Research is always challenging and interesting and I love having flexibility in the areas I can work in.

It is great having creativity and being able to merge new ideas together to solve medical problems. For example, we can connect mathematical and statistical models to questions which healthcare professionals need answering, to provide the best healthcare to patients.

I find it really satisfying that my work has real world applications.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

Self-motivation to write up results can be difficult at times.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

Try to make contacts with people in the relevant field and show them your enthusiasm. Make sure you know your work and learn to be confident in explaining yourself.

One of the most important things is to decide what you want to do. Focus on applying for roles that you are interested in, not the roles that most students with similar backgrounds go for.

A research role requires someone who never wants to stop learning and communicating their findings/hypothesis, while visiting the world to meet other researchers; so make sure this is the job for you.

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