Inspiring answers by Dr Laura Bonnett, one of the Women in Data Ambassadors on her life and working in a Medical Statistician career.
Medical Statistician Career
Hello! My name is Dr Laura Bonnett and I’m a Medical Statistician. This means I help to make a positive difference to people with long-term conditions such as epilepsy or asthma (for example) by using maths to work out the best treatment options and to suggest the chance of a future-fit or asthma attack.
What is something about you people might not know?
People might not know then when I’m not beavering away at my day job I run a 10-day music festival with my husband, called the Prescot Festival of Music & the Arts.
3. What are your hobbies?
When I’m not being a medical statistician or running the Prescot Festival, I’m a musician – I play flute and piccolo in three orchestras and sing in my church choir.
4. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
As a primary school pupil, I desperately wanted to be a nurse or a doctor. I was an active member of St John’s Ambulance Brigade and achieved every award going including
- “Super Badger”,
- “Caring for the Young, Sick and Elderly”, and
- “Radio Communications”.
However, whilst we were practising our first aid at a pretend car accident I became really scared and realised that I might not be able to cope with medicine in reality! Then I fancied become a mathematics teacher. However, whilst at university, I realised that I loved working things out and spending time thinking about things, so a researcher seemed a really good career choice. Ten plus years later, I’m still convinced that research is the right job for me.
5. Who was your biggest influence growing up?… who were your role models?
Wow – tricky question! My school maths teacher, Mrs Lee, was an amazing inspiration. I remember talking to her about A-level subject choices and she said: “I’ve already signed you up for maths and further maths”. I didn’t even realise that you could two qualifications in maths! I’m not sure there was one particular person that I wanted be like, however – my parents had always encouraged me to do what I wanted to, so I just kept choosing options that I thought I would enjoy.
Medical Statistician Career
6. What were your favourite subjects at school?
I had way too many favourite subjects at school. This made choosing GCSEs and A-levels really hard! Maths was definitely my most favourite subject, but chemistry and music were very close behind, as was biology and IT…!
7. What were your least favourite subjects at school?
I was never a fan of history. I know it’s really important, but to me, the future was far more exciting than what had happened previously. Plus, I didn’t cope well with all the gory details about battles and wars (another reason that medicine probably wasn’t the best career option for me!)
8. How did you come to choose your current career path or were you led to it?
After Mrs Lee signed me up for maths and further maths A-levels I realised just how much I loved maths, particularly the statistics components of the course. Therefore, studying maths and statistics at university seemed like a natural choice.
I’ll be honest, I found my degree really challenging. However, in the third year, one of my modules was a research project looking at combining all the evidence for treating neck pain. I loved every minute of it because it was applying lots of abstract mathematical ideas to real life.
Another opportunity for a research project was presented in my fourth and final year. I again loved it even though the topic was focussed on plants rather than humans. During my fourth year, I also did a module called ‘medical statistics’. For me, it was the perfect mix between my love of all things (non-gory) medical and maths. Therefore, I started looking for research jobs in medical statistics. I found one at the University of Liverpool, and the rest, as they say, is history!
9. What are the biggest changes in the world of work (for women) that you are excited about?
For me, the Athena SWAN Initiative is particularly exciting. It’s a national scheme that recognises the advancement of gender equality in higher education, encompassing representation, progression and success for all. Although it was established in 2005, it’s only more recently that people have come on-board with the scheme and thus chosen to make positive steps towards gender equality in universities. Shared paternity leave whereby a baby’s mum and dad can both take time away from work to share the responsibilities of parenting is also rather exciting.
10. Would you say having a degree is the only path to a successful career? Would you say there are opportunities for women entrepreneurs in your career?
The reality of a career in academia (universities) is that you need a degree. It needn’t be in mathematics at the undergraduate level, but it will need to have a significant numerical component to it. You would then be expected to do a masters’ degree in medical statistics and ultimately by a PhD in medical statistics to become a lecturer or professor. However, there are many other ways to a successful career in statistics – the Royal Statistical Society provide lots of information about ways to get into statistics.
11. What advice would you give your younger self and school leavers today?
I dread the word advice to be honest! Everyone is different – we all work differently, enjoy different things, and find some tasks more difficult than others. Having said that, my Dad always said to me before any exam or interview “read the question” and that’s clearly done me OK so far! More sensibly, I think it’s important to do what you enjoy. Do not be afraid of trying something new – you never know what other opportunities that might lead to.
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Medical Statistician career