About CSci

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Adam Jacobs
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
Scientist Type: 
First Degree: 
Pet Hates: 
Large organisations that treat their customers with contempt
Burning Ambition: 
To run the world from inside a hollowed-out volcano
I’d like to be able to teleport myself instantly to any location in the world
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
Well, there was a time when I wanted to play cricket for England, but when I realised that being totally crap at cricket would probably make that difficult and had to think of an alternative career path, believe it or not I did actually want to be a scientist. I had visions of beavering away in a lab, surrounded by strange coloured things in test tubes, coming up with cures for all sorts of diseases. Strangely enough, although I left my lab career behind me almost 2 decades ago and never really attempted to follow any career path I’d thought about in childhood, my current work as a medical statistician (which I never even imagined being when I was a child) does actually contribute towards curing diseases and so comes remarkably close to what I wanted to be when I grew up
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
I’m not sure: it was a long time ago! I have been interested in science for as long as I remember.
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
I enjoy the interactions with my various colleagues and clients. Clinical research is a deeply multidisciplinary activity, and no single person can do it by themselves. I enjoy the team work involved in designing clinical studies when I apply my statistical expertise, medical colleagues apply their medical expertise, and we all work together to come up with a plan that none of us could have done by ourselves. It’s also wonderful, of course, when the results of clinical research represent a genuine breakthrough that has the potential to help real patients in real life, although sadly that doesn’t happen every day.
What would you change? 
Perhaps it’s odd for a scientist to want to un-invent anything, but I would be delighted if somehow we could magically be transported to a world where there was no email. It has to be the biggest timewaster ever invented in the whole history of the world.
What qualifications did you take at school? 
I took a whole bunch of O levels, and then A levels in maths, chemistry, physics, and music. I also took S levels in maths, physics, and chemistry, although rather embarrassingly I failed the chemistry
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
My first degree was in chemistry. I had originally intended to study physics, but I realised that I didn’t actually understand physics. It was all a bit too abstract and mathematical for me. Luckily, the way the natural sciences course worked at my university (Cambridge) involved studying various sciences in the first year, so it was very easy to specialise in chemistry, which I found fascinating, instead of physics.
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
I have both a masters and a PhD. My PhD, in biological organic chemistry, followed straight on from my first degree. I did a part-time MSc in medical statistics several years later as a mature student.
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
I tell them I work in clinical research. If they look fascinated, I then explain more. If their eyes glaze over at that point, I quit while I’m ahead
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
That varies considerably from project to project. I work on all kinds of clinical research. Some of it is very routine drug development work which is very far from cutting edge, but sometimes it investigates exciting new treatments that have the potential to make a dramatic change to the treatment of diseases.
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
Well, it’s definitely a matter of “could have” rather than “will have”. The whole point of research is that you don’t know what it’s going to find out: if you did, it wouldn’t be research. A lot of what I do probably won’t have any implications at all. But some of it, on a good day, could help to develop treatments that will really help people who suffer from disease.
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
If I can explain to one of my colleagues or clients some subtle point about a clinical study that they hadn’t previously understood, that’s always satisfying. If we find one of our papers has been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, that’s great, although it doesn’t happen every day.
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
I spent almost 7 years studying to be a chemist, but then only about 18 months actually being a chemist before a complete change of career. (There were various reasons for giving up chemistry, but a little incident with some phosgene gas and a trip to hospital probably helped in crystallising my ideas.) I spent a couple of years working as a medical translator, and then I became a medical writer. After doing a couple of jobs in medical writing, I left full-time employment to work freelance. While doing that, I went back to college for a part-time MSc in medical statistics, and at the same time started building up my company from its original one-man band to a larger operation. I now run a company with 10 people in it, and we provide medical writing, statistics, and clinical data management services.
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
I have to have a good understanding of many aspects of clinical research: primarily statistics, of course, but I also need to understand the medical aspects of the work we do and how it is all communicated when the research is done.
How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for your field, and how much can this be expected to rise? 
To be honest, the salary is pretty pathetic for most people in my business, considering how well qualified they are. It’s far better to be an accountant or a lawyer if you want to be paid well. My own income, as a business owner, varies considerably from year to year depending on how well the business has been doing.
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
The increased requirements for transparency and reporting for pharmaceutical industry sponsored research will probably continue to increase. That’s mostly a good thing, although there is a danger that a concentration on the pharmaceutical industry could mean that independent research gets overlooked. Contrary to popular belief, if published papers later have to be retracted, it’s more likely that the reason for retraction is fraud or misconduct in independent papers than in industry-sponsored papers
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
One of my roles is that I sit on a research ethics committee, which has the job of reviewing proposed clinical research projects to make sure that they meet appropriate ethical standards. Although most of them are quite reasonable from an ethical point of view, I have been shocked by how low the scientific standard is of many of the projects we review.
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
Having built up a business from nothing to a thriving small company
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
My standard of living has been quite good for most of the last few years, although the current economic climate means that my income has taken a bit of a nose-dive in the last year. My work-life balance is not that great. I mostly (but not always) avoid working at weekends, but I work longer hours than I would like to during the week.
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
It depends on which group of friends you are talking about. Many of my friends don’t really understand very much about what I do, but on the other hand I also have many friends whom I have met through my job—the world of medical writing is an extremely friendly and sociable place—and they obviously understand perfectly what I do. My partner, Carolyn, a non-scientist, enjoys having someone about the house who can help her out with everyday science questions, but would like it if I didn’t spend quite as much time at the office.
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
I grow my own vegetables, and thoroughly enjoy being out in the garden tending the vegetable plots. It’s so completely different to being at work. Mind you, I’m still not really off duty: I have a very scientific crop-rotation system, with all the details recorded in a complicated database
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
I applied for CSci because I was prompted to do so by the Institute of Clinical Research, of which I am a fellow, and they encourage their fellows to apply for CSci. As I work in a relatively obscure field of science that most people don’t know much about, it is nice to have an easily understandable qualification like CSci that clearly marks me as a scientist
What is the value of professional bodies? 
Professions often need to speak with a unified voice, and who is going to do that if not a professional body?
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
CPD is extremely important for any profession, but none more so than in science. Science is changing all the time, and there is always an opportunity to learn new things. When you stop learning new things, you might as well give up your job.
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
Make sure you do a job that you enjoy and where you will constantly be learning new things.
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
Very important. There is a great deal to learn for people starting out in my field and related fields, and to have the benefit of a senior colleague to help you with that learning process is invaluable. I learnt a great deal from such senior colleagues when I was starting out in my career, and I now do the best I can to encourage the staff who work for me to develop in their careers.
How would you define “professionalism”? 
In science, it’s about doing what is right scientifically and can be justified on the basis of objective data, even if that might not always be the same thing as what is right commercially or as a career move.
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
I honestly think I wouldn’t do anything differently. I could have been considerably better off financially if I’d been something different like a lawyer, but my career has always been interesting and enjoyable, and that is far more important than financial reward. Although I did some jobs that are unrelated to the job I’m doing now on the way and in some way delayed my career progression, the extra breadth of experience they gave me has been very welcome.
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
When I was president of the European Medical Writers Association, I published a set of guidelines on how professional medical writers can ethically contribute to medical publications. These guidelines have been widely adopted by journals and are no doubt contributing to the quality of scientific reporting. If I were remembered only for that, I’d be happy.
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