About CSci

Back to the results
Rick Watts
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
Scientist Type: 
Service provider/Operational
First Degree: 
Team Lead, Clinical Research Informatics
Edmonton, Alberta
Works For: 
Women & Children’s Health Research Institute
Burning Ambition: 
If I could do anything I wanted I would choose to build a butterfly conservation facility that focused on native butterflies.
I’d like to be able to make sure that people actually acted on the advice that they asked for!
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
I wanted to be the curator of an insect zoo and filled my room with jam jars full of bugs
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist? 
I was always good at the sciences, particularly biology. Although my career path was never clear to me it made sense to study for a life sciences degree because that was what I was good at
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
I work with academic researchers on a daily basis solving procedural and technology problems that are generally outside their field of expertise. I get a great deal of satisfaction from being involved in so much medical research and working with individuals from so many different backgrounds
What would you change? 
After graduating with a BSc in Biology I went to work in information technology and spent 10 years with Lloyds Bank. It was 14 years before I became involved in clinical research. Now I’m using both my IT skills and my understanding of research and life sciences. I help to bridge the gap between medical research and technology. I would really have liked to have become involved in the research ten years earlier
What qualifications did you take at school? 
A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and Physics
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
Biology. My brother was at medical school and there was a certain amount of family pressure to go into medicine but I wasn’t so interested in medicine
Do you have a Masters or PhD? If not, was it difficult to demonstrate Masters-level equivalence in order to achieve CSci? 
No, but I was already a Fellow or the Institute of Clinical Research when they were approved to grant CSci status. By this time I had worked in a clinical research environment, supporting government regulated clinical trials, for 10 years. In order to satisfy regulatory requirements I had received a significant amount of job related training in that time
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
I’m involved in medical research. (I once told someone I was a condom salesman as that seemed exciting and somewhat easier to explain.)
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
Many of the studies that I work on involve trying new techniques or therapies in a pediatric population. Some involve translational research where a therapy or diagnostic test has been shown to work in relatively small studies but is now being introduced into medical practice involving an entire population. One such study involves using a transcutaneous bilirubinometer to monitor serum bilirubin in newborns. Every infant born in the province of Alberta in 2009 (about 12,000 babies) is included in the study. If successful it will lower the rate of readmission to hospital due to neonatal jaundice and save the healthcare system a significant amount of money. It will also replace a stressful (for both mother and baby) ‘pin-prick’ of the baby’s heel with a completely painless and non-invasive test. Being involved in research that has such a clearly demonstrable benefit to an entire population is very rewarding
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
Changing medical practice in the province of Alberta (as above)
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
Sitting down with an investigator to discuss data collection requirements for a study. Training research assistants on how to collect and enter research data. Reviewing a paper prior to publication
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
I Graduated with a BSC in Biology in 1983 before Working in IT for 4 years supporting financial information systems. I moved to Lloyds Bank where I developed and supported electronic payment systems. In 1997 my wife and I established a contract research consultancy providing clinical trials related services to a range of pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Initially I looked after the company’s technology requirements whilst my wife looked after the research aspects of the work. After a while I became involved in clinical data management, clinical trial monitoring and project management. In 2001 we realized my wife’s ambition and re-located to her country of birth – Canada. I worked for a Canadian CRO for a number of years before moving to the Women & Children’s Health Research Institute (WCHRI) at the University of Alberta. In my new role I manage a team of 4 that provides technology support and clinical data management services to members of WCHRI and collaborative clinical research studies across Canada
How is your job cross-disciplinary? 
Academic research into women and children’s health is multidisciplinary by nature. It involves basic science, clinical science, translational research (translating research outcomes into medical practice) and qualitative research. My role specifically involves an understanding of computer technology and data management practice. I need to understand the regulatory framework in which we undertake our research and I need to have an understanding of the medical basis of our studies
How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for your field, and how much can this be expected to rise? 
Working in academia is not always well compensated but the benefits are good (pension, healthcare, etc). We employ data entry staff for about $20 per hour (GBP 12) which is above the going rate in other industries because we expect our staff to be able to cope with the scientific content of the data. Data managers start at about $35,000 per year (GBP 20,000). In the pharmaceutical industry these salaries could well be higher. I’m not sure if the figures translate well to UK salaries.
How do you see your field developing over the next 5-10 years? 
There is significant pressure on both the pharmaceutical industry and academic medical research. Industry will be required to develop new treatments faster and at lower cost. Academic and translational research will demonstrate that it can bring cost savings to public healthcare systems. Funding for academic research will be tight for the next few years and we will focus on areas where we can genuinely make a difference, improving women & children’s lives and bringing improvements to the healthcare system
What’s the most unexpected thing about your job? 
Working with brilliant minds and watching the sudden leap from fact finding to diagnosis or discovery
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
As strange as it may seem (and I’m not sure it counts as part of my career) scoring a try in my school’s house rugby competition and being a member of the competition winning team. I was 17 at the time. The team spirit, camaraderie, and the value of my contribution were enormous and evoke strong memories
Would you say you have a good standard of living/ work-life balance? 
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
Many of my family are also involved in clinical research. However those that aren’t either think it’s really cool or just don’t understand what I do
What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax? 
I walk the dog and keep chickens. I’m a keen photographer and enjoy being in the mountains when I can
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
Even though I’m currently working outside of Europe CSci is important to me as it is a government regulated accreditation that demonstrates a standard of expertise and professionalism. Working in an academic community that level of recognition is important
What is the value of professional bodies? 
In a regulated industry such as clinical research organizations such as The Institute of Clinical Research demonstrate and oversee a level of expertise and training that is required for regulatory compliance
How important is CPD? What do you think of the revalidation process in ensuring that CSci is a mark of current competence? 
I think that varies according to so many factors. Many of our researchers have a PhD but do not require anything more, their job history and publication history are adequate. In other jobs or environments it is vital to be able to demonstrate that your skills are up to date and applicable. CPD is a very important part of that process. For a CPD scheme to be successful in demonstrating a commitment to learning it needs to be policed in some way. Revalidation seems like an appropriate way to police the system and maintain the standards associated with CSci
Advice & Reflection
How important is the mentoring process in your field and to you personally? 
‘On the job’ training is an essential part of my role as a team leader. So much is gained from experience and cannot be learned from a book
How would you define “professionalism”? 
I like to think in terms of responsibility and respect. You have a responsibility to your employer, colleagues and clients. You should have self respect and also treat others with respect in order that they respect you and the services you provide
What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career now? 
I would want to get into research sooner and not spend time on an alternative career first
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist? 
My job is to contribute to other people’s research in areas where all too often they don’t really appreciate that they need help. If I could be remembered for making a positive contribution that would be enough for me!
Back to the results