Alumni profile - Abeera Mohammad
I find it amazing knowing that I have helped make an impact to bring a treatment to patients who have so little options out there. Making treatments available quickly can literally be the difference of life and death for someone, especially in the oncology (cancer) space, so it can be a motivator when you are doing the analysis to ensure it is delivered quickly and to a high quality.
(Mathematics and Statistics BSc, 2016)
Why did you decide to study BSc Mathematics and Statistics at Queen Mary? What sparked your initial interest in this specific degree?
During college, I considered studying medicine for a while, but whilst attending university open days, I realised that I enjoyed studying maths much more. I also knew I did not want to do a pure maths degree and liked that I could combine maths with another subject (in this case, statistics). Queen Mary initially appealed to me because of its strong reputation and for being a Russell Group university. When I was searching for universities, I was also looking at their study abroad programmes and a degree that would accommodate this. After attending an open day, I felt sure I wanted to pursue my degree here.
What did you enjoy most about studying BSc Mathematics and Statistics at Queen Mary University of London?
For me, one of the best things about my degree programme was the people I met and the friends I made. I also really enjoyed the diversity of activities I could get involved in during my time at Queen Mary. From learning a new language to studying abroad, it was great that my degree programme had the flexibility to accommodate this.
Within my degree, modules such as ‘Statistical Modelling’ or ‘Designs of Experiments’ really helped form the basis of my understanding of statistics. When you are studying it at university, it can often be hard to see how the maths you learn can be applied to real-life scenarios. Once you enter the working world, you see first-hand how valued the skills of a Statistician are within the industry. In hindsight, I actually like that the ‘Designs of Experiments’ module had an element of problem-solving and presenting solutions. It felt a little daunting at the time, but it was good for building my confidence at presenting statistics, which is something I now do on a regular basis.
What did you gain from your study abroad experience and why would you recommend that other students follow in your footsteps?
I opted to study abroad in my second year as part of my degree for a semester. As a travel enthusiast, I was very keen on this idea when I was in sixth form, so I made sure to only apply to universities that offered this. I spent the first semester of my second year at the University of Illinois in the US. I really enjoyed my time abroad and made friends there who I still visit and spend time with today. What I found the most surprising was how my approach to my own learning had changed through experiencing a different educational system. I personally felt my study habits were much better when I came back to Queen Mary. If anyone were considering whether to study abroad, I would tell them to take the plunge and do it. I am a strong believer that there is more to university than simply leaving with a good degree. When you ask a graduate how they found their university experience, very rarely will they mention the grade they achieved, but more so, they talk about their friends, their lecturers, their achievements and their struggles. The overall experience stays with you, and it is something irreplaceable.
You are currently working as a Medical Statistician/ Biostatistician at Amgen, one of the world’s leading biotechnology companies. How did your passion for Statistics start and when did you realise you had an interest in the pharmaceutical field?
During the summer of my second year, I completed an internship as a Research Assistant at Queen Mary’s Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine (Barbican site). Here I was able to observe the work of Medical Statisticians working in academia and gain an understanding of epidemiology. The staff members were really friendly and supportive and overall I had a wonderful experience. Inspired by my time here, I began to gain an interest in this area. During college, I considered studying medicine for a while, but whilst attending university open days, I realised that I enjoyed studying maths much more. Having been torn between doing a numerate degree or a medical/biological one, this seemed like the perfect combination of my interests. I decided to complete an advanced statistics project in my final year in this field. After completing my degree, I went on to study an MSc in Medical Statistics and attended a careers fair held by PSI (an organisation for Statisticians in the pharmaceutical industry), where I heard about Amgen. I applied, interviewed and received my first job offer.
I love being in a role where I can directly use what I learnt from my degree whilst also still learning and challenging myself to improve new skills.
What do you enjoy the most about your role?
Being able to contribute to some of the innovative treatments and work with bright minds is incredibly rewarding. Particularly in the wake of COVID-19, having an understanding of the drug development process provides answers to some of the common questions you hear such as ‘how did the vaccine get approved so quickly’. Currently, the studies I work on are based in the areas of Oncology which is for cancer treatments. The role can vary from day to day. Being able to plan, design and conduct an analysis is one aspect, but also being able to communicate the statistics to an audience who may not have the same background is equally as important as understanding the data.
One of my favourite aspects of the job is how often I get to travel. During my first week I flew to California to meet the global team but I was fortunate enough to be able to travel somewhere new every month in my first year, including Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and Amsterdam. As a travel enthusiast, I loved this aspect. I love being in a role where I can directly use what I learnt from my degree whilst also still learning and challenging myself to improve new skills.
So far, in your current role and in your career, have you had any life-changing or stand-alone moments where you've realised that you're doing a job that you really love?
Seeing the day to day clinical trial activities can be interesting, but one of the most memorable moments I had was from a trial I was working on which was showing efficacious results at the interim analysis (this is like a ‘check point’ when you can take an early look at the data and the results they may be showing). Since the results were overwhelmingly positive, we had been recommended to close the trial early and switch all the patients to the new treatment. For me, I find it amazing knowing that I have helped make an impact to bring a treatment to patients who have so little options out there. Making treatments available quickly can literally be the difference of life and death for someone, especially in the oncology (cancer) space, so it can be a motivator when you are doing the analysis to ensure it is delivered quickly and to a high quality.
How diverse is the industry that you work in? What do you think needs to be done to increase diversity and inclusion in your industry?
The industry as a whole seems to be recognising that there is a real need for diversity, not just in terms of their workforce, but also in the work they do, such as within their clinical trials. I think the challenge many companies face is that they are good at the diversity part since they can quantify this and understand how many employees they have from diverse backgrounds, but what can be harder to measure is inclusion and belonging which is being recognised as equally important (if not more so). Within my own company, I have been greatly involved in the diversity, inclusion and belonging initiative acting as a diversity champion and hosting regular discussion sessions and teaching people about various diversity and inclusion topics. Senior leaders have also been great at encouraging employees and have asked all employees to have this as part of their individual developmental goals for the year. I think this is a good approach and great that we have support from our company leaders on this.
What advice would you give to a mathematics student who is interested in entering the same field you are in?
For anyone interested in pursuing a career in Statistics, studying a degree in maths or a related subject would be a great place to start. Most Biostatisticians/Medical Statisticians also hold a master’s degree in medical statistics. If funding is an issue, many companies may fund this so it is worth doing some research. An apprenticeship scheme aimed at BSc graduates is also in the process of being created so may be available in the future. There is also a non-profit organisation called PSI, which provides useful information for Statisticians in the pharmaceutical industry. A large number of graduates (myself included) tend to hear about vacancies at the medical statistics careers fair they hold around February/March each year.
Something I also always recommend to my younger family members who want to go on to study at university is to opt for a placement year. When you apply for university, three years seem like a long time so an additional year might be daunting, but in hindsight, the benefit of working for a year outweighs the cons. You gain experience, which on your CV shows potential employers that you have an understanding of the job in practice. In addition, you are paid which is helpful if you are hoping to fund your future studies. Particularly if you do a placement year as a Statistician, I always think how much understanding the students will have of what they are learning once they go back for their final year.
- Join the Queen Mary Network.
- Since this profile was conducted, Abeera has since started a new role, still as a statistician, but in a new industry.
This profile was conducted by Marketing and Communications Officer for the School of Mathematical Sciences, Alessandra Maffei and Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Abeera or engage her in your work, please contact Nicole at email@example.com.