Career Journeys: Meet Statistician Meredith M. Regan, ScD

Apr 28, 2015

Meredith M. Regan, ScD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She plays a major professional role as Group Statistician for the International Breast Cancer Study Group (IBCSG).

How did you choose your current career path, and did you take any unexpected detours along the way?

MR: I haven’t had detours, but have had good fortune with opportunities. I majored in mathematics as an undergraduate. I stumbled upon a job in The Boston Globe looking for “quantitative skills” and became a research assistant at a health economics consulting firm. I discovered medical research and the profession of biostatistics. While earning my doctorate in biostatistics I spent a summer at DFCI and discovered academic collaborative research. My first biostatistics position was at another Boston hospital. Later, I took a position focusing on cancer research at DFCI. That led to the opportunity to work with the IBCSG, where I discovered breast cancer research. I’ve been very fortunate!

Is there a personal experience that shaped your professional journey and led to where you are today?

MR: When finishing graduate school, I was exploring academic collaborative research as well as methodologic statistical research and pharma opportunities. During my last interview with my soon-to-become boss and mentor, he told me, “Close your eyes and think about your retirement party. What are they saying? Are they talking about a methodologic advancement in statistics or are they talking about a study that changed the way we care for patients?”

The choice was crystal clear: I wanted to help change the way we care for patients.

Describe your typical work day.

MR: One hundred percent of my time is in research. Usually about half of my day is spent in project meetings for ongoing clinical trials and other research projects, in lab meetings with the IBCSG Statistical Center team or the team of statisticians who collaborate with the DFCI genitourinary cancers programs, or committee meetings. My IBCSG colleagues are mostly in Europe, so we meet by tele- or web-conference during the morning. Otherwise, I’m likely working on a study design or an analysis, or writing.

What is your favorite aspect of your job? What aspect is the most challenging?

MR: My favorite aspect is the brainstorming meeting: refining a research question and debating how to design the best study to answer the question. I discovered the fun and challenge from my first mentor, who emphasized this as the most important part of research. A bad analysis can be redone, but a poorly designed study is a waste of everyone’s time and efforts. The most frustrating part is the feeling, sometimes, of jumping from the most time-critical task to the next, without having the time I’d like to think through and enjoy it.

What do you wish you had known before you chose your career path?

MR: I was a math major in part because I don’t really like to write; I didn’t realize how much time I’d spend writing reports, protocols, grants, manuscripts, and reviews!

What kind of person thrives in this professional environment?

MR: Someone who is logical, systematic, organized, curious, collaborative, and always wanting to learn and be challenged.

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