How to jumpstart a successful career in biostatistics: a unique training program that has been running for 10 years
Biostatistics integrates the medical field with math, statistics, and life science to drive clinical research and new drug development. The training program provided in partnership between the School of Mathematics and Informatics at Karazin National University and Intego Group, a global CRO and technology consulting company, gives students the opportunity to explore modern statistical and programming tools used for analyzing clinical trial data. The program has been designed to meet the growing needs of leading pharmaceutical and life science companies. Although Ukraine has many highly skilled IT specialists, the number of available professionals who fit the standards required by the pharma industry doesn't cover the market's rapid growth. That's why, in April 2013, Karazin National University and Intego Group partnered to create a program that prepares talent who can deliver the best practices in the industry. This certificate program has been running with no interruptions since its inception and is now taking applications from around the country and admitting its tenth class of students.
To find out more about the program and its graduates, how the war in Ukraine has influenced the educational process, and discuss further plans for this enduring partnership, we spoke with the CEO of Intego Group and Member of the Board of Trustees at Karazin University, Sergey Glushakov, and the Dean of the School of Mathematics and Informatics, Professor, and Doctor of Science, Griogory Zholtkevich.
Sergey Glushakov, Intego Group
Why was Karazin National University chosen for The Center for Biostatistical Programming?
It was the obvious and straightforward choice for us and our partners. With over 35 schools and departments, Karazin National University is one of the oldest and most reputable educational institutions in Eastern Europe. Our program originally targeted students with a strong background in applied mathematics from the School of Mathematics and Informatics only, but it has since been opened up to a much broader audience from all over Ukraine.
We engage professors from a number of schools within the University ecosystem. Thus, we work with the School of Medicine for life science-related courses and call on the School of Foreign Languages to handle English proficiency. Karazin National University was an obvious choice as a one-stop- shop with all the components integrated into a complex curriculum.
What's the reason for the increased demand for professionals in biostatistics?
The industry of clinical research has been growing for decades. A global pandemic, an aging population, and various other reasons have driven investment in new drugs, medical devices, and pharmaceutical products. Looking at the official data from clinicaltrials.gov, we see exponential growth in the number of clinical trials performed worldwide. And when we look at these charts, we see a large volume of clinical data that needs to be analyzed. That's where we've targeted our training so our graduates can build successful, well-paid and long-lasting careers making an impact on the global society.
How is the educational process structured?
Classes start in mid-October and run through June, when certification and graduation occur. The two-semester program is fully sponsored by our company but requires students to dedicate at least 15-18 hours a week to their studies. Those selected will learn advanced methods of statistical analysis, SAS® programming, fundamentals of clinical research, and specifics of clinical data. Since the majority of educational materials are available in English only, we've also integrated English language classes into the curriculum to ensure a thorough understanding and the ability to communicate at all organizational levels upon completion. At the end of the program, students must proceed with the SAS® Certification exam, in order to procure employment.
The war in Ukraine. How did it influence the program, education process and the students?
In mid-March, just a few weeks after the war began, our students were still committed to completing their studies and asked to resume classes. To many of them, this program gave them hope and a sense of purpose. At this critical moment, they all are heroes to me – the students, professors, and our senior professionals – everyone involved in the curriculum. The class of 2022 graduated from the program in June and everyone who successfully passed the SAS® certification exam was accepted to a paid internship in our company. They are undergoing additional training now and will soon be placed on various projects and clinical studies.
Professor Griogory Zholtkevich, Karazin University
What's the main goal for the partnership between Karazin University and Intego Group, USA
Conventionally, mathematics is divided into two strands: pure and applied. It is understood that the task of specialists in pure mathematics concerns its development in response to the problems that arise following the internal logic that underpins the development of mathematics. In contrast, the task of specialists in applied mathematics concerns the development of mathematics based on the problems that arise before specialists in other branches of knowledge. The conditionality of such a division can be understood by tracing the history of mathematical thought. One might ask: "Is John von Neumann a pure or applied mathematician?" It is a tough question to answer since his name is associated with solving both purely mathematical problems and new mathematical theories that have arisen in response to emerging problems in various fields of knowledge, for instance, game theory in economics, computer architecture theory in computer science, and the theory of unreliable automata in general systems theory. In general, none of the great mathematicians can be classified according to this principle: They all organically combined efforts to study purely mathematical problems with measures aimed at finding mathematical solutions to the problems facing colleagues in other fields of knowledge. Their contribution to mathematics is based on their ability to turn an applied problem into a purely mathematical form, thereby creating a new area of mathematics.
This preamble is sufficient to explain the purpose of the faculty's partnership with industry, particularly the Intego Group, within the field of biostatistics: To introduce students to a specific subject area of mathematical method application while ensuring a professional level of mastery of these methods. As a result, some students will link their careers with this industry, while others will apply the acquired knowledge and techniques within other industries.
Who do you think might be most interested in the biostatistics training program?
It should be noted that a graduate of a Ukrainian university with a diploma in mathematics or applied mathematics can find a job in Ukraine with a decent salary; however, these roles will typically be within IT companies that have a significant research department. The biostatistics program allows students to expand their opportunities beyond the IT industry. Therefore, in my opinion, which is supported by our extensive experience cooperating with the Intego Group, this program represents the starting point for the Master of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics and builds a solid foundation for those seeking to pursue a successful career in industry. In addition, students with primary education in physics, chemistry, and biology consistently achieve good results.
Is the knowledge of SAS® programming and statistical analysis heavily used only in the life science industry?
SAS® programming provides an environment for solving statistical data processing problems. It is based on mathematical statistics, which, like any mathematical field of knowledge, focuses not on the subject of study but on the connections characteristic of this subject. However, complex relationships can be similar to very different issues. Stochastic processes obey the same laws, regardless of which subject area they are associated with—physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, economics, or epidemiology. So, having mastered SAS® programming in biostatistics, students will get a bonus—the opportunity to work as a data analyst in almost any subject area.
What opportunities can be opened for graduates from this program after its completion?
Our partners proposed, and we gladly agreed, that the biostatistics program should not only be attractive in terms of the knowledge, skills, and abilities it offers, but it should also enable successful graduates to access promising employment prospects. And I must say that this principle has not been violated in all the years of our cooperation. In addition, we see that Intego is fully committed to the professional growth of its employees, helps employees advance their careers, and fosters an environment in which people commit to the organization because it offers them an opportunity to thrive. This program offers a steppingstone into the industry… there is a realm of possibilities as to where this can lead. In my opinion, these are ideal work conditions.
Why do you think students should apply to this program, especially today, and pursue a career in biostatistics?
Griogory Zholtkevich: If the 19th and 20th centuries were the centuries of physics, chemistry, and other inanimate and physical sciences in the generalized sense of the word technologies, then the 21st century is the century of computer science, life sciences, and related technologies. Biostatistics is a specific synthesis of these areas of knowledge. Therefore, by choosing a biostatistics program, you are choosing a career as a 21st-century specialist.
Sergey Glushakov: The demand for specialists is here and will continue to grow in the years ahead. The reputation our biostatistical programmers have built in the industry will drive interest and desire to work with Ukraine. And most important, our professionals truly deserved the trust to handle the most critical clinical studies and keep project work going despite the war in our home country of Ukraine. The next chapter of this great story is about to begin and we're welcoming new applicants to join the class of 2023.
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