STEMM Profile: Emma Knight | Adelaide Medical School | Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences | The University of Adelaide | Adelaide | SA

“To maximise my productivity, I work two consecutive days and I choose my workdays to avoid public holidays as I can’t afford to lose half of my working week to a public holiday”

I am a Senior Biostatistician with the Environmental Determinants of Islet Autoimmunity (ENDIA) Study at the University of Adelaide. ENDIA is a national prospective pregnancy/birth cohort study investigating the determinants of type 1 diabetes in at-risk children. My role is to collaborate with researchers across Australia to integrate and analyse data from investigations spanning clinical and ‘omics investigations within the ENDIA study. Prior to joining the ENDIA Study team, I was the Head of the Biostatistics Core Facility at the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide. I collaborated with researchers across the Institute applying statistical methodologies to underpin high quality research in the fields of fertility, pregnancy and child health.

I am Accredited Statistician of the Statistical Society of Australia. I have a PhD in Statistics, First Class Honours in Statistics and B. Sc (Math & Comp Science) with a major in Statistics, all from the University of Adelaide. As an applied statistician I have worked across a wide variety of research domains including working alongside the nation’s top athletes at the Australian Institute of Sport, designing and carrying out field studies with a team of conservation ecologists at the Australian National University, and working at the interface between science and policy at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. In these roles I worked with researchers, clinicians, policy makers and stakeholders across various aspects of research, including project design and planning, design and analysis components of ethics and grant applications, appropriate methods of data collection and management, data analysis and interpretation of findings, adherence to reporting guidelines, presentation of research findings and co-writing of scientific publications and reports. I enjoy working as part of a multidisciplinary team to ensure appropriate and informative statistical practice.

You have had a career disruption, how did you manage to stay productive during this time – what helped you most?

I took 18 months off after having both of my children and have been employed forty percent full-time equivalent (0.4FTE) since returning to work. For me, 0.4 FTE was the balance that allowed me to still be effective in the workplace and provide much needed mental stimulus and adult conversation, while allowing me to be at home most of the week to focus on my children. To maximise my productivity, I work two consecutive days and I choose my workdays to avoid public holidays as I can’t afford to lose half of my working week to a public holiday.

What is the most important advice you have ever been given?

After returning to work part time, I was (and continue to be) the recipient of negative comments from colleagues related to my choice to work part-time. I spoke to a colleague who also works part-time to care for her children. She said to me “At the end of the day, are you going to look back and wish you had spent more time at work, or more time at home with your children?”. This is a question I continue to ask myself when making decisions around work/life balance.

What was the key thing that helped you get to where you are today?

Earlier in my career, I always looked for positions where I worked with more experienced statisticians. I was very fortunate to work with Jeff Wood, Ross Cunningham and Alan Welsh at the Australian National University, from whom I learnt about the art of statistical consulting, statistical thinking, effective study design, statistical inference and much more. I think that good supervision and mentoring is crucial, especially early in your career.

What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?

My ability to communicate with researchers to understand their broad research aims and guide them to define a targeted research question that can be answered by collecting and analysing data has allowed me to establish and build a career as an effective applied statistician. As George Box (1976) noted, successful collaboration requires “the wit to comprehend complicated scientific problems, the patience to listen, the penetration to ask the right questions, and the wisdom to see what is, and what is not, important.”

What do you love most about your professional role in STEMM?

The opportunity to effect change! Research I did while working at the Australian Institute of Sport, looking into a data-analysis method used in hundreds of papers in the sports science literature, showed that this method is flawed. One of the leading sports science journals has since decided to stop accepting papers that use this method. There has been a sharp decline in the number of published papers in other journals using the method. Our work received national (http://bit.ly/SMH_LM) and international (http://bit.ly/MBI_CA) media coverage.

LinkedIn: Emma Knight

Twitter: @Emma_J_Knight