Mercy Chepkirui Terer is a data manager at KEMRI-Wellcome Trust, Nairobi, Kenya and a member of Global Health Network. She works in Health Service Research Unit in a Clinical Information Network as a lead data manager for a multi-centre pragmatic trial on childhood pneumonia that is to be conducted in 12 sites across East Africa called Supportive Care and Antibiotics for Severe Pneumonia among Hospitalised Children (SEARCH). Her proposed research methodology study “Pilot implementation of Short Message Service for randomisation in a multisite pragmatic factorial clinical trial in Kenya (PRISM Study)” has been selected as the best research methodology study and it has been crowned the winner.

Before attendingThe 5th International Clinical Trials Methodology Conference (ICTMC), I had been contemplating a transition from working in a medical research institution to a career where I would focus on developing software and programming. I previously believed the career prospects in medical research were heavily skewed in favour of medically trained professionals and that there were limited opportunities for long term career growth for a “technical” person like me. After winning the Global Health Methodology Research Competition and attending ICTMC, my perception of health research has changed. I now appreciate the full potential of my skills in contributing towards improving methodology and conduct of clinical trials in my home institution in Kenya and more broadly in other low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).

Visiting the UK for the first time to attend this conference was an unforgettable experience.  The Global Health Network competition hosts, Elizabeth Allen, Arancha De La Horra and Sada Aliyeva were incredibly supportive every step of the way ensuring I was comfortable throughout my travel and stay. The conference itself was truly amazing. It was impeccably organised with stimulating topics, panels and workshops. For an early career researcher like me, this provided an opportunity to learn from and build useful networks with experienced scientists and peers. I remember experiencing great difficulty making a choice between parallel sessions and wishing I could be in more than one place at a time. The field of clinical trials has evolved tremendously over recent years, particularly aspects of data management where we now have automated processes for data monitoring and quality assurance, and machine learning algorithms to flag outcome anomalies amongst other developments.

As a data manager for an ongoing multi-country trial in East Africa, I was keen to attend sessions themed around data monitoring, data quality assurance, management of missing data in clinical trials, big data analytics and machine learning. I was inspired by the work of several speakers. Among the presentations that caught my eye were Anna Korolewa’s titled “A machine learning algorithm and tools for automatic detection of spin (distorted presentation of results) in articles reporting randomized controlled trials” and Joshua James Northey’s on data dashboards where he presented on a novel approach of tracking and monitoring electronic Case Report Form data return rates and missing data items for clinical trials.  I look forward to reaching out and learning from them.

When I received the news that my submission had won the Global Health Methodology Research Competition, I could not believe my eyes. I remember asking my colleagues to read and re-read the congratulatory email. Competing against 68 other highly qualified and likely distinguished individuals from more than 20 countries and winning was both overwhelming and exciting at a stage in my career when I was unclear on the prospects of a career in data management in clinical trials. My uncertainty has since vanished and I plan to begin by developing my proposal where I aim to implement a Short Message Service platform for randomisation in a multisite clinical trial. I am very lucky to have the support of my co-investigators, Dr. Ambrose Agweyu and Charles Opondo. They have been great mentors and role models. I look forward to presenting our findings at the next ICTMC 2021 Conference and ultimately see it being used widely as a valid randomisation method in LMIC and the rest of the world as an open-source tool.

Had it not been for the generous sponsorship from the competition and conference organisers, I would not have attended this meeting. I have no doubt that there are many data managers like me working on trials in LMIC who would benefit greatly from the experience I gained attending ICTMC 2019. Providing sponsorship for early career participants from LMIC to attend scientific meetings should be viewed as an effective means towards inspiring the next generation of global health trialists.

 “We need less research, better research, and research done for the right reasons”. Doug Altman