Spotlight on a QUOD Colleague – Lewis Simmonds, Data Analyst QUOD

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This week I ‘met up’ with QUOD colleague Lewis Simmonds, of NHS Blood & Transplant.  Lewis is a statistician and provides QUOD with the data required for researchers.

Lewis joined the QUOD family in July last year after graduating from Bristol University with a First-Class degree in Maths and was given the task of streamlining the way QUOD’s data is gathered and extracted.

When a research scientist requests clinical data (for example donor, retrieval and recipient follow up data) to go alongside samples from QUOD, they must first select the data variables appropriate to their research question, which are listed on the QUOD website. This process then generates a spreadsheet that is communicated to our QUOD Data Coordinator here in Oxford, who then completes the data access request and sends it over to Lewis so that he can extract the requested data from the NHSBT database. 

When Lewis first joined us in the summer this process was rather lengthy and variables were colour coded into categories according to the lead times to receive the data, these were anything from under a month to more than three months.  This system has worked well until now, but as QUOD has become more well known, its activity has increased and the requests for samples have multiplied.  Lewis has turned this around by building a new database that produces the information easily at the click of a button, that will eventually be able to be run by any member of trained NHSBT staff within a much shorter timescale. It has taken quite some work to harmonise the data into a uniformly functioning format with fine tuning of the interactions between bodies of data but he says this work is almost complete. In just 6 months Lewis has transformed the process and QUOD is ready for action!  He will continue to work with QUOD to make changes to the website and before long researchers will be able to reap the benefit.

I asked him if he had learned his skills during his university studies.  He told me that he had learned Python, R, SQL and SAS, all of which are high level programming languages, at university but it is his fascination with how programmes interact with data structures and tables that led him to play around with programming in his spare time, testing his theories in developing games amongst other things.  His latest interest has expanded to website design and how the information that a website user taps into an interface is routed behind the scenes to create datasets, purchases, bookings or information collection.  He told me he has always been interested by how different systems can work together and loves exploring the possibilities to render systems compatible to a desired purpose. 

Lewis is based in Bristol and like a lot of us is still working from home though he enjoys going into the office one day a week.  The thing he likes best about his role is the creative freedom he has to seek out ways to improve systems and increase efficiency.  When he first took on the role, the biggest challenge was to familiarise himself with the many databases and their different properties in terms of function, formatting and location.

The most unusual thing Lewis has done in a job was when he was still at school.  As a fresh-faced sixth former he helped a friend run a mail/internet order business selling glowsticks, glow ears, flashing dog collars, baseball caps and light up bouncy balls!

In his spare time, other than tinkering with programming he is very keen on music with a particular penchant for Drum & Bass which has led him to DJing in and around Bristol on the weekends.  In lockdown he developed a taste for Hip Hop and Rap and he also enjoys cycling and a round of golf!

New QUOD Colleague Questionnaire: Philippa Wren – QUOD & Transplant Research Groups Administrative Assistant

In June, QUOD welcomed our new QUOD & Transplant Research Groups Administrative Assistant – Philippa Wren. Philippa has kindly agreed to share a bit more about herself and her role at QUOD:

Philippa Wren

What were you doing most recently before joining QUOD?
Surviving lockdown and home schooling my beautiful daughters, Grace 9, and Evelyn 2. My previous role involved PA, Administrative and Secretarial support for a Regional Manager. I also have a background in Marketing and Events organising.

What interested you about working with QUOD?
I have missed working within a team and hoped to work within a reputable academic organisation. I have always been fascinated with surgery and liked the thought of working somewhere that makes a difference. The two together seemed like the perfect opportunity for me..

What does your role in QUOD involve?
I provide administrative support for the QUOD and Transplant Research teams. I maintain the contact@quod inbox, social media platforms and website as well as take minutes for various meetings. I also place orders, liaise with suppliers of lab consumables and support Prof Ploeg’s EA in looking after his diary, organising his meetings and travel arrangements.

Lightning round time. Tea or coffee?
Tea – I love it!

Favourite place in Oxford?
There are so many. I would have to say the view of Oxford Skyline from the top of South Parks.

Best holiday trip ever?
Venice. There’s no other place quite like it.

Primary COVID-19 lockdown survival method?
Lots of long walks… and wine!

Finally, what kinds of inquiries should people bring to you, and how best can they reach you?
All inquiries are welcome. If I can’t answer it I can redirect you to someone who can. You can contact me via email contact@quod.org.uk or philippa.wren@nds.ox.ac.uk

Spotlight on a QUOD Colleague – Maggie Stevens

by Susan Patchett

For this edition of the QUOD Newsletter I was delighted to be able to catch up with Maggie Stevens, ODT Specialist Nurse for Research at NHS Blood and Transplant.  Maggie is responsible for the operational and service delivery for the great number of research studies that NHS Blood and Transplant operate and support alongside QUOD.

Hers is a varied role and involves setting up Specialist Nurse training, carrying out risk assessments for new studies, and helping teams draw up action plans and standard operating procedures (SOPS) ensuring that they comply with their ethics approval, regulatory requirements, and are fit for purpose for Specialist Nurses in Organ Donation (SNODs) to follow safely and effectively.

When I asked Maggie if she could describe a typical day she told me that there was no such thing.  One day she can be going through a risk assessment with the ODT Research Team and Quality Assurance for a large clinical trial and identifying potential operational, regulatory and safety risks.  Other days she will be auditing consent records to be sure all has been carried out to the letter.  She meets regularly with research leads in all the regions, ensuring they are up to date with studies that are being set up and also cascading training that they will undertake with their teams. 

Problem solving is a large part of her role and can range from SNODs raising issues if they aren’t comfortable with a particular process, to a shortage of boxes. 

Maggie works very closely with QUOD and helps us iron out issues that may arise in terms of sample collection, logistics, and other operational problems.  She forms the crucial link between QUOD and the SNODs.  After QUOD’s activity was paused during the first wave of COVID-19, she helped us with the mammoth task of restarting operations, updating SNOD training and finding ways around getting QUOD boxes delivered when so many personnel were working remotely between on-call shifts.

The elements of her job that she likes the most are the people and the research and innovation – ‘There is always wonderful new research going on such as the SIGNET trial and I find contributing to this work is really satisfying.’  She also said that her job is made very special by her colleagues, Hannah Tolley (OTDT Research Project Manager) and Emma Lawson (OTDT Innovation and Research Lead)). They work closely as a team linking in with other stakeholders to ensure that ODT research is facilitated safely and effectively. They also sit together alongside QUOD’s National Management Team.

I asked her if nursing was the career she had envisaged.  She laughed and said when she decided on nursing she was actually working at an agricultural college in Chelmsford, driving tractors and fruit picking.

Like all of us through the pandemic, Maggie has had to decamp her office to her home but she said she was one of many NHSBT staff who couldn’t bear sitting still when there were those working themselves to the bone on the front line so, she got herself deployed back to her original A&E department for six weeks.  She loved being back with her former colleagues.  I asked if she felt worried during that stint and she said ‘you just do what you have to do.’

Maggie Stevens is not all about work and loves an adventure in the great outdoors.  She has climbed Ben Nevis with colleagues for organ donation week and spent a couple of months travelling alone around Alaska where she saw whales and bears and met some wild and wonderful people that she will never forget.  She is also a fan of rock music and has tickets to see the Foo Fighters very soon!