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Richard C. Zink

Senior Director, Data Management and Statistics, TARGET PharmaSolutions
Associate Editor Therapeutic Innovation & Regulatory Science

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When did you realize you wanted to work in statistics?

In undergrad, I quickly switched from a computer science degree to mathematics because I fell in love with the ability to solve problems with mathematics. At the time, I loved playing board games and strategy games, so most of my higher-level mathematics coursework was in probability theory. This naturally led me to courses in statistics where I greatly appreciated the ability to ask and answer questions of practical importance. My foremost thought was that I wanted to apply statistics to meaningful subject matter, so I applied for graduate training in biostatistics so that I could apply my skills to developing new medicines and improving patient well-being.

In your opinion, what is the greatest challenge in your field?

Any research that involves human beings is extraordinarily complex. There are ethical issues to consider, factors that are hard to measure and account for in the analysis, as well as patient reliability in showing up for visits or taking medications as required. Further, people lead complicated lives which can impact the findings in numerous ways.

What in your opinion is the biggest gap between research and practice in your field?

For statisticians, the biggest gap is often between the development of new methodologies and having those methodologies readily available for everyday use in statistical software.

Where do you see your field going? What is your vision of the field in 2030?

In the future, I hope to see statisticians and data scientists taking greater and greater leadership roles. Statistics and data science or so crucial to the success of most companies, I feel that every board or senior leadership team should include a statistician/data scientist. These individuals can communicate the importance of how data are derived, how they can be analyzed appropriately, and how results can be interpreted so that companies can make the most informed decisions possible.

What do you like most about your job?

I currently work at a real world data company. I love the ability to take my skills and experience from my past lives in the pharmaceutical and software industries to better understand patient disease burden and how other data sources can be used to answer questions of regulatory importance.

What is the first book you remember reading? And what book are you currently reading and why?

I am a big fan of dystopian literature. I remember being blown away by the book 1984 and how people could be controlled by convincing them to deny truths they had already experienced first-hand. I recently read Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. It is the first time in a very long time that I found a work of dystopian fiction so frightening, mostly because I could see how this particular vision of the future could come true. The big lesson from these books is the importance of balance in life. Things quickly fall apart if you become extreme and unyielding on any single point.

What advice would you give your younger self about to enter the “real world?”

I would tell myself to be open to new possibilities. There were many times in the past where I had stated most emphatically that I would not be interested in a particular life choice or career decision. In all cases, I ended up doing them all anyway. I would encourage the younger me to be more open-minded, because you never know what opportunities may become available.

How has DIA helped you?

DIA is important because it exposes me to the needs and expertise of the many disciplines required to improve the lives of patients. Statistics is one part of the puzzle, and insufficient on its own. However, the picture would be incomplete without the benefit of statistics. In the end, DIA stresses this collaboration.

Richard C. Zink is Senior Director of Data Management and Statistics at TARGET PharmaSolutions. He is the 2019 Chair of the Biopharmaceutical Section of the American Statistical Association, host of the Biopharmaceutical Section Statistics Podcast, and Associate Editor for the DIA journal Therapeutic Innovation & Regulatory Science. Richard is author, editor, and contributor to eight books on statistical topics in clinical trials and clinical research. He holds a PhD in Biostatistics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he serves as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Biostatistics.

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