The ’15 minutes with…’ blog series aims to provide a glimpse into the career paths and personal lives of the researchers and employees at NDPH and showcase the wide range of roles and science conducted. In this blog series, we ask researchers, non-research staff and students, nominated by the students themselves, to reflect on their career to date – their proudest accomplishments and their lowest points – and how they came to be where they are today.

Today, we continue this series with an interview with Radwa El-Abasiri, MSc student at Oxford Population Health (Nuffield Department of Population Health).

Could you describe your current role in one sentence?

I’m a clinical pharmacist and a master’s student on the MSc in Global Health Science and Epidemiology in the department this year. I aspire to do a DPhil in the cardiovascular field.

 What is your favourite thing about it?  

It is a complex question! One thing is that I have worked on cross-sectional studies before, but I would say I now know more about how to structure them in a better way. Probably that is the best thing at the moment: that there is evidence that you can take from what you are studying across the different modules of epidemiology, statistics, etc., and apply that to the research that you’re going to do in the future, hopefully.

… And what is your least favourite thing about it?

Our masters is hectic! I would not say it is my least favourite because I like it so much. Our masters is only one year, which is pretty intense compared to the amount of information to be covered. I love what we are studying because it is my main field of interest, but if longer than a year it might be nice – but then again I want to finish my masters! So it is the benefit-risk ratio: you can never say whether you would like it to be longer like other universities. Oxford is number one, but our one year is pretty intense!

Moving on to the science, could you tell us about what science you’re most excited about or interested in your own work, and beyond your work?

I would say randomized control trials because I have always been very interested in them. I will choose the “randomized controlled trials and meta-analysis” course.

And beyond current work, I hope to do more work in Pharmacoepidemiology. The courses that we take in the MSc are much related to it but not mentioned directly.

Could you say a bit more about what pharmacoepidemiology is?

Pharmacoepidemiology assesses the effect of drugs in the population. Whether you’re assessing the effect or the adverse effects, how they are going to differ, whether it’s going to be different across the different populations. Maybe it’s related to genetics, say – so it’s very collaborative work. 

What’s the thing that you are most proud of in your professional life ?

It was quite hard, hectic process for me and I never thought I would be accepted. So this is my big thing!

Then I joined the course, I was astonished by my marks in the formatives and wondered “should I have made it or not?”. But I guess if you know something you would not be studying it. So it is a matter of time. I am also very grateful for the support I am getting here.

And what about your biggest failure or disappointment?

I’ve had many failures I would say – I don’t know which of them is the biggest!

Back home I had many supervisors, early in my career. I was working as a teaching assistant alongside being a clinical pharmacist and many of my supervisors were not as supportive as I would say they should be. So that made me so disappointed and sceptical about everything including myself. I was involved in a clinical trial, and then it didn’t work out and when I started digging deep about why this happened, I didn’t find the support I anticipated. So that was my disappointment- supervisors back home neither provided the information I needed for growth, nor the minimum guidance.  

Could you outline your route to where you are today?

So I started as a clinical pharmacist at a hospital called Dar al Fouad Hospital in Egypt.

They’ve got their approvals and a connection to Cleveland Clinic, so it’s quite a respectable hospital here in Egypt. When you’re working as a clinical pharmacist – revising the medications, going into rounds as etc – you find that for lots of the evidence you want to know where it comes from. But when you ask questions nobody tells you: you’re just told to take the guidelines as they are, don’t dig into this. So I would say I wasn’t really satisfied with the answers I got. So I thought more about an academic career. 

So I then went to being a teaching assistant at Future University in Egypt which is different from the university I graduated from(the Faculty of Pharmacy of Cairo University). When you’re into that kind of career, you need to start publishing so that you can just go further and get promoted. You need to be involved in research so did I in a randomized controlled trial, which did not work out. We had lots of lost-to-follow-up. I was trying to assess the drug, from the cardiovascular point of view, by echocardiograph, with the help of another physician. But then patients would not come to follow up. Some of them might have the echocardiography in another government and send it via WhatsApp. And I had a hard time because the records were not perfect. I struggled basically with patients’ follow up, taking samples to the lab and then I felt like this was not the right way to research by any means. And when I asked my supervisors questions, as I mentioned there was not the kind of support that I wanted. 

So during the COVID times, when we had lots of time staying at home, I started searching more online and then took online courses. But again I wanted to have a hands-on experience in the research. I tried to contact many professors to let me into their research either through data collection or see the analysis in the writing. Only one of them replied: his name was Dr Roy Marzo. He’s from Malaysia. I would he’s the one that I owe a lot. He was conducting a cross-sectional study about the perception of the COVID, psychological factors etc. And they needed someone from Egypt, and he knew that I didn’t have a research experience – the experience I had did not make any sense, since the trial failed! But they needed someone from Egypt, and he said I could be responsible for the data collection and at the same time get to see how they conducted the data analysis etc. I finished the data collection early, he introduced me to Dr Mila Htay. And since then, I’ve been conducting many surveys with them and research – and I guess that helped me a lot in my career.

But all this research was only based on cross-sectional studies, so I felt I needed to go back to randomized control trials. I started applying to many universities, but again, what I liked more about Oxford is the clinical trial unit. At that time the RECOVERY trial was just published, as well as the statins one and many others. I was very interested, but I had no hope honestly of being accepted. Then I got advice from Dr Ahmed Mady who is one of my mentors. He encouraged me and believed that I would get accepted at a time when I didn’t believe so. For me, I was trying my luck and then here I am, so it’s just great.

Random thought: I’d like to tell a story going back to my childhood. So during my school years, we used to study many old English novels which were printed in the Oxford University Press. That was when I started to like having the dream of studying at Oxford one day. I was 10 years old and 18 years later I made it. Developing a dream takes a long time! And I got a lot of support and encouragement to apply. So I would say I owe them all this.

What is your career ambitions?

It is quite big and I do not know what to say. Being in this department and seeing the research conducted in the pharmacoepidemiology field but do not have it as a separate subject– I would love one day to start being a professor and formally introduce pharmacoepidemiology! Especially if it is in this department. I see myself working in pharmacoepidemiology and large randomized control trials.

Could you tell us one thing about you outside work?

I like swimming and writing. I even have my blog on Facebook. It is small but growing. It is different bits and pieces. I used to write in a teenage magazine when I was 15 years old, and I stopped. So now I do short bits of what I did before. It is just a Facebook page so you cannot share everything – just bits of writing with photos, in Egypt or Oxford.

If you could give one piece of advice to your 18 year old self what would that be?

I would say trust yourself a little bit more. In the past, I never wanted to study pharmacy. I wanted to join medical school. But because of the way of getting into universities in Egypt, my total percentage did not get me there. So the other option was going to pharmacy school. But then, I liked pharmacy school so much that I would not regret it at all.

Now, I believe this was the right thing to do at that time. So believe in yourself even if things did not work as you want them to. You can work on what you want in another way, just search enough.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Many believe that they cannot make it to Oxford, as they are not “the Oxford type”. I would encourage them to apply and see how it goes. I would say my interview was very good and professional. So just get “the Oxford type” out of your head and do your best.  

Thank you so much!

You can connect with Radwa on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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