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Faculty Sabbaticals at Government, Industrial Organizations

1 October 2009 2,617 views No Comment

A different approach

sabbaticalFaculty members at research universities typically take sabbaticals by working on a research project at their institution or spending time at another university. An option not always considered is to spend part of the sabbatical at an industrial or government organization. Such arrangements do exist and can be successful.

There are a number of advantages to taking a sabbatical at an industrial or government organization. Gaining knowledge of and experience in an entirely different, yet practical, environment that may lead to interesting and valuable research projects is one. The possibility of a longer-term consulting relationship also exists. Further, many academic institutions compensate for only a semester of leave. Hence, working with a government or industrial institution that is willing to provide compensation for the remainder of the year makes it financially feasible to take a complete year of leave. Such a lengthened sabbatical can provide a more rewarding intellectual experience.

Two biopharmaceutical companies offering such sabbaticals for research statistics faculty are Merck and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Merck has a well-established program, while GSK offers sabbaticals on an individual basis as the need and opportunity arises. (Note: These cases were chosen because the author is familiar with the individuals and institutions involved. It is likely there are many such arrangements, which may be highlighted in future articles.)

Merck’s Stanley Schor Scholar Program was instituted upon the retirement of Stanley Schor in 1992. Schor, a Fellow of the ASA, was the first executive director and head of the biostatistics department at Merck. He is credited with raising the scientific level of biostatistical support in clinical trials broadly and in the pharmaceutical industry. The goal of the program is to bring in experienced faculty for six months to one year to interact on a daily basis with Merck statisticians. The Schor scholars are available to consult on project-related issues, give seminars on current statistical topics, and collaborate with Merck statisticians on research questions. Statisticians who have participated in the program include Myron Chang, Jack Lee, Dan Heitjan, Robert Stine, Seymour Geisser, and Anastasia Ivanova. Scholars in epidemiology and health economics also have been a part of the program.

The program is considered a success by all accounts. In addition to training and consulting, the research collaborations have resulted in many published papers. Chang, of the University of Florida, was the first scholar and worked primarily in group sequential testing. As a result, he published papers in Biometrika and Statistics and Probability Letters. He also contributed to the development of a burden of illness method combining incidence and severity of disease for a vaccine clinical trial for herpes zoster, which resulted in a paper published in Statistics in Medicine.

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