Statistically speaking

Biostatistician Professor Ian Ford is a Clarivate Analytics Global Highly Cited Researcher for 2018, one of ten Glasgow researchers recognised as being in the top 1% for citations in their academic field.

Tell us a bit about your career this far.

I was an undergraduate and postgraduate student at Glasgow. My first job was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA. As well as teaching in that position, I was involved in setting up a statistical consultancy unit, working with academics, local and national government agencies and with industry. I learned about entrepreneurism and came back to the UK with an idea that it might be possible to create a similar collaborative research group in Scotland.

I was involved in setting up the West of Scotland Coronary Prevention Study (WOSCOPS) in 1988, trialing a new type of drug called a statin. I had been involved in clinical trials before WOSCOPS, but that study provided the funding and the impetus to create a collaborative statistics group in Glasgow that was eventually to become the Robertson Centre for Biostatistics.

What is the focus of your research, and what inspires you?

In recent years the main focus of my research has involved the design, conduct, analysis and interpretation of clinical trials. This is an area where you can rapidly see your work having an impact. That is very rewarding.

Statistics is quite a unique discipline because it allows you to work across a wide variety of subjects, in fact anything that involves analysing data. You could say that statisticians are the ultimate collaborators. I enjoy working with other researchers.

What drives you to do this research?

I enjoy discovering new things and working with a wide range of collaborators.

How do you feel about being featured in the Highly Cited list once again?

I am acutely aware that without my many collaborators I would not be on the Highly Cited list. Being on the list largely reflects on the quality of the people I have been lucky enough to work with.

Tell us about the research that you have been highly cited for.

My most highly cited publications have arisen from my contributions to large clinical trials that have had an impact on the way medicine is practiced, and ultimately on people’s lives. I have also been involved since the early days of what is now called data science. This work has ranged from approaches to the analysis and interpretation of complex medical images to the re-use of routinely collected electronic medical records to support and extend clinical trials. Being on the list largely reflects on the quality of the people I have been lucky enough to work with.

What keeps you at Glasgow?

I have been fortunate to work with an outstanding group of staff at the Robertson Centre for Biostatistics. Although Glasgow has been my base, as well as collaborating with many excellent researchers in Glasgow I have had collaborations with many academics nationally and internationally, with the NHS and with international pharmaceutical and medical device companies.

What’s next?

I retired in October 2016 and was then re-employed as a senior research fellow part-time. I am heavily involved in five major clinical trials. I will finally retire when they finish.