As a Strategic Clinical Researcher, Muna leads a team that plays a vital role in advancing medical knowledge, improving patient outcomes, and contributing to evidence-based medical practice in cancer care;
Hi Muna, thank you very much for volunteering to talk to us about your work as a Strategic Clinical Researcher
Thank you, Winnie! It’s an honor and a pleasure to be talking to you, and I commend you for the work you do.
Thank you! Please give us a brief introduction about yourself and what you currently do
Sure, so my name is Muna Adan from Somaliland and I am based here in the United Kingdom. I currently wear several hats.
I am a Strategic Clinical Research Lead for a biotechnology company that focuses on the research & development of technologies and therapies in cancer care. My role is incepting and managing real-world research studies that provide insights about specific clinical interventions and patient outcomes. We use secondary data sources such as electronic hospital records, general practice data, etc.
My day-to-day activities vary greatly and depend on what stage the different projects are in. Some days involve pitching new research ideas to potential sponsors/stakeholders. Other days will involve formulating study design protocols or working on overseeing ethical procedures/approval of national data. I also have days that involve working closely with the internal research team. This involves advising and overseeing the implementation of statistical methodologies to meet specific research outputs. I also validate final research outputs and solve particular challenges that may come up. For projects that are in their final stage, I generate final study reports. I also present and share final results to sponsoring teams and at times at conferences.
Part of my role, which I must say I enjoy, involves delivering research method training and development days for junior colleagues. I like sharing knowledge, and this activity in particular keeps me on my toes. It challenges me to use innovative ways of delivering educational materials in an engaging and fun way.
Besides my day job, as of last year, I have taken the plunge and fulfilled my long-term aspiration of co-founding a data analytics consultancy with a colleague of mine. We aspire to provide data-driven solutions to health and social care challenges in topics that are close to our hearts. For example, health inequalities across communities. This allows us to collaborate with non-governmental organizations that work on health issues affecting high-risk and disadvantaged populations.
I am also proud and honored to be on the board of trustees of EcoCare Africa Trust (Somaliland division). EcoCare Africa Trust is a non-governmental organization that strives to develop and support ecologically sustainable programs aligning with communities’ needs. We have offices in various African regions.
Somaliland, which is where I am from is a 32-year-old young country situated in the horn of Africa, on the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden, which broke away from Somalia on the 18th of May 1991. The country has since made significant improvements and strives in social, economic, and public functions. This is largely due to a combination between resilient entrepreneurial-spirited citizens and support from the diaspora communities overseas. It gladdens me and fills me with joy to work with like-minded individuals on programs in the country.
Wow! You wear many hats! Please walk us through your journey of becoming a Strategic Clinical Researcher
I grew up in a large family of 7, who loved education and learning. Both my parents, my mother mostly, strived to provide us with a quality education that would support our academic eagerness but also inspire us to pursue fields of work that we loved. That pursuit saw me complete my primary education in Egypt, part of my secondary schooling in Sweden, and my college and higher education in the UK. Confusing, I know, but I truly believe that had I not come to the UK I would not have considered continuing to pursue higher education despite a strong affinity for academia.
I think part of that reason was that; uniquely, I found the ethnic diversity of student-intake at UK universities in comparison to some European countries speaking volumes to me about representation. It also ignited my want to pursue education and see how far I could get in the system.
After trying several summer internship programs in different health fields I found myself taking an interest in Pharmacy as a profession and decided to study the field at University. Upon completing my undergraduate and Master-degree, and after rounds of interviews I was accepted to complete my clinical training and rotation in two hospital settings, one being a teaching hospital in London. My clinical knowledge and skills grew exponentially over that time. I, however, still had a long-term longing to somehow contribute to the Pharmacy field from a knowledge perspective.
Thus, I contacted my Master’s dissertation supervisor back at the University, who had been a source of inspiration to me with regards to her work, her work-ethics, character, and knowledge, and not to forget her tremendous support during my dissertation. I spoke to her at length about my interest in pursuing a Ph.D. and felt inspired by her encouragement. After months of research, I started applying for a PhD-program. I got accepted to a 3-year program that sought to investigate a group of high-risk drugs named opioids and their use/prescribing in chronic non-cancer pain (whose long-term use continues to be controversial due to their long-term likelihood of harm and lack of long-term effectiveness).
After graduating I stayed in academia and worked as a researcher and senior researcher at the University of Leicester, where I worked on drug comparative research studies in collaboration with Pharmaceutical organizations. It was here that I gained exposure and experience working with the Pharma-industry and life-science biotech. Just after the COVID-19 epidemic, when many of us pondered upon long-term goals and instigated changes in that direction, I decided to make some changes. I took a leap of faith and joined the biotech research world, mainly to widen the scope of the disease areas I would work on.
It is wonderful to see you enjoying the career path you have chosen. Let’s talk about some of the challenges you have faced as a Strategic Clinical Research Lead
I have come to learn that at different stages or chapters of one’s life, there are different sets of challenges that one may face. For example, in the junior-trainee phase, the challenge was more oriented towards learning and growing within my field to be able to perform tasks efficiently and accurately as well as grow in confidence. As I grew towards a more senior role the challenges became more towards time-management in fulfilling multiple tasks, but also developing management and leadership skills. And so I realized that there is a need for continuous self-reflection, self-growth, and the need to trust my instinct in responding to day-to-day challenges that could be related to for example processes, people management, or new knowledge acquisition. I will not lie I still struggle with this at times. It is a continuous work in progress.
What has inspired you to move forward even when faced with challenging times?
Three elements in my life keep me going during challenging times. The first is faith. Faith is a personal source of calmness, spiritual strength, direction, and perspective for me, particularly during times of doubt.
The second is my folks and their support, in particular my beloved mother. Her journey of raising 7-children, whilst incorporating and working on her business pursuits and managing challenging life circumstances, while succeeding in many ventures, has never failed to be an inspiration of mine. I count myself lucky to have her. Moreover, her endless virtues such as generosity, resilience, optimism, wisdom, patience, grace, intellectual fortitude, and her focus on the greater good inspire me to stay focused on my greater good but also find ways I can give back in the process.
A third element that inspires me to move forward, which may seem strange to say is failure. This is unfortunately unavoidable in all of our journeys. It has taken me some time to re-frame the outlook of it, especially as a perfectionist. I have come to learn to fail fast and often and learn fast and to take failure as a form of feedback in finding solutions to move forward.
Tell us about your achievements, awards, and moments of recognition during this journey as a Strategic Clinical Researcher
In my academic journey, I have been fortunate with receiving awards for the work done and travel grants to present at conferences at different destinations. This is always a joy, especially after long periods of experiment failures and frustrations. What fills my heart with immense gratitude is dedicating my Ph.D. work and its endeavor to my late Father. He was there during its completion.
Who is Muna outside of the Strategic Clinical Research Lead umbrella?
I am very much young at heart! So outside my serious work demeanor, you will often find me with my nephews and nieces just being silly, or with the family cracking jokes and sharing joyful moments.
I also love the theatre (and will catch a play or two whenever I can), art galleries, and a good book. If I have more time at hand, I take a hiatus out in nature in the countryside for some inner-re-balancing.
What’s your favorite quote?
I would say there are two in particular:
“Knowledge gives life to the soul, so seek it” ~ Imam Ali (AS)
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. You can change or stay the same. We can make the best or the worst of time. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage and strength to start all over again” ~ F. Scott. Fitzgerald
Lastly, Muna, What are your words of encouragement for a young African girl who wants to become a Strategic Clinical Researcher?
For young girls pursuing STEM fields, I would say think of the future that awaits you, and that dreams are the foundation that ignites your journey, so dream big and often. Take the time and be patient with yourself to learn and grow. Surround yourself with people who encourage you, inspire you, and whom their work ethics you admire.
I would also say that yes some of us will have humble beginnings but that does not mean that this will define you or your pathway or necessarily stagnate you. You can make the most of where you are and with what you have. So never compare yourself with anyone, your journey will be as great when you focus on yourself.
I would also say that with every setback there is a comeback and your time will come and it will be worthwhile. And, when that time comes don’t forget to look back and help your fellow-country woman/man.
Lastly, for my Somaliland country woman, reach out to the Somaliland STEM Society for support.
Thank you, Muna, for sharing your STEM journey with us and teaching us about what a Strategic Clinical Researcher does. We wish you all the best and look forward to future interactions.