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Women's Leadership and COVID-19: Spotlight on Alison Isherwood

Women's Leadership and COVID-19: Spotlight on Alison Isherwood

Published 04-02-21

Submitted by Clarivate

Alison Isherwood

In honor of Women’s History Month, throughout March we’re putting a special focus on the incredible role women researchers and scientists have played in addressing COVID-19 and creating a more equitable STEM field post-pandemic. At Clarivate, more than half of the colleagues in our science organization are women. Their achievements are invaluable to our contributions to innovation and customer success. 

In this interview, we speak with Alison Isherwood, Senior Director of Epidemiology at Clarivate. Alison is based in London, and focuses on female cancers and driving managed services engagements. She has a PhD in Molecular Virology and focused her thesis on “Receptor Binding by the SARS and NL63 Coronaviruses.” Alison also volunteers at her local COVID-19 vaccine center.

How have Clarivate data and solutions been helpful in researching and understanding COVID-19?

At Clarivate, I helped to set up the COVID-19 medical dashboard work the Epidemiology team did for a large pharma client involved in COVID-19 vaccines, and authored the Clarivate COVID-19 vaccine epidemiology analysis where we report the number of vaccine eligible people across the seven mature markets. This involved estimating the number of high-risk people and accounting for comorbid conditions, so we could accurately estimate how many people will need the vaccine in each phase of the vaccine roll-out across seven key markets.

I also recently worked with another pharma company’s neuroscience team to design and execute a real-world evidence study investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on acute medical events in advanced Parkinson’s disease, a subject close to my heart, the results of which we are hoping to publish later this year.

Feedback from clients is that our epidemiology work has been instrumental in helping multiple pharma clients plan for their assets that are either directly involved with COVID-19 or impacted by the pandemic. My colleagues Oliver Blandy and Alexandre Vo Dupuy have done tremendous work developing a forecasting tool that has been well-received by industry researchers – and they predicted the second wave of COVID-19 in the U.K. to the week.

Our U.S. claims data asset has been invaluable in assessing the impact of the pandemic as it unfolds because the data is updated weekly. Other data sources the Epidemiology team typically use, such as hospital databases and cancer registries, tend to have at least a two-year lag, so the impact of the pandemic won’t be visible in these data sources until possibly next year, and data in peer-reviewed publications are two-three months old, which is old news when it comes to the dynamic nature of this pandemic.

At our fingers tips, we at Clarivate have the capacity to compare differences in event rates of various conditions, adapt our forecasts and provide timely insights to our clients so they can understand how the pandemic could be impacting their assets.

Alison Isherwood in the lab.
Alison in her lab. Undated photo provided by author.

How have the events of the past year impacted your ways of working, including the pandemic, quarantines, shifts to remote work and/or other macro social and economic trends?

The events of the last year have really changed things for me in regards to working. I have worked remotely for the last few years, so my home set up was unchanged, however, as a mother of two, aged six and nine, the pressure to homeschool during school closures, on top of my work and household responsibilities was indescribable.

With my family overseas and my in-laws being high risk, we did not have an opportunity to form a support bubble. Flexible working hours and Clarivate COVID-19 care days were a life-saver, allowing me to balance my work responsibilities and family life during school closures. My amazing colleagues helped out by being flexible, but it did not stop the late nights of work.

I think it is important for others in similar situations that I acknowledge in this forum that it took its toll. I am not a superhuman. I need down time. I need sleep. I need time to recharge physically and mentally. Not many people speak about the challenges we are facing right now, we tend to put on a brave front. I imagine the lockdown in countries worldwide has impacted everyone in various ways, and we all need to be sensitive to the fact that we all face different challenges: young persons missing the social development through interactions with their peers, university students missing out on life experiences away from home, the new parents who haven’t been able to introduce their babies, elderly relatives that we have not been able to visit, milestone events delayed or missed, the list is endless as we think about the impact on people at various stages of their lives.

Volunteering at the local vaccine center is a great way for me to deal with the pressures of this current lockdown we are having in the U.K. It got me out of the house, allowed me to feel like I am actually helping to fight the pandemic, helping to save lives and end this lockdown. The feel-good factor keeps me going for days. The epidemiology team’s COVID-19 forecaster developed by Alexandre V Dupuy estimates that the U.K. vaccine program has saved approximately 41,000 lives, something I am so honored to be a part of. Because of social distancing, the general practices are generally closed, so a lot of people are missing out on standard health checks and lacking access to blood pressure monitors, something we also began offering at the vaccine center. In one instance we were able to identify someone with dangerously high blood pressure who was asymptomatic. They were on treatment that afternoon!

Alison demonstrating a “health pod,” used to monitor BMI and blood pressure, for the former Prime Minister of England, Theresa May. Photo taken by Diana Parott, practice manager of Maidenhead Vaccine Clinic, and provided by author.
Alison demonstrating a “health pod,” used to monitor BMI and blood pressure, for the former Prime Minister of England, Theresa May. Photo taken by Diana Parott, practice manager of Maidenhead Vaccine Clinic, and provided by author.

Do you have advice for women and girls interested in entering your field?

In terms of science as a whole, the first time I noticed gender disparities in science, was when I moved from an overseas international co-ed school to an English boarding school when I was 16. I remember being surprised that apart from biology, where there was an even split of girls and boys, that in maths and chemistry classes, we were only 2-3 girls out of a class of 15.

Throughout my science education and career, I have always perceived everyone in my peer group as my equal, regardless of gender, age, or race. I unconsciously put myself where everyone deserves to be: on an equal footing. I feel having positive self-perception is beneficial.

I fundamentally believe that treating others how you would like to be treated reaps rewards, and this has in general worked out for me. But I was also fortunate to have worked in wonderful research labs, with fabulous people, and continue to do so with a great team at Clarivate.

My advice to women and girls, or anyone: with regards to your education or career don’t take no for an answer, and don’t ever think something is impossible or unachievable, especially not due to gender, race or disability. Think more along the lines of “How can I get there?” or “What do I need to get there?” and ask these questions to someone experienced in your field (tutor, professor, manager) if you need guidance.

Then get yourself started down that path. There are multiple paths to get to any goal – you have the power over your future, no one else.

Do you see women’s leadership role in COVID-19 research and response as a springboard for a more equitable future and recovery post-pandemic? 

I think every and any successful team project in COVID-19 research is a springboard for an equitable future and recovery. Teamwork will get us through the pandemic and out the other side. Teamwork leads to success. Teamwork is why I enjoy working with the epidemiology team so much, it is what has kept me here for 12 years. Everybody is so dedicated, hardworking yet fun and supportive of one another. If we continue in this manner, we will maintain this fair and equal working environment we have at Clarivate.

Learn more about the Clarivate commitment to sustainability.

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