Reflections on the AIM WA Practical Decision Making Course

On Thursday and Friday of last week (1st and 2nd of November, 2018) I attended a training course at the Australian Institute of Management (AIM). This training was made possible by an AIM WA scholarship via. an internal application at Telethon Kids Institute. I went to a course called Practical Decision Making, which was attended by 8 other people from local government, training organisations, and research institutes/universities.

I would like to express my thanks to both AIM WA and the Telethon Kids Institute for this opportunity. The 2 day course was engaging, educational, and will benefit me and my work at Telethon Kids.

Biostatisticians take on the responsibility for all statistical activities for a research project, supervising the work of other researchers and members in interdisciplinary teams. We also contribute to clinical discussions on study objectives and the choice/definition of primary endpoints, this might also involve liaising with external experts and opinion leaders. The biostatistician is well situated within any collaborative research team to assess the situation/data and make a critical decision and communicate with all members so they are on-board and excited to achieve the best possible outcome for the research project.

The Practical Decision Making course was facilitated by John Wilcock at AIM’s training centre in Floreat. The training was delivered through group based discussion and lecture-like sessions. A detailed 70 page course booklet was also provided with templates and tools to: guide problem definition, perform cause and effect analysis, a decision analysis matrix, and processes to facilitate risk analysis and management. John was very engaging and drew on many years of management experiences in companies including IKEA, Target, and his own businesses.

The training also used a number of case studies that were solved in small groups. These provided opportunities to work through the decision making process and also encouraged me to use various communication styles when working collaboratively that cater for all learning types (i.e. visual vs. audible vs. tactile).

One group exercise that I found particularly memorable was called the “Zin Obelisk”. This task required 3 person groups to share 30 discrete, and sometimes obscure, pieces of information and decide which day of the week a gang of workers would complete the construction of a religious monument. This exercise highlighted skills that I can improve to ensure all team members that I work with are included in technical discussions and can participate to the decision making process. My style of working through a problem is to scribble down notes until I can form a path to the answer, but rather than jotting down notes for my own benefit, I can be more inclusive by scribbling on something more visible to everyone such as a flip-book on an A-frame.

The decision making and communication skills that were learnt from AIM Practical Decision Making course will help me:

  • Ask “why” at least 5 times so I can really understand the researchers’ questions
  • Frame a problem in a way that will help put the issue in the proper perspective
  • Effectively communicate my decisions to relevant stakeholders and encourage action
  • Help me use established tools and techniques to guide the strategic direction of a research project to a successful conclusion.

Introducing the Telethon Kids Institute R-Markdown Templates

The Telethon Kids Institute has a strong sense of brand awareness that is detailed in our internal style guide and is visible in television advertisements, reports, presentations and seminar posters (and elsewhere!). Our branding is important as it contributes to developing a sense of recognition within the local community and helps support our position as a world leader in child health research. Instantaneous brand recognition is especially important for Telethon Kids, as we receive significant funded from the public, either directly from individuals and businesses or through Channel 7’s Telethon.

The Biometrics Group are the internal consultants for the Telethon Kids Institute and Perth Children’s Hospital for all things biostatistics and data management. As we have multiple competing priorities on the go at any one time, it is important for us to have a tool kit that enables us to rapidly provide support our researchers, collaborators, and students while complying with the themes defined in the Institute’s style guide. We achieve this by working in the R environment, as this enables us to leverage the latest developments in open source statistics and data science.

The Biometrics Group has developed a series of R markdown templates, accessed via. the Biometrics R package, that frees us to focus on the task at hand and not to worry about regularly tweaking the visual aspect of our reports and communications. These easy-to-use templates produce stand-alone HTML files for reports and presentations that can be distributed by email and opened in an internet browser (e.g. Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, etc.) including on mobile devices. Perhaps most importantly, all members of our group can rapidly create visually stunning documents without the need to learn HTML or CSS.

The Biometrics package also includes custom colour themes, based on those defined in the style guide, that can be applied to categorical and continuous data in ggplot2 graphics and used in any other app that accepts common image file formats.

The Telethon Kids Institute Biometrics package is now available on GitHub and new R markdown documents can be created with these templates in R Studio after package installation:

devtools::install_github("TelethonKids/biometrics", build_vignettes = TRUE)

and are accessed through the menu: New -> R markdown -> From template. A brief introduction to using these templates are found in the package vignettes:


The usual markdown syntax is used to prepare your documents; a cheat sheet explaining how to use R markdown can be found here.

Perth Young Statisticians Conference 2018

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the Young Statisticians Conference 2018 hosted by the Statistics Society of Australia at Rigby’s Bar.

This conference featured 6 talks from practicing statisticians in industry and academia and 4 talks from honours and PhD students studying in WA (1 from ECU and 3 from UWA).

The Industry/Academic talks were presented by:

  • Halena Talbot – Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • Kim Carter – Data Analysis Australia
  • Karl Beidatch – BHP Billiton
  • Gemma Cadby – University of Western Australia
  • Nicola Armstrong – Murdock University
  • Grant Coble-Neal – Western Power

The talks were followed by a speed dating style Q&A between groups of conference attendees and the invited speakers. The conference concluded with a networking sundowner where I had the opportunity to meet other Perth statisticians and promote the work that we do at Telethon Kids.

This event was a showcase of the statistical/data science work that is available for students in WA (most attendees were university students, with a few like me who have recently completed their studies).

Although there wasn’t a defined theme for the talks, there was one point that kept being raised: raw data is messy, regardless what industry you are in and don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions so that I, as the analyst, have a good understanding of the research question.

Also, relevant to my work was a slide by Kim Carter stating that big data does not need big solutions – which I felt was relevant in the context of link data and some of the larger projects that the biometrics group may be asked to consult (e.g. Origins).

Several of the speakers also encouraged the attendees to add coding as a core competency as it lives hand-in-hand with current statistics. This resonated with me as I believe that my ability to code helped me get my position at Telethon Kids as a graduate biostatistician with no real-world experience in the field.

On reflection, this event could have been a great way to get young statisticians in Perth interested in the medical and health research that is being done at Telethon Kids. This conference happens every other year and I recommend the next time it comes around a biostatistician from Telethon Kids should be involved and show off some of the fun work that we are involved with that has a real impact on children’s’ lives.