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Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

This Leader Wanted to be a Doctor. Here’s Why She Chose Analytics Instead.

Ethel Ayika, a senior business analytics manager at Medidata Solutions.
Ethel Ayika, a senior business analytics manager at Medidata Solutions.
| Courtesy of Medidata

Ethel Ayika was 4 years old when she declared to her parents that she would be a doctor when she grew up.

“Healthcare was always an obvious goal for me,” Ayika says. “From the moment I listened to a heartbeat, I became fascinated with understanding the micro processes behind the amazing machine that is the human body.”

By the time Ayika was a graduate student studying healthcare information systems at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, she discovered the next frontier in health innovation: analyzing and making sense of patient data.

“After my first statistical analysis class, one thing became very clear,” she says. “I could enjoy a career in healthcare without necessarily being a doctor or a scientist in a lab.”

Today, Ayika is a senior manager of business analytics at Medidata Solutions, a healthtech company that powers the clinical development of new therapies. In her role, she’s part of the team that’s helping improve ongoing clinical trials.

Here, Ayika talks about why she applied to Medidata, the growth opportunities she’s had since joining the company, and how running has changed her life.

What led you to work at Medidata, and how did you know the company would be a good fit?

I was referred to Medidata by a friend who had worked there for two years. She mentioned there were a few current openings that would be a great fit for me.

At the time, I was interviewing with other companies and had my doubts about venturing into the clinical trial and drug development industry. However, seeing my own friend thriving at the company, combined with her enthusiasm about the work she was doing there, inspired me to apply.

During my interviews, my would-be manager asked me about the impact I hoped to make at Medidata as well as how I hoped to be impacted by the company. This question really stood out to me, and although I struggled to answer it, it gave me a peek into the company’s culture.

You were recently promoted into a senior management role. How has Medidata supported your growth?

Even though I joined the company in the middle of the pandemic, without the opportunity to go into the office and build in-person connections with coworkers, I have always felt fully supported by my team. I quickly felt empowered to build solutions and make a difference and was even trusted to complete a key data migration project shortly after I joined. 

On top of that, I received a learning and development stipend to earn additional data analytics and product certificates that would help me grow and take more ownership within my team. Most recently, I completed the McKinsey Business Leadership program with some of my Medidata AI peers, and it expanded my perspective on how to think more strategically about key problems in our industry.

What are you responsible for as a senior manager of business analytics? What do you like most about your role?

I am responsible for our go-to-market operations processes. I collaborate with various teams, from sales to product development and engineering, to ensure data is streamlined and positioned to answer our customers’ needs. I also take ownership of our commercial reporting and workflows.

Some of the things I enjoy most are the variety of projects I am able to work on, the different perspectives and business areas I am exposed to, and the ability to continue learning and expanding my skill set.

Tell us about the Medidata AI team. What types of projects do you work on and what impact does it have on the business?

Our goal at Medidata AI is to leverage our unique data repository and expertise to create analytical solutions that address some of the most challenging issues in the industry, from regulatory evidence of a drug’s treatment effect to improving diversity in clinical trials.

We hear that Medidata AI is growing. Why is now an especially exciting time to join the team? What types of roles are you currently looking to fill?

We are at a point where our product ecosystem has reached a certain level of maturity, so now it’s all about executing a very ambitious but equally exciting plan by leveraging our data. Who doesn’t want to be part of that? The team is hiring for multiple roles, including product managers/owners, project managers, analysts, and biostatisticians. (Check out Medidata’s job listings here.)

What does it take to succeed in business analytics? What would you say are the most important skills to develop?

Curiosity is key. A lot of the paths I ended up exploring started with a question and trying to understand an outcome or how something was built in the back end. From there unfolding layers of a system and sometimes breaking it is inevitable in order to understand something inside and out. So don’t be afraid to break things.

It is also critical to be a good listener to truly understand the pain points or business problems you’re trying to solve for, and what the potential solution looks like for the users or stakeholders you’re helping. 

Finally, collaboration and communication are key because it is equally important to be able to share insights and recommendations after diving into complex systems of information. I would also add that domain knowledge facilitates all of the above and should not be neglected.

What do you value most about Medidata’s culture? What resonates most with you and why?

What I value the most are the people I work with who help shape the culture every day through intentional kindness, collaboration, and support of one another. It is a common trait among the many Medidatians I’ve met.

This sense of community resonates most with me because I joined at a time where belonging was seriously challenged by the global pandemic and social unrest during 2020. Yet by the one year mark, I felt at home at the company, as well as empowered to help make other Medidatians (new or old) feel supported and appreciated.

What do you like to do for fun outside of work?

Outside of work, I enjoy playing basketball, whether it’s casual open play or in a more formal league with ZogSports. I also enjoy reading—one of my favorite books is The Promises of Giants by John Amaechi—and traveling, as well as spending quality time with family and friends.

And after a health scare in 2018, I was inspired by my surgeon to take up running and I now enjoy it as a way to clear my mind and refocus. I completed my first half marathon last year and was very humbled by the support of my fellow Medidatians in raising money to participate.