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The other way around    Jan 21, 2019

The other way around
Jan 21, 2019


De heer Johan VERBEECK



Not every Ph.D. student travels down the same road. Johan Verbeeck is an excellent example of this. After 10 years of building a career in the pharmaceutical industry, he switched back to academic research. So why did he choose this unusual path? Let’s find out.     


“On any one day, you can massively change the direction of your life.” – Jim Rohn. 

In Belgium, most Ph.D. students start their academic journey right after graduation. This was however not the case for Johan Verbeeck who after obtaining his master’s degree in Biotechnology went on to work in a pharmaceutical company. “My work mainly revolved around discussing the results of clinical trials with physicians. I asked myself questions like: What do the physicians think of the results of a new therapy regime? Are there aspects in the study that require more investigation? How can we further develop this new medicine?”, Johan explains. “However, I quickly noticed that I lacked in-depth knowledge in statistics. That’s why I started to look around for some additional education on the matter.”

“At first, I started following smaller two-day courses. But even then, I still felt like I didn’t possess the right amount of knowledge. So I enrolled in a master in Biostatistics at Hasselt University, a master that you can also take through distance learning.”


“It certainly wasn’t easy”, Johan contemplates. “The master program is very challenging, especially when you try to combine it with a fulltime job and a family. Yet during this period, I really got the hang of it. I got intrigued by biostatistics, even to the point where I was soaking up more information and knowledge then was required for my job.”

“During my master thesis, I got fascinated by a new analysis technique to analyze composite-endpoints called ‘Generalized Pairwise Comparison’. This innovative technique allows us to combine various types of parameters (time-related clinical events, quality of life, blood values, imaging results, economical aspects, …) at the same time. It also enables us to choose the hierarchy of importance of the parameters, while with other techniques this is just the first event. Through this method, we can more easily determine the benefits of a novel medical therapy. It also creates the opportunity to evaluate the results through the eyes of various stakeholders. For example, some discomforts might be more important to the patient than to the physician, while some economical aspects might be of greater interest to the government or industry.”

“At the end of my thesis, I was so captivated by my research that I simply couldn’t let go. It wasn’t an easy decision, as starting a Ph.D. meant that I needed to let go of some financial benefits like bonuses, a company car, … . However, I made the call and here I am, a Ph.D. student at UHasselt.”


“Up until this moment, I haven’t regretted my decision at all. I get plenty of satisfaction out of my new job and I still get to work within the biomedical/biotechnological field without having to take into account the company-economical aspects of it, like the return-of-investment. At a university, the sole question is: is it scientifically relevant? A much better fit with my personality. I also see the direct implementation of my work into the field as I work in close collaboration with the cardiologists of the hospitals in Limburg and the Belgian consultancy company IDDI. Even other research groups from various medical disciplines have shown interest to use this technique.”

“I am really enjoying this new chapter in my life. My Ph.D. will hopefully become a period filled with growth opportunities and challenges. A period in which I might get to meet other passionate biostatistics researchers. I am certainly looking forward to the years to come.”


Find out more about the master of Statistics here.