Gemma McConnell, Research Director and member of our team of oncology specialists, reflects on her first few months as part of the HRW family…

At the start of the year, I joined HRW’s OR:BIT (Oncology Research: Business Insights Team) as a Research Director. Six months on, it feels like a good time to reflect on my decision to move from a relatively large to medium-sized market research company, to think about my positive experiences, the challenges I have faced, and how it has been settling into a new role amidst a global pandemic.

The decision to move

I wasn’t looking for a new role when I became aware of the opportunity at HRW, in fact I was comforted by the security and opportunities associated with working for a relatively large company. However, the idea of working for a more close-knit company and be part of a team with a likewise passion for oncology was extremely appealing and worth exploring.

An important consideration in making the move was maintaining the work/home-life balance I had established. Although I didn’t feel entirely comfortable going into a job interview with an outright request to work from home on specific days of the week, the complication of my childcare logistics didn’t really leave any other option. Thankfully my concerns were unfounded; HRW were understanding and working from home wasn’t the hurdle that I had thought it might be…it seems you can be a parent and still have career choices! After weighing up the pros and cons, and the element of the unknown, I made the decision to try something new.

First impressions

On my first day in the office, it was reassuring to find that my arrival was expected…work pass on hand, computer set up, a schedule of introductory meetings and training in place, and a welcoming HRW team prepared to help me with my many requests… how to work the printer, use the coffee machine, raise a ticket with IT, and more generally guide me through all the other new administrative processes that are part and parcel of a new job. No amount of training is as good as first-hand experience, so it was great to immediately get stuck into projects. A client debrief in my second week was a fantastic way start my new role.

I am based in the London office, but HRW also have offices in Wallingford (Oxford) and New York, with OR:BIT spanning all three workplaces. An early trip to the Wallingford office (or ‘Wally’ as it is affectionately known) allowed me to meet the wider team, with the welcome there just as warm as the one I received in London.

My foremost first impression of HRW, was just how collaborative the team are. While each team member has key distinct roles and responsibilities, they are also encouraged to have a voice and share their opinion in areas beyond their ‘remit’. Within the same collaborative theme, I was impressed by the global, well-attended, brainstorm sessions upon the arrival of new RfPs, and how individuals’ success is frequently recognised and celebrated, calling out those who have gone above and beyond, who have ‘stepped in’ when needed, or have delivered a great project.

Finding my place

HRW had made a great first impression. Now I was feeling faced with the slightly daunting task of ‘proving my worth’: to demonstrate that it was a good decision to hire me.

I am of the mindset that delivering quality rather than talking about what you are capable of is by far a greater indicator of someone’s value. As a tight-knit company, I think it is relatively easy at HRW to identify what an individual is contributing, and my input has been recognised. I have had the opportunity to direct projects, gain exposure to many types of methodologies and approaches, get involved and lead OR:BIT initiatives, contribute to marketing ideas, grow client relationships, and input into the future direction of HRW’s oncology presence. I have been given the freedom to shape my role, and while my role is still evolving, I now feel comfortable in what I am offering HRW and the value I bring, and thankfully it seems the feeling is mutual.


It is unusual to say the least, to have a lockdown imposed less than three months into starting a new position, which has undoubtedly come with unexpected challenges. Having two young children, my main concern was juggling work with childcare and attempting to ‘home school’ my daughter. It became apparent early on that I am not cut out to be a teacher and even if I did possess any kind of teaching abilities it was near on impossible to implement them with my three-year-old son intent on sabotaging every attempt made.

That being said, my husband and I found a daily rhythm that enabled us to continue working (without completely neglecting our children!). HRW have been supportive and flexible throughout lockdown and I am extremely grateful to my line manager, Jo, for her understanding of my situation. While it has been difficult, continuing to work throughout lockdown has given a sense of normalcy to an otherwise extraordinary situation. Looking back, it now feels strange to think I was concerned about my request to work from home now that we all are doing it.

The continuous influx of RfPs throughout lockdown has proven there is a constant demand for market research and HRW’s ability to continue to deliver has shown that remote working and use of innovative virtual methodologies can work well (my colleague, Rhiannon Phillips has written an excellent blog on the subject if you’re interested in another read!)

I am acutely aware that the difficulties I have encountered during lockdown pale to insignificance when thinking about the impact of COVID-19 on others. Thinking about cancer patients, the real impact of COVID-19 on cancer survival rates will only likely be fully apparent in years to come: but with reports of screening suspended, routine diagnostic work deferred, patients delaying seeking medical advice, cancellation of surgical procedures, delaying of treatment initiation…not to mention the impact on cancer charities essential in funding research among many other factors negatively impacted, there will undoubtedly, and tragically, be a rise in the number of avoidable cancer deaths.

Highlights so far…

There are many, but to highlight a few…

Working with HRW’s behavioural science team, Shift, has really opened my eyes to the impact of applying behavioural science to get underneath the surface of beliefs and observed behaviours. HRW’s Shift team are truly experts in their field and have a real passion for what they do—I have found working alongside them hugely interesting and rewarding.

Being given the opportunity to attend the virtual 2020 ASCO annual congress and the 25th European Hematology Association (EHA 25) virtual annual meeting has also been a highlight for me. As I have mentioned in my blogs from these conferences, I find these events incredibly inspiring and it’s remarkable to see the advances being made in cancer care. I was quick to move to market research after completing my PhD, but my relatively short time spent in academia has given me some insight into the time, effort, collaboration, and investment that must be needed for successful cancer drug development.

Finally, a particularly enjoyable part of my role has been establishing and growing client relationships. Client satisfaction is the ultimate goal from a project, and so receiving positive client feedback has been extremely gratifying!

Final thoughts

Six months on, I can now say with confidence that I have no regrets in my decision to join HRW. I look forward to developing my role further, sharing my expertise, learning from my colleagues, and supporting clients with their oncology market research needs…not to mention enjoying HRW’s social calendar once up and running again!


By Gemma McConnell

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