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Collaboration versus Concentration: The Office

Posted by Brook White on Wed, Nov 07, 2018 @ 09:47 AM

Quick quiz for fans of The Office: Can you remember where each employee sat in the Scranton Dunder Mifflin office?  Even if you can’t get it perfect, chances are you can close your eyes and envision the layout.  The office was open with very few physical boundaries between desks.  Employees could see each other face-to-face and hear one another at all times.  It was a set deliberately configured to create the awkward interactions and comedic conflict that made the series so popular.  The design was perfect for sitcom parody, but it was disastrous for productivity.  

The open office concept has gained popularity in recent years, even becoming a sort of corporate status symbol suggesting that a company values openness, collaboration, and innovation.  However, recent research suggests the open office has the exact opposite effect on employees – reducing in-person interactions, driving up email and IM use, and diminishing productivity.  Several reasons have been given for these results, including: offices are too noisy and distracting, employees feel a loss of privacy and more stress, and individuals prioritize “looking busy” over doing impactful work.  

To quote Michael Scott, “We don’t hate it.  We just don’t like it at all, and it’s terrible.”

deep work, concentrationThe problem is not that having places of open collaboration are bad, it’s that an office cannot be constructed around this virtue alone.  Employees also need time for distraction-free, heads-down, concentration work.  In Deep Work, Cal Newport praises an alternative layout that maximizes the benefits of both “serendipitous encounters and isolated deep thinking,” which he dubs a hub-and-spoke design.  The concept is simple: have quiet personal areas of working that minimize distraction and interruption that are connected to large common areas that facilitate teamwork, mutual inspiration, brainstorming, and idea sharing.  

We took these lessons to heart when designing our new office space.  

collaboration and team workThe upper floors, which will house most employees’ work spaces, are built around the hub-and-spoke design.  Collaboration spaces (conference rooms, war rooms, huddle rooms, the pantry) are centrally located with cubes and offices spreading out from there.  Within the individual workspace areas, we alternate rows of cubes and offices which will dampen sound and prevent large areas of noisy cubes.  We are also providing more spaces for quiet concentration away from your desk with Focus Rooms, offices equipped with treadmill desks for shared use, and Libraries.  On the first floor, in addition to the main conference room suite, there will be more opportunities for collaboration with a much larger Hub and adjoining Game Room, and larger Patio.

We are really excited about the new space, but at the end of the day, it is still just an office.  A building doesn’t make us special.  Our employees do.  The best our physical workspace can do is provide a structure conducive to good work, but the onus is on each of us to adopt and implement productive behaviors.  

A primary goal of our new headquarters is to build a workspace that makes people excited about where they work.  We look forward to seeing how the move to the new building supports Deep Work and improves our collective productivity.

Ryan2Ryan Bailey, MA is a Senior Clinical Researcher at Rho.  He has over 10 years of experience conducting multicenter asthma research studies, including the Inner City Asthma Consortium (ICAC) and the Community Healthcare for Asthma Management and Prevention of Symptoms (CHAMPS) project.  Ryan is also part of the team at Rho that encourages and facilitates Deep Work.

What Makes a SuperheRho: More Than a Coworker in a Cape

Posted by Karley St. Pierre on Tue, Nov 14, 2017 @ 09:33 AM

“Who’s your favorite superhero?” No matter your age or gender, this question is commonly asked. It’s an ice-breaker of sorts—a response can tell a lot about someone’s personality and values. There are the typical, almost obvious answers—Batman, Superman, etc. Maybe you’d have a Marvel enthusiast throw in Iron Man for good measure. Or you could have someone aptly choose Wonder Woman as their favorite, what with this year’s blockbuster film making great strides in its genre. Regardless of who you choose the idea behind it is the same: who is someone you look up to, someone who can do anything incredibly. Superheroes are often thought of as being larger-than-life, having these unbelievable powers and instincts. They make great characters because their attributes are so incredible and uncommon. Yet, what we often forget is that we actually have superheroes around us every day, in real life—and at Rho. Between conducting clinical trials, giving keynote speeches at conferences, and participating in local philanthropy events, employees at Rho consistently go above and beyond. So, it comes as no surprise that we showcase our superhero staff when the time is right.

This past September, Rho celebrated being named to the Triangle Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” list for 2017. The local publication holds nominations each year and honors the winners at a celebratory luncheon. Rho has been fortunate to receive this honor for 6 consecutive years, and each year Rho’s attendees choose their favorite hero-inspired shirt to wear. “When I was asked what character I wanted to be, at first I thought it was silly,” said Lane Bissett, a Business Development Associate with Rho. “Of course, I picked Wonder Woman like all the other ladies, but when I put on the shirt, it hit me.” Lane said that seeing herself alongside her Rho teammates, all wearing their chosen superhero tees, put an idea in her head. “We all are so different, but we all have these qualities that make us work great as a team. Representing Rho as this unified group of people felt really surreal.” Much like superhero squads in the movies, our team at Rho consists of many different personalities, strengths and talents. Whether it be a Clinical Research Associate or a Clinical Project Manager, every Rho employee has the opportunity to showcase their skill and knowledge while also learning from others. It’s a kind of collaboration that not only works but can be hard to find. 


It’s this idea that makes Rho special—this unification of people and personalities towards one purpose and goal.  At Rho, that core purpose is to improve health, extend life, and enhance quality of life through corporate and research excellence. Each employee who represented Rho at the Triangle Business Journal Luncheon came from different sectors, holding different positions within the organization. “I was really proud when the announcers mentioned how Rho has won for the past 6 years,” said Joyce Lau, Research Associate. “It made us all feel kind of invincible,” she continued, “and it made me realize that there is a reason we can call ourselves superheroes here. We definitely had the most spirit, and it showed!” Throughout those 6 years, Rho has continued to see tremendous growth and opportunity, especially when it comes to adding more superheroes to the team. “When I came to Rho, the first thing I noticed was how great the people are,” Lane added. “Every day I feel lucky to work with the people I do, and it makes me excited to think of new hires joining and getting to see how amazing we are.” 

Shortly after Rho was honored at TBJ’s luncheon, we also celebrated our fiscal year end. At the celebration, employees were able to enjoy delicious food, interact with our CEOs and founders, and take home some pretty awesome Rho backpacks. “It felt like an early Christmas,”  said Joyce. “It just goes to show how much the people at Rho really care about you, really going above and beyond what you’d expect.” The year end celebration was a superhero convention it its own way—all our phenomenal heroes in one place.


It’s not just the luncheons and gatherings that make us excited and proud to wear the title of “SuperheRho.” Just like the characters in comic books, every day brings a new challenge to face and every day we get to use our strengths to rise to the occasion. Recognition can be nice, but that’s not why superheroes do what they do. There’s an internal push for excellence and success, which Rho mirrors in our core values. So when we get asked who our favorite superhero is, chances are it’s someone here at Rho.


Thoughts from Our CEO: Supporting Schools through Donors Choose

Posted by Brook White on Mon, Dec 07, 2015 @ 09:45 AM

Laura Helms ReeceRuss HelmsRho co-CEOs Laura Helms Reece, Dr.P.H. and Russ Helms, Ph.D. share the importance of public education to NC businesses.

Rho is our chance to make the world a better place. We do that in big, sweeping ways – healing the sick. We do it in smaller, more personal ways like how we build this business. One way is to make our community better. Rho isn't in a bubble—we are firmly settled right here in the Triangle.

education.jpgWe believe strongly that a strong public education system makes NC's business community stronger. It makes Rho stronger. That's why we've supported the NC Science Fair for several years and it's why we wrote this editorial for the N&O.

The General Assembly hasn’t listened to what we and other business leaders have said. We decided talk is cheap and we're going to put our money where our mouths are. Donors Choose is an organization where teachers advertise unfunded or underfunded projects and ask for donations. In September, Rho funded every science & math project at high poverty schools in Wake, Durham, and Orange counties for a total of $18,500 and 20 projects. Additionally, we gave each employee a $25 Donors Choose gift card to spend on the school or project of their choice for an additional contribution of $9,500 and a total donation of $28,000 for NC public schools.

The thank you notes we’ve received from teachers have touched us. This is one we found particularly moving:

Just today I had a student express to me that he loves coming to my class because he feels "like a real scientist". My response was, of course, to reinforce that he IS a real scientist, and to tell him that his joy in his scientific achievement means the world to me. Thank you for being part of my team! Your donations are the fuel for the learning and growth that happens in my classroom. We accomplish so much more through your generosity.

Public schools face budget shortages each year, shortages that are frequently made up by teachers paying for needed supplies out of their own pockets.  Funding gaps in our schools contribute to the weakening of public education, which creates huge risks to the business climate in North Carolina.  Our donation funded math and science programs such as:

  • Materials for middle school students to create and organize engineering notebooks
  • DynaMath magazine subscriptions and real world math problem solving kits
  • Hands-on science and STEM activities such as building and sustaining a classroom river tank ecosystem
This is just one way we make our community better.  We are challenging other businesses across the state and the country to support students and teachers in the public school education system.

Rho’s Book Club: The Happiness Advantage

Posted by Brook White on Tue, Jul 14, 2015 @ 09:34 AM
Rho CEO Laura Helms ReeceRho CEO Russ HelmsRho co-CEOs Laura Helms Reece, Dr.P.H. and Russ Helms, Ph.D. have started a book club for Rho featuring books that help employees grow personally and professionally and that support Rho’s company culture.  The book club was recently featured in the Triangle Business Journal.

Late last year, we decided to form a company book club as one of the latest additions to the programs we offer to maintain high employee engagement. Our goals are to select books that help our employees to grow both personally and professionally and books that help reinforce our values and company culture. We hope our employees will gain a fresh perspective on their job at Rho, their relationships with co-workers, and their relationships with clients. The discussion part of the book club gives employees an opportunity to share their ideas with co-workers and to hear from us about why we think the book is important.

For our most recent book, we chose The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor (you can get a sneak peek of the book by watching his TedTalk). Why did we choose it? We want happy employees! Not only do we think generally happy employees are part of the corporate excellence we strive for, but we think happy employees make for happier customers, and that’s good for business. In this book, Shawn Achor presents evidence that happiness leads to success—not the other way around. It’s a virtuous cycle. If we work at it, we can make ourselves happier and more successful. It takes practice, but it’s worth the effort. In addition to providing support for this view, the book provides actionable steps for making ourselves happier. What’s not to love?
Here we will summarize some key points from the book and some key take-away messages from the book club discussion. The book covers a lot of ground, so this article will focus on a few of the most important messages and those that have the most direct application to our workplace and workforce.

Happiness Leads to Success, Not the Other Way Around

happiness leads to successThe book begins by helping us to understand what happiness is, providing support for the book’s main assertion—happiness leads to success, not the other way around—and demonstrating that this stuff actually works. Happiness can be hard to define, but we’re taking it to mean a positive mood now and a positive outlook. Ten common adjectives associated with happiness are joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. Three measurable components of happiness are pleasure, engagement, and meaning. The measurement part is important because the basis of the book is not speculation, but rather grounded in scientific study.
Happiness is not just a mood, it is a work ethic. Little doses of positivity can gradually move our “set point” (how we usually feel) higher over time. Some activities that have been proven to work for some individuals are meditation, anticipating something happy, conscious acts of kindness, a more positive environment, exercise, spending money on experiences and other people, and utilizing a personal strength. But perhaps the most valuable intervention is practicing gratitude. Throughout the book, Achor presents a number of specific ways people can practice gratitude. For instance, one method that has been repeatedly linked to a higher level of happiness is keeping a daily gratitude journal.
Leaders, in particular, can improve the happiness of others—and practice gratitude—by providing frequent recognition and encouragement. This works best when the encouragement or recognition are specific and deliberately delivered. Some options for doing this include sending a complimentary email, stopping by to say thanks, making time in meetings to talk about one person who deserves recognition, and asking other leaders or executives to contact an employee who deserves recognition. As a result of this book club, our Leadership Team is experimenting with an idea from the book: dedicating a portion of certain routine meetings to describe employee performances we’ve observed that make us grateful, and picking someone to go say an extra “thank you.”

The Fulcrum and the Lever

The fulcrum and the lever is a metaphor used to describe changing your mindset to increase your happiness. The lever is how much potential we think we have and the fulcrum is the mindset we use to generate change power. Moving the fulcrum towards a negative mindset creates more negativity by enhancing your ability to experience unhappiness. Moving the fulcrum towards a positive mindset does the opposite—it enhances your ability to experience happiness, and makes it easier to be aware of all the reasons to be happy.
balance-fulcrum and leverOne example used to illustrate this principle was a week-long experiment on a group of 75 year old men. The men went on a retreat where they were told to pretend that it was 1959. They were supposed to dress and act as they did at the time, had ID pictures of themselves at that time, and talked about events that occurred in 1959. An amazing thing occurred—their mental construction of their age changed their physiological age. Prior to the retreat, the men were measured on aspects we assume deteriorate with age—physical strength, posture, perception, cognition, and short-term memory. By the end of the retreat, the men had improved in every aspect.
An important conversation we had during the book club session was about our mindset about our work. We discussed job crafting—changing your mindset to make your job a calling. We talked about what potential meaning and pleasure exist in our jobs. Our core purpose—to improve health, extend life, and improve the quality of life via corporate and research excellence—makes it easy for many of our employees to find meaning in our work. Many also find meaning in more specific ways—providing excellent service to our clients, helping make a co-workers day better, or achieving a project milestone with their team. Recognizing the meaning and sources of pleasure in our jobs can make us happier at work.

The Tetris Effect

tetris effectThe Tetris Effect is based on a study where students were paid to play Tetris for hours each day. Following study, some students couldn’t stop dreaming about shapes falling from the sky while some students saw Tetris shapes everywhere they went. This is now used to more broadly describe someone who is stuck in a pattern of thinking or behaving. This can have positive or negative implications depending on what patterns of thinking or behaving you train your brain to follow. The key point is that whatever you practice, you experience everywhere, even in very different contexts.
In the example of playing Tetris each day, it can be negative. There are few practical implications to seeing shapes falling from the sky everywhere you go. This is also true for grumpy people. People who practice spotting things to complain about will find things to complain about everywhere and all the time.
On the other hand, people who practice spotting positive things—say, things that provoke gratitude—will find reasons to experience gratitude everywhere and all the time. Train your brain to look for the positive and you will see more opportunities for growth and more chances to help others grow. Our minds respond strongly to training and practice. One way to make this a practice is to start each day by making a list of three blessings (one form of a gratitude journal). Alternatively, you can make a short journal entry each day about a great experience you’ve had. Make these a habit and you increase your chances to seize on positive opportunities.
Achor reminds us that we can’t ignore reality—we shouldn’t ignore real risks; but, at the same time, we can give more priority, weight, and attention to the positive, and thus experience more of the positive.

Falling Up

falling upThe key to Falling Up is learning to use adversity and failure to get ahead. Those who see failure as horrible are traumatized by it. Those who see it as a chance to learn, grow. Whether an experience has a positive outcome isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond. That’s why we discourage blame here at Rho and encourage lessons. 
One way to make this happen is to adopt a positive explanatory style. What does that mean? Look at adversity as something that is temporary and local. Compare your outcome to possible outcomes that are worse. Changing both your inward and outward dialogue about failure and adversity can change how you actually feel about it.

Social Investment

communications-networkWhen we encounter an unexpected challenge, the best way to save ourselves is to hold tight to the folks around us. Things get tough for all of us from time to time, yet people tend to respond in one of two distinct ways. One way is to close people out. Final exams are coming, so you lock yourself in a study carrel for weeks without outside contact. Or, you reach out and connect. You intentionally set aside time to go out and have fun with your friends. The group that takes the second direction consistently performs better and is happier. This applies to work settings too.
This principle should change how we as leaders spend our time. Time spent building and reinforcing relationships is almost always time well spent. Make eye contact. Ask interested questions. Schedule face-to-face meetings. Initiate conversations that aren’t always task oriented. When good things happen, actively respond.
This is an important part of why we at Rho emphasize relationships and a team culture. A team culture has always been a Core Value of ours: what we do is mentally demanding and difficult, and we’ve always found we do it better when we enjoy the support of our teammates. As part of that, we have long emphasized that a key expectation of all employees at Rho is to foster good relationships. Results are great, but we expect our employees to create their results in a way that builds relationships. We’ve found that’s good for business—it’s nice to learn that it’s a contributor to happiness, too!

Up Next

For our next book club session we will be reading and discussing Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
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Rho’s Book Club: Brain Rules

Posted by Brook White on Thu, Mar 19, 2015 @ 03:06 PM
Rho CEO Laura Helms ReeceRho CEO Russ HelmsRho co-CEOs Laura Helms Reece, Dr.P.H. and Russ Helms, Ph.D. have started a book club for Rho featuring books that help employees grow personally and professionally and that support Rho’s company culture.  The book club was recently featured in the Triangle Business Journal.
Late last year, we decided to form a company book club as one of the latest additions to the programs we offer to maintain high employee engagement. Our goals are to select books that help our employees to grow both personally and professionally and books that help reinforce our values and company culture. We hope our employees will gain a fresh perspective on their job at Rho, their relationships with co-workers, and their relationships with clients. The discussion part of the book club gives employees an opportunity to share their ideas with co-workers and to hear from us about why we think the book is important.

knowledge-shareFor our first book, we chose Brain Rules by John Medina. Why did we choose it? We make our living with our brains, so it’s valuable to understand how they work and how to optimize their performance. This book makes learning about such a complex topic relatively easy and accessible, even for people with a limited background in biology or neuroscience.

Here we will summarize some key points from the book and wrap-up with some key take-away messages from the book club discussion. The book covers a lot of ground, so this article will focus on a few of the most important messages and those that have the most direct application to our workplace and workforce.


Over the course of the vast majority of human evolution, we moved—a lot. Pre-civilization, people walked up to twelve miles a day. Now, we don’t. Many of us spend hours a day sitting or relatively sedentary, despite scientific demonstration of the many benefits of exercise and physical activity. In particular, the brain benefits from high levels of physical activity. Exercise has been shown to help with cognitive exercisefunction, executive function, long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, and fluid-intelligence tasks. Students who spend more time on exercise and less time on academics do better academically.

The lesson here is that if we want to do better work, we need to move more. We’ve already started making some changes at Rho. We make treadmill desks available, employees have the option of standing desks, and we’ve had walking paths set up near our building to encourage walking breaks and walking meetings.

Not everyone is going to be, or should try to be, a triathlete, but unless you are already exercising more than ten hours a week, we encourage all our employees to be a little more active.


There are several important lessons when it comes to attention, all of which have direct bearing on how we work. The first is that we don’t pay attention to things that are boring. In the work place, that means if we want people to pay attention to our message, whether in a presentation, an email, or a meeting, it can’t be boring. Emotions do get our attention, so making an emotional connection can help us gain and keep attention.

Another important concept is that meaning needs to come before details. Making connections between ideas is necessary if we need to pay attention to the associated details. One suggestion that comes out of these concepts is a suggestion for structuring presentations. Structuring talks in 10 minute chunks that start with an engaging story and then dive into the details will help your audience pay attention.

Finally, our brains don’t multi-task. The end result when we multi-task is that tasks take longer and result in more errors. We can increase productivity by limiting our interruptions and setting aside dedicated time for important tasks.

Sleep Well, Think Well

sleep-brainSleep—getting enough of it, getting the right kind of it, and getting it at the right times—is critical to the performance of our brains. Lack of sleep hurts attention, executive function, immediate memory, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning ability, and general math knowledge. Some of us are larks (get up early and go to sleep early), some of us are owls (get up late, stay up late), and some of us are hummingbirds (somewhere in between larks and owls). Moving away from these natural rhythms is very difficult for most people and can lead to decreased performance. This is one of the reasons we try to give people a fair amount of flexibility in when they work, as long as the work is getting done and they are meeting the needs of their customers and teammates. We’ve noticed that introducing this language (owls, larks, hummingbirds) has already changed the way we negotiate meeting times—we’re able to schedule things so everybody is alert.

We also encourage employees to think about how sleep impacts their work productivity. Staying up late and working may actually decrease your productivity rather than getting a healthy amount of sleep and coming to work focused and energized. This is something we are dealing with primarily by educating and encouraging our employees. We also believe in respecting our employees’ autonomy and privacy, so actively managing employee sleep patterns is not something we are interested in doing.

The evidence is clear: short naps in the afternoon can have a very positive impact on performance. We are still mulling this one over. Despite the scientific evidence of the value of naps, there are difficult issues associated with encouraging naps in the workplace—issues of hygiene, culture, propriety, and management. Though the discussion about nap rooms sparked a lively conversation, we haven’t dedicated any square footage to them yet.

Use More of Your Senses, Especially Sight

transparentWhen we deliver information using multiple senses, it makes more of an impact and is easier to remember. Presentations with pictures and words are far better for teaching than words alone. Additionally, text and pictures presented at the same time and in close proximity are better. Animation with narration is superior to animation with text. In general, the more senses that can be integrated the better. Even associating smells with certain ideas or information can help remember that information later. That said, all senses are not equal. The brain spends up to half of its energy processing images, and there is evidence that the brain will ignore other senses when what you see doesn’t line up with what you smell, taste, hear, etc. For example, expert wine tasters can be fooled into believing white wine is red wine by changing the appearance.

How are we using this? It has changed the way we present. When we do use PowerPoint, we are moving to rely more on images rather than slide after slide of text. In our sales presentations, we are moving away from PowerPoint entirely in exchange for white board presentations.

Top 3 Lessons

Our discussions covered many topics and it seems that each participant took away something different.  There are three lessons, however, that we feel are key for improving performance as individuals and as a company:

  • Get more exercise
  • Don't multi-task
  • Images trump text

Up Next

For our next book club session we will be reading and discussing Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage.  You can get a sneak peek of the topic by watching this TedTalk.  

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Rho Goes to Summer School: Solving Problems and Improving Life

Posted by Brook White on Mon, Jul 28, 2014 @ 04:07 PM

For the past four summers, Rho has participated in the Industrial Math/Stat Modeling Workshop (IMSM) hosted by the National Science Foundation-supported Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI). The workshop, a joint program of Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University, exposes graduate students in mathematics, engineering, and statistics to real-world challenges arising in industrial and government research. SAMSI students break out into small teams and spend a week collaborating on projects brought to IMSM by corporate and government research teams.

The 2014 IMSM workshop wrapped up this week. Rho was one of five project presenters, along the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, and SAS. Rho was represented at the workshop by Rho’s CEO Dr. Russ Helms, Rho’s Vice President of Federal Operations, Dr. Herman Mitchell, and statistical scientist Agustin Calatroni. Rho partnered with SAMSI researcher, Dr. Sanvesh Srivastava, to present students with the challenge of developing predictive models for allergen exposure and asthma using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2005-2006.

Agustin Calatroni and Herman Mitchell with SAMSI students















Agustin Calatroni (far left) and Herman Mitchell (far right) with students from the SAMSI program.

NHANES 2005-2006 was the first study of its kind to compile nationwide data on asthma, allergies, and home allergen exposures. As a result, for the first time in history, researchers have access to a nationally-representative sample of allergen sensitization, asthma, and home environment data. One goal of the IMSM project is to tap into the home environment data to predict exposure to specific allergens which may exacerbate asthma. At present, the only definitive tests for allergen exposure are through direct sampling methods like dust collection. Direct sampling methods are more accurate than self-reports from surveys, but they are also inconvenient (for both families and researchers), expensive, and time consuming. If a reliable predictive model for specific allergen exposures could be developed based on self-reported questionnaire data, it may reduce the need for direct sampling.

The analytical challenge for the IMSM students was twofold. First, the team had to figure out how to manage the massive data set, including how to cope with missing information. Second, the team had to develop statistically and mathematically rigorous algorithms that could accurately predict asthma/exposure from the other information provided in the dataset.

The challenges addressed by the SAMSI team mirror the challenges Rho researchers work on every day – complex data management, applied biostatistics, innovative problem solving. More importantly, the students were given the opportunity to work on a real world problem – expanding our understanding of asthma so we can develop better treatments.

Rho’s values are driven by our core purpose: to improve health, extend life, and enhance quality of life through corporate and research excellence. Participating in events like the IMSM give us a chance to share not only our knowledge, but also our core values with the next generation of researchers, statisticians, and scientists. Our aim is to instill our passion for conducting research, solving problems, and improving health in these future leaders.

To read more about the 2014 IMSM Workshop by click here. To access a detailed report on the 2014 IMSM projects, including the work done by the Rho team, click here.


If you are interested in statistical innovation, check out this video featuring Agustin Calatroni discussing graphic visualization of multivariate data.

View "Visualizing Multivariate Data" Video

Rho Turns 30

Posted by Brook White on Thu, Feb 06, 2014 @ 10:57 AM

On Thursday, January 23rd, Rho launched its 30 year anniversary celebration at the Cotton Room in downtown Durham, NC during our annual, January company-wide meeting.

Statisticians and Programmers Arrive in a LimoEmployees made the journey from as far west as sunny California and as far north as blustery New York. Some local employees chose to get creative with their short commute by arriving in a limo! Five biostatisticians and five programmers decided on a whim that it would be a fun way to carpool to the meeting, where they knew parking would be limited. They specifically requested a white limo, reasoning that black might have been too classy for the occasion. (Pictured l-r: Kristen Harrington, Stacey Murphy, Carol Baker, Richard Addy, Charity Quick, Heather Dineen, Ben Vaughn, Leela Aertker, Paul Nguyen, Rob Woolson).

Co-CEO, Laura Helms Reece, praised the group’s originality in her remarks during the meeting by stating it was “a great example of Rho’s particular brand of quirky.” And indeed, it was. Despite the positive attention they received and the fun they had, the limo carpoolers did have one regret. Their limo didn’t have a sunroof. Maybe next time.

Company meeting buffetA coffee station and a southern breakfast provided a warm welcome as employees arrived. After everyone had their fill of caffeine, eggs, biscuits, and grits, Laura Helms Reece and Russ Helms, Co-CEOs, gave a brief presentation on the company’s goals for 2014, which include supporting and diversifying growth and continuing to support the development of leaders across the company Additionally, Russ and Laura reminded the audience of Rho’s entrepreneurial roots and commitment to chasing excellence while staying true to what makes Rho, Rho (great people, excellent customer service, and a family friendly culture).

airplane buildingOnce breakfast and business were out of the way, it was time to have a little fun! And what better way to celebrate 30 years of business than with a good, old-fashioned paper airplane contest? Each table, made up of 10 Rho employees, made a team. Every team was provided with a “paper airplane kit” which included paper, scissors, branding materials for decorating their planes, and instructions for plane design options. Each team had 30 minutes to construct and decorate their plane before the first leg of the competition kicked off. 


Distance judges assumed their positions and team-assigned pilots took their marks.

Distance judges Stefanie Gagliardi and Beth Olenairplane distance contestairplane distance contest

Above left (Stefanie Gagliardi, CRA,(l) and Beth Olen, Senior Clinical Data Project Manager,(r) served as official distance judges).  Above center and above right (Team "Pilots" fly their planes in the distance competition).

After several rounds of distance competitions, the team whose plane went the furthest, “Skid Rho,” was rewarded with the “Longest Flight” award. 

airplane contest winnerOnce everyone returned to Rho, employees were able to take a closer look at all of the planes on display and vote on several additional categories including Best Name: AirRhoPlane, Best Constructed: Live and Let Rho and Flights. Right. On Time, Best Branded: Rholling Thunder, and Best All Around: Rholling Thunder.

Brian Goeckerman, Clinical Data Associate, commented on the paper airplane activity by saying, “The airplane competition was great fun because it was a chance to collaborate with some awesome people and develop an idea into a tangible product. It was very exciting to see all the different ways that groups decided to approach the same challenge and see which strategy soared above the others.”

All in all, the event was a great way to kick off our 30th year of business and re-commit to the ideals that have made us what we are today—a company of smart, creative, quirky, hard-working individuals who are truly one team committed to excellence.

Celebrating Our 29th Year

Posted by Brook White on Tue, Dec 03, 2013 @ 05:25 PM

End of year celebrationWe recently celebrated the end of our 29th year with an employee party at our main office, which included food trucks, ice cream, Rho-branded hoodies, and profit-sharing bonus checks. Co-CEOs Laura Helms Reece and Russ Helms shared some thoughts about important events of the past year and about our future.  What follows is a summary of their remarks, minus some confidential information.

From Laura:

I get to to share some of the amazing stories of the last year. I want to start with the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. This year, Rho nominated Russ and me for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Rho nominates us for awards from time to time and usually nothing comes of it. So, I wasn’t expecting much from this time either. Still, Brook White wrote a beautiful nomination and Russ and I dressed up for the local interview.

It was actually a really fun interview. We got to talk about the things at Rho that make us the most proud. We talked about what happens when smart, talented people care about the important work they do. We talked about getting the culture right. We talked about keeping the culture right. We talked about our cultural fit interviews, new hire lunches with the CEOs, and Breakfast with the Board. We talked about our flexible workplace that allows all of us to balance our jobs and our other responsibilities. We talked about project-centered teams producing amazing results for our clients and giving people opportunities to try to master new things. We talked about Rho24 and Innovation Showcases [Rho24 is a day we set aside twice a year for the entire company to focus on innovation]. We talked about our theme for this year, “Know your project”.

At one point, one of the interviewers asked how we manage all the maternity leaves. I laughed at that one. You have no idea how much management time is spent on coordinating maternity leave around here. I explained about people pulling together and stepping up to the plate. Then he asked, “What percentage of women come back to work?” I must have looked stunned. We’ve never thought to measure that. After all, we’re not exactly managing to it. I thought about it and said, truthfully, “We’ve never really spent time on that metric. Maybe one woman a year doesn’t come back. Maybe it’s one woman every two years.” The panel looked stunned and scribbled notes as fast as they could.

Much to Russ’ and my surprise, we made the next round. We were finalists! Of course, based on our previous experience, I assumed everyone was a finalist. None the less, we put our suits back on and headed to Charlotte. And yes, Russ wore dress shoes. Tara [Gladwell] made me promise I’d check.

The Charlotte interview was tougher. My first hint of that came at lunch. First of all, there were only 2 female finalists in Charlotte. At Rho, that’s not my day-to-day experience. But the real give away came when we discussed the awards gala. You see, Ernst and Young throws a very fancy awards gala for all the finalists. Originally, Russ and I had a deal: I’d handle the gala. Unfortunately for Russ, the gala was the same night as Elle’s [Laura’s oldest child] preschool graduation. So, Russ had to represent us at the gala. Come on! My girl learned songs. There was a cap and a gown. There was a cute diploma. I wasn’t going to miss that!

This was a shock to the folks in Charlotte. Couldn’t my husband attend the graduation? This was my first serious clue that this was not my tribe.

After lunch, we did the interviews. These interviewers were more assertive and used more business jargon. Since Russ and I took over as CEOs, our revenues had increased dramatically and costs hadn’t. What did we do? So Russ and I talked about what we always talk about: smart, talented people who care about the work they do. We talked about mastery. We talked about work that matters. We talked about a supportive environment. We talked about a flat organizational structure that shrunk our overhead costs. We talked about moving a project rock star into a sales leadership position. Honestly, I think we shared every last secret.

Finally, one of the interviewers interrupted us: “We’ve heard enough about your great people. What processes and systems did you change?” He wanted a secret sauce. Our employees are our secret sauce. That’s what we’ve got.

It turned out that less than 5% of the applicants became finalists. And the list of finalists was humbling for me. We didn’t win. Our secret sauce did pretty well though.

At the start of the fiscal year, we had 328 employees. We now have 340. In case you were wondering, we’ve had 26 babies this year. That’s 1 baby for every 13 employees. And while that’s a management challenge, it’s a wonderful challenge to have. We’re fortunate to have those challenges. (By the way, 2014 is shaping up to be a baby-filled year, too.) We jump in and help out and work around employee needs. I’m thrilled for every new baby. I’m sad with every sick parent. But with all the human stuff we struggle with, we struggle together. And I am so proud to be part of this team.

So other than babies, how did we do? We’ve done some really cool work this year. From NDAs for drugs that fulfill an unmet medical need to trials on biologics with the potential to save lives, the work we do matters. It saves lives and changes lives for the better. We can all be proud of the work we do.

From Russ:

This has been a pretty good year. Looking forward, we think next year is likely to be a bit better, but the promise is not without risk or without challenges. Right now, because of an improving economy in our industry and some great work by our commercial business development professionals, we have extremely strong commercial sales. That's led to the strongest commercial backlog we've ever had (backlog means work we've sold but haven't done yet).

One of our challenges is that there's a lot of work to be done. As you've probably noticed, that growth in sales has led to some growth in headcount. There are a number of new faces at Rho, and we're not done expanding. Maintaining our excellence, maintaining a customer experience of unrivalled quality, and maintaining our culture of caring are all challenges in the face of growth.

As part of our stability strategy, we like to keep our work in the federal and commercial markets balanced, so one of our challenges is increasing federal wins to keep pace. We're going to do that despite a challenging funding environment, which means taking away work from competitors. Our competitors are pretty good, but they don't provide a customer experience to rival our quality.

These are tough challenges. These are the kind of challenges that come from success, and they’re the kind of challenges we want to face. It's because you are so talented and because you work so well in a team culture that we've had the successes. And for those same reasons we're highly confident that we can meet the challenges we see.

But I hope you're sitting there asking yourself, “Great, what can I do to help?”

Here's what you can do:

  • Keep creating results

  • Keep building relationships

  • Keep having a positive impact

Build Results

  • Delight your customers! 

  • Make steady, daily progress

  • Publish 

  • Know your projects-

    *Your results will be better if you know the science on all your projects
    *Your results will be better if know the finances on all your projects
    *Your results will be better if you can help out in areas outside your expertise 

Improve relationships

  • Improve your relationships with your teammates: Understand their contribution, help them out, and smooth out the handoffs.

  • Improve your relationships with your clients: The more you know about what your clients want, the better you can help them reach their goals.

  • Improve your relationships with your colleagues: Catch them doing something right, and reinforce it. Welcome the new faces, and show them the Rho Way.

Increase your impact

The last major thing you can do is to improve your impact.  On your projects, you're doing it by knowing your project.  Take initiative, and collaborate.  Do that beyond your projects, too.  When you have ideas, write them down and try them out in Rho24 days.  If you didn't write them down, participate in the Rho24 days to help with someone else's idea, there are plenty of ways to contribute!  Go to the innovation showcases, and figure out ways to apply what you see.  There are lots of little things you can do to improve your impact.  

As always, what you can do boils down to results, relationships, and impact.  

Let me finish up with a reminder of why I think this is all worth doing. Earlier this year, I went to a steering committee meeting. There I met a patient from one of our trials. This young lady had a kidney transplant as a teenager. The drugs she got along with that new kidney suppressed her immune system. By the time she was in college, she was in a wheelchair, because her feet and leg were so covered with sores. Her transplant gave her life, but took away her ability to walk. She entered one of our studies, she got off those immunosuppressive drugs, she got out of her wheelchair, she started running, and now she runs marathons.

That's what we do, folks. Sometimes it works. Sometimes we give people their lives back.

Choose Rho as Your Clinical Research Provider

What's Happening at Rho

Posted by Brook White on Mon, Oct 28, 2013 @ 04:13 PM

We kicked off the 2014 fiscal year with exciting company events spanning from the end of September through the month of October. Monday, September 30th, Rho hosted a company-wide lunch, celebrating the end of another successful fiscal year. Pie Pushers, American Meltdown, and Gussy’s food trucks attended giving employees a wide variety of options to treat their taste buds.  Employees also enjoyed having their caricatures made, taking home frame-worthy portraits along with gray, hooded sweatshirts with the Rho logo as corporate thank you gifts.

American Meltdown food truckdescribe the image

Top left: Employees wait in line for the American Meltdown food truck;  Top right: Herman Mitchell shows off his new hooded sweatshirt

Karen Kesler and her caricature“I love the end of year celebration and this year’s definitely didn’t disappoint! Besides getting to hang out and see folks that I don’t always run into, the food truck lunch was a spectacular idea and I have my caricature hanging in my office.” – Karen Kesler, Sr. Statistical Scientist


Above left: Karen Kesler shows off her caricature; Above right: Artist draws caricatures of employees during the end of the year celebration

On Friday, October 11th, we held our 14th RhoGOLF Tournament at Wildwood Green Golf Course in Raleigh. Over 75 players, including employees and their guests, took a break from their busy schedules to enjoy an afternoon out of the office. A boxed lunch was provided before four-person teams took to the course. Competitions were set up along the way such as a longest marshmallow drive and a closest to the pin contest. An awards dinner concluded the event where competition winners, the 1st place team, and raffle winners were announced. 








Golf organizer Bryan PattersonGolf carts headed out to the course








Top left (l-r): Kiley Gilbert and guest with Chris Scofield and guest; Top right (l-r): Allie Bolick, Laurie McLeod, Stephanie Wellford, Caroline Owen; Bottom left: Golf event organizer Bryan Patterson; Bottom right: Golf carts heading out to the course 

“The golf tournament is one of my favorite Rho events!  I participated the past two years and had so much fun watching everyone play and mingling with colleagues outside of work.  It is a great way to get to know people I typically do not interact with in the office all while doing something fun.  I definitely plan to attend again next year!” – Stephanie Wellford, Study Coordinator 

Crisp air from the golf course and Rho sweatshirts set the mood for fall here at Rho. So, on Saturday, October 20th, employees and their families were invited to Rho’s Fall Fest at Pullen Park in Raleigh. Guests were treated to a catered lunch by Thrills from the Grill and a handful of employees took their spatulas to battle for a dessert competition. Many delicious treats were submitted but the raspberry lemon cake, triple berry pie, and pumpkin cake were victorious. Employees that shine less in the kitchen and more on the ball field enjoyed a fun filled game of kickball. There was plenty of entertainment for the kids as well. A mini-pumpkin painting station, bubbles and hula-hoops, and tickets to ride the historic carousel, kiddie boats and train were provided for employees’ children.

Brad Saunders and familybubble









Top left: Brad Saunders and family; Top right and bottom left: Kids enjoyed bubbles and pumpkin painting among other activities; Bottom right: Gina Johnson (front left), Nathan Bryant (front right), and others enjoy food provided by Thrills from the Grill

“Not only was the Rho Fall Festival a great place to chat with coworkers and eat tasty food, it was a blast for the kids! My 2 little guys had an awesome time on the train, giant “spider web” aka the jungle gym, and of course the carousel. This was great family and work fun!” – Shea Tripp, Study Coordinator

dessert contestkickball tournament








Above left: dessert contest goodies; Above right:kickball tournament

Why Rho has Lower Turnover Rates than Most Contract Research Organizations

Posted by Jamie Hahn on Tue, Sep 17, 2013 @ 04:24 PM

Jamie HahnJamie Hahn, Senior Director Corporate Communications, has worked at Rho for eight years.  In addition to corporate communications, she has worked in project management, data management, and proposals & contracts.  Here Jamie shares her personal take on why she, and many others, choose to stay at Rho. 

I’ve worked at Rho for eight years now, which might seem out of the ordinary for an employee of a contract research organization (CRO). In fact, it doesn’t just seem out of the ordinary, it actually is out of the ordinary. Based on preliminary results from the 15th annual CRO Industry Global Compensation and Turnover Survey*, U.S CROs continue to be plagued by a high employee turnover rate. 18.6% for 2012, to be exact. Wow. Clearly CROs are having serious trouble retaining talent, which is a huge problem in an industry that relies on human capital so heavily.

When I saw these numbers, I immediately called our HR group to find out our turnover rate for 2012. As I waited for the final numbers, I ran through some of the anecdotal evidence I’ve collected on this topic. On my walk to the water fountain, I pass four people who’ve been here for at least three years. There are always employees celebrating 1, 5, 10, and 15 year work anniversaries. And many of us worked in the basement of Ron and Mary Helms’s house in Chapel Hill when they first started the business. Certainly, we could beat a turnover rate of 18.6%.

HR sent me the numbers, and Rho’s turnover for 2012 was a mere 9.7%, just about half the percentage reported in the survey. They also let me know that more than 50% of our employees have been with the company for more than 5 years. I was stunned by these numbers, especially in light of the recent CRO survey results. Being in Corporate Communications, I was curious about the story behind the numbers and why Rho is so different from the rest of the CROs in the industry. Quite simply, I wanted to know why our employees stay at Rho.

So, we asked them. Through a survey that was sent to all employees (response rate of 77%), we received some wonderful and enlightening answers. Here are some of our favorites:

“I enjoy working with smart people.”

“Working in a stimulating environment with motivated team members.”

“Flexibility. Flexibility. Flexibility.”

“My colleagues are amazing.”

“Reasonable hours. This is a great company for family people.”

“Warm, relaxed atmosphere.”

“My work. I love what I do here at Rho.”

“Questioning the status quo is encouraged.”

“Being able to contribute to the greater good and using my brain 5 days a week.”

“Latitude to influence the makeup of my job.”

“My work is valued and my ideas matter.”

rho superheroAdditionally, we asked, “What do you do at Rho?” The top three answers were, “I solve problems,” “I make people happy,” and “I make the world a healthier place.” Not bad for a day’s work.

Around this time, we were also notified that Rho had been recognized by three organizations for our family-friendly, flexible, and all-around exemplary workplace in 2013. These awards included the Triangle Business Journal’s Best Places to Work award, the Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility, and the Carolina Parent Family-Friendly 50 Award.

All in all, I’d say that Rho is a great place to work. As a communications professional who’s been charged with sharing Rho’s story with the industry, I’m glad to be able to back up this statement with hard evidence from the industry turnover survey, our employees’ own words, and our recent workplace awards. I love telling Rho’s story every day, but sometimes it tells itself.

*The CRO Industry Global Compensation and Turnover Survey was conducted by HR+Survey Solutions

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