Launching Your Career
"How can I get started in the clinical research field?"
ACRP staff and volunteer leadership are often asked for guidance from individuals seeking their first job in clinical research. Prior experience is typically expected in this field as in many other professions. What can be done to demonstrate transferrable and desired skills, gain that experience, and secure your target job in this fascinating and significant global field?
There is no single right answer to this question since there are many paths to enter and navigate clinical research careers. Typically, an entry level or lateral position may be initially required. Any background you may already have related to science, medicine, and/or clinical practice is desirable as well as technical and soft skills. Clinical research involves mastery of new processes and knowledge based on Good Clinical Practices and regulatory requirements before vertical moves up the career ladder can occur.
For useful information from a panel of seasoned clinical researchers on how to get your foot in the door, check out this free, on-demand Webinar Replay from ACRP, How to Enter the Clinical Research Field. The panel includes experts representing many areas of the clinical research landscape and roles including the CRA, CRC, and PI roles, as well as career advancement and educator roles in the field.
8 Tips for Getting Started in Clinical Research
Here are some additional suggestions on how to successfully land your first clinical research job:
Learn about the "landscape" of clinical research by taking introductory courses, attending reputable certificate programs, earning your ACRP Certification, or even by earning a master's degree in clinical research, project management, regulatory affairs, medical writing, or business topics emphasizing the conduct of clinical trials.
Don't limit your focus to just the duties of:
- Clinical Research Associates (CRA), monitors of studies remotely or traveling to research sites for the companies that sponsor clinical trials, or for the contract research organizations to which the sponsors outsource such duties; or
- Clinical Research Coordinators (CRC), who conduct investigator delegated tasks related to the studies for the sponsors at individual research sites.
You might also become qualified to work as a data manager, subject recruiter, research billing officer, compliance manager, or other specialist.
Many university-based online, classroom, or blended certificate programs are available. ACRP offers a Fundamentals of Clinical Research course that provides a thorough introduction to the field of research (including such topics as the drug development cycle, study design, good clinical practice, research ethics, U.S. and international regulatory requirements, investigational product accountability management, and the entry-level expectations for CRAs/CRCs/PIs). ACRP also offers a Project Management for Clinical Research Professionals course that is very useful for entry-level clinical researchers.
And of course, every clinical research professional needs training on ICH GCP Guidelines and Ethics. ACRP currently provides training on both through new eLearning Courses: Introduction to ICH GCP; Ethical Considerations for Clinical Research Professionals.
Many third-party and university-based online, classroom, or blended certificate programs are also available.
List any of these professional development accomplishments as being "in progress" or "completed" at the top of your updated resume/CV and keep records of them in a personal training file that can be shared with prospective employers.
Network by joining professional organizations like ACRP and actively participating in online and local opportunities to meet and learn from established professionals. ACRP's Chapter Affiliates around the globe often hold events that are ideal for this and many of them can be attended by non-members.
Volunteer locally after exploring the avenues that are available in your area to get exposure to clinical research and its professionals and then decide which one is right for you. The possibilities include:
- ACRP Chapters or the chapters/special interest groups/regional events of other organizations tied to medicine and/or the clinical research field (e.g., the Association of Women in Science, the Regulatory Affairs Professional Society, the Association of Clinical Research Organizations, the International Association of Clinical Research Nurses, the Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation, the Society for Clinical Trials, etc.);
- Hospitals/medical centers (e.g., in patient resource libraries that offer patients help with researching medical information);
- Public health departments, churches, patient advocacy groups, assisted living/retirement homes (example.g., helping with health fairs, localized studies/surveys/screenings, or fundraising); and
- Institutional review boards/research ethics committees (tasked with the oversight of studies involving human subjects at their institutions, these groups typically include a member from the local community and/or a nonscientist in addition to medical professionals).
Look for opportunities like formal internships with medical centers, local biotechnology, medical device, and/or pharmaceutical firms, vendors of services to clinical researchers, or the regional offices of large contract research organizations. Some internships based within firms may offer academic credits with partnering universities.
Apply first for such basic entry-level positions as a project assistant or a data manager at a clinical research site. As we said, starting low on the ladder is usually a must when you have no experience.
Once you are "in the arena," initiate informational interviews/lunch meetings with and/or "shadow" professionals who are doing the kind of work in which you are interested, attend research project meetings as an observer where this is allowed, help with study-related clerical duties, and otherwise find ways to "rub shoulders" with those who may later be a reference or hiring manager.
Plan on earning your Certification through ACRP once you have two (2) years of experience, and on maintaining your Certification through continuing training involvement with ACRP's Professional Development resources and services.
Keep an open mind. In this economy, any job in the target area and on the overall career path for clinical research can be a good one for building your track record of time spent learning new skills, which together with your accomplishments should be listed on your resume/CV.
Other important skills or behaviors to develop as needed and highlight in your personal training file include:
- Communication skills
- Time management skills
- Project management skills, including organizational skills
- Change management skills
- Good documentation skills
- Ability to assess and comprehend a situation
- Flexibility, adaptability
- Good team player
- Conflict management skills
- Budget negotiation skills
- Being process oriented
- Ability to recognize and appreciate with cultural differences
- Being detail oriented, analytical
- Being innovative and creative
- Good mastery of the English language
- Being trustworthy
- Being patient (having good “coping skills”)
- Critical thinking skills
- Accepting and seeking challenges
- Technical (computer, social media) skills
- Willingness to travel (for CRAs, not for in-house CRAs who conduct distant monitoring)
- Business skills (strategic thinking)
Some other useful links include:
If you have any further questions about how to start your career in the clinical research field, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is 'Professional Development'? Do You Have a Pathway for Success?
At ACRP, we believe professional development is the intrinsic motivation that comes from within each clinical research professional to recognize his or her responsibility for: safeguarding patient safety; ensuring quality of data; ensuring ethical conduct of clinical trials; ensuring regulatory compliance at all times; and ensuring research projects are completed on time, on target, and on budget.
We support the professional development of clinical research professionals by offering high-quality resources and services that are relevant to the needs, interests, and work of clinical researchers, that are performance-based, and that allow you to own your success in clinical research. And if you're looking for guidance on your professional development, check out ACRP's proprietary Professional Development Pathways for clinical research professionals.
Please visit Professional Development to learn more about how ACRP is supporting the professional growth and development of clinical research professionals, and why ACRP should be your first choice for clinical research training.