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What career options do I have in clinical research?

Clinical research is a broad field which encompasses many different functions and specialisms. It’s an industry that has seen enormous growth in recent times and is predicted to boom in the coming years, with the global clinical trials market expected to reach US$68.9bn by 2026. This is partly down to the globalisation of clinical trials, where product development investment in emerging countries has led to new clinical research locations all over the world, as well as the use of new technologies to develop innovative treatments. On top of this is the rising demand for clinical research organisations to conduct clinical trials.

With the market ripe for investment and such a broad range of career paths available to professionals, it’s clear that clinical research is an appealing industry for many to work in. But what pathways are available and how can you progress? Find out what career options you have in clinical research:

Clinical Research Associate

Many people within clinical research begin their careers as Clinical Research Associates (CRAS). To do so, candidates typically need a science-based graduate degree or one in biomedicine, nursing or pharmacy, and often require additional relevant experience in clinical trials. Career pathways into this role include working as a Clinical Data Coordinator or Clinical Trials Assistant, although some companies – such as ICON – offer graduate pathways into CRA roles, which can accelerate the process and help to kickstart careers in clinical research.

CRAs are involved in all stages of clinical trials, testing drugs for their safeness and effectiveness and ultimately helping to improve the lives of others. CRAs are often employed by contract research organisations such as ICON to work on behalf of pharmaceutical companies.

Clinical Research Associates are in demand all over the world, with the USA offering up plenty of opportunities for people to develop their career in this space. CRAs can progress to become CRA II/Senior CRAs.



Clinical Trial Manager

Clinical Trial Managers lead programmes to develop and trial new drugs and are responsible for finishing research programmes on time and in budget whilst complying with regulatory and ethical requirements. A strong science background is essential for this role – such as a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a relevant subject and ideally a clinical research-based master’s degree. Clinical Trial Managers must be capable of working both independently and as a team, with strong communication and presentation skills required to relay information and findings to colleagues and site staff.

The role of Clinical Trial Manager is often seen as a natural progression for CRAs, and in some instances might progress to become Clinical Project Manager in the future.

Clinical Operations Director

Clinical Operations Directors sit at the very senior end of the clinical research career path and show the significant potential for progression within this industry. These professionals are highly trained and often report directly to the CEO or VP, ensuring patient treatments comply with clinical protocols, regulatory and safety requirements and internal policies. These directors provide leadership on the performance, execution, quality and completion of clinical operations services within their organisation or region, making it an essential role for any CRO or pharmaceutical company.

A successful Clinical Operations Director will have a relevant university degree as well as considerable experience within the CRO/pharmaceutical industry at an influencer level. Hands-on work within clinical trials can be desirable, along with direct experience managing clinical operations functions, making this an ideal aspiration career pathway for CRAs, clinical trial managers or anyone else who wants to take their clinical research career further.

Take your next step in clinical research with ICON

At ICON, we aim to be the partner of choice in drug development. That’s why we need the industry’s best and brightest people to help drive us forward. If you’re interested in a new job in clinical research, at whatever level, we’d love to hear from you.

View all of our clinical research jobs or find out why you should work for ICON.
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