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How to forge a career in clinical research

Posting date: 17/11/2022
Author: Inside ICON

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2019 there were 56,848 clinical trials worldwide and in just 10 years that figure has increased by a factor of 20. This rising demand has caused a surge for clinical research professionals and has even presented new and exciting job opportunities that weren’t on the scene 10 years back.


With more companies investing in areas such as orphan drugs and infectious diseases, demand for these professionals is expected to continue rising, explaining why clinical research has become an attractive career. But with many diverse job roles available, knowing which career path is right for you has become harder to follow, so we’ve put together this information to help you understand how to forge a career in clinical research.

What qualifications will you need?

Being a highly scientific field, all jobs within clinical research require a strong academic background, typically a Bachelor’s Degree. However, due to the variety of jobs in clinical research, there are many different routes to take and accepted degrees include nursing, science, business, medicine and other related disciplines.

With a degree under your belt, you’re likely to have the right experience to join the workforce and start your clinical research career but some degrees will have had less exposure to clinical trials. In this case, it’s advantageous to gain a postgraduate qualification - such as a Masters of PhD - or to find some relevant work experience in academic research, laboratory work or medical sales.

There are alternative routes

There are other avenues to take which don’t include gaining a qualification. These include starting as a clinical data coordinator or clinical trials administrator and are a good way to show an employer that you’re interested in furthering your career in clinical research.

Which role is suited to you?

Here are some of the main roles within clinical research along with the experience and skillset you’ll need to kick-start your career:

Site Activation Lead

There’s a lot of work that goes on even before clinical research can begin and this is where a Site Activation Lead steps in. As a member of a Study Start Up Team, you’ll be involved in site initiation and site operations to ensure that physicians at research sites have everything they need to begin the clinical trial. In this role, you’ll need to be able to work with tight deadlines and have shown experience in a clinical research setting. A Bachelor’s Degree is preferred, however, relevant experience is an alternative option for forging a career as a Study Start Up Associate.

Project Manager

As a Project Manager, you’ll ensure that a project is delivered on time and a large part of this will be building relationships with clients. As well as a Bachelor’s Degree in a science field, you’ll need strong communication and organisation skills. For those entering the workforce with a higher qualification - such as a Master’s degree or PhD - there’s the option to immediately specialise in vaccines, internal medicine, respiratory and IDEA (International Duration Evaluation of Adjuvant Chemotherapy). Here’s more information on why you should be a Project Manager.

Clinical Research Associate

If it’s your goal to be involved with overseeing a trial and ensuring compliance then a Clinical Research Associate (CRA) job could be suited to you. This is a great option for anyone interested in clinical monitoring and spending time away from the desk when conducting site visits. Typically, these roles require a Bachelor’s Degree in a life science or related discipline and a higher-level degree can open more doors. The competitive nature of this job means that an internship might be a great way to begin your career, check out our blog – becoming a CRA with ICON – to find out more.

Clinical Trial Manager

A Clinical Trial Manager (CTM) job is often considered the next step for CRAs. To be considered for this job you’ll need to be passionate about leading a team and confident delivering a project on time and within budget. For those ambitious professionals, the obvious progression path would be a Clinical Operations Manager and then Clinical Operations Director beyond that.

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Other career paths

Though these are some of the main job areas within clinical research there are many more career options, including medical writing, biostatistics and drug safety. Clinical research is an extremely diverse job market meaning you have the chance to map out the career that’s right for you and with the market continuing to expand there are no limits to where a clinical research career could take you.

Take your career to the next step with ICON

Whether you’re just starting out in your career in clinical research of you’re looking to take the next step we might just have the role for you. At ICON, we have vacancies across Europe, America, South America and Asia and our roles include full-time, part-time and home-based. Browse our clinical research jobs or find out about our digital interviewing process.

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