Transitioning from the lab to a Clinical Research Associate job

New Scientist recently published a career ‘case study‘, detailing how Linda Murray, a parasitologist and research assistant made the transition from the lab to a coveted job as a clinical research associate. After sending some resumes, she was lucky to land a role as a clinical trial associate with a CRO — an entry level step that gave her a good overview of the clinical research process.

Unfortunately, the article is not tremendously enlightening about what aspect of Linda’s approach led to her success. She had a friend who was already working as a CRA, which may have helped her to network and put her resume in front of the right people. Additionally, being able to ask someone who’s knowledgeable for insight into the industry can be a huge advantage — that’s basically what an informational interview is all about. Sometimes, luck plays a role as well — if a CRO has just landed a contract for a big new trial, they may need to quickly adjust their staff levels to manage the workload. You may be able to give yourself  an edge and increase your chances of being in the “right place at the right time” by reading trade magazines and industry newswatch websites to find out when trials are announced or contracts are awarded.

We’ve published a number of articles about the CRA career path that may help you find your own way to a career in clinical research.  Please check them out — and good luck in your search.


Posted: July 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Clinical Research Associates | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Starting at the bottom rung

This post was prompted by some conversations I’ve had recently with recent PhD graduates at industry networking events.  These kinds of events are great opportunities to meet people working in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors. You can learn about the day-to-day reality of the industry, get insight on recent developments, and sometimes get leads on new opportunities.

However, I’ve met a few people at these events who make a terrible impression. They pout and complain about the challenges of the job search, and generally appear shocked that biotechnology companies didn’t knock down their doors with fabulous offers after they graduated. It’s an attitude of entitlement that is very off-putting.

Look, I get it.  You’ve spent years of your life, and probably tens of thousands of dollars in real and opportunity costs to earn a specialized, rarefied degree that places you among the elite of the educational system. You’ve worked incredibly hard, spending long hours in the laboratory and developing advanced skills in technically challenging fields.  You’ve managed complex projects; you’ve published in prestigious journals; you’ve presented at conferences with leading experts.  You’re self-directed and motivated. And then, when you get that degree and walk out of the lab, looking to put your smarts to work away from the bench… employers aren’t interested.

It’s a shock to the system to realize that after spending years developing your skills, managers consider you unseasoned and inexperienced. If you’re lucky, they will offer you something with entry-level responsibilities — and a salary to match. It’s a blow to the ego — and frankly, feels insulting. It’s especially toxic when you compare yourself to successful new lawyers and MBAs, or to the lucky few PhDs who manage to step from the lab into high-paying roles, such as medical science liaisons. Believe me, I know — I’ve been there.

My advice is: Get over yourself.

There’s no shame in starting at the bottom rung — and employers are right: the business world is very different than academia. There are different stakeholders, different pressures, and different priorities. Getting your feet wet at the entry level gives you a chance to learn those differences and then prove yourself. All those skills and personal strengths you developed in grad school — project management, determination, perseverance and communications — will let you advance quickly once you’ve had a chance to adapt.  The thing about post-PhD careers in the pharmaceutical industry is this: getting in is the hardest part. Once you’ve opened that door, you will have the opportunity to follow a very satisfying trajectory.

Don’t settle for something terrible — but don’t let your ego stop you from taking a first step, either. You may have earned a PhD, but in the business world, you’ve still gotta pay your dues.

Good luck in your search.

Posted: July 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »

New Book: PhD [alternative] Career Clinic

Readers of this blog may remember Jane Chin, who provided some insightful commentary on the realities of a career as a Medical Science Liaison.

Jane has recently published a book which sounds very interesting: PhD [alternative] Career Clinic Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: June 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Medical Science Liaisons | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Revising a Science CV for the Pharmaceutical Job Market

One of the hardest things about making the transition from graduate school or the laboratory bench to a great job in the real world — like a pharmaceutical or biotech career, for example — is figuring out how to make your academic experience relevant to employers.

This article, “A Resume Makeover” from the journal Science has been online for more than 10 years, but offers great, practical advice on how to review and revise your CV to fit the needs of employers.  The example provided isn’t about a pharmaceutical job but the advice still fits!

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: March 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Resumes & CVs | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Tools for Success: Transitioning to Pharmaceutical Careers

This is an interesting article.  Whether you’re a physician, or a PhD, or just trying to make a transition into a clinical research career from another path, I think there is some interesting advice to take away.

Many physicians have successfully navigated their way from clinical practice to the pharmaceutical sector, serving in positions ranging from entry-level medical director to CEO. But others have stumbled while making the transition from clinical caregiver to leader in the corporate realm.

Most would agree that physicians are, by and large, smart people with good work habits. But the behaviors that are sought after and rewarded in clinical or academic environments are not exactly the same behaviors one looks for in the realm of drug development.

Transforming Clinicians into Industry Leaders – Pharmaceutical Executive.

Posted: March 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Clinical research, Training | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »