The entry level for many people working in clinical research is the role of a clinical trials administrator (CTA) or a clinical research associate (CRA). These are vital roles that ensure the trial runs smoothly and the data obtained is valid.

These roles require a science degree and a postgraduate qualification can be an advantage. Most pharmaceutical companies or contract research organisations (CROs) will offer a period of induction training that gives new recruits a good understanding of what the job involves and what to expect in the future. With experience you may be able to move on to a more senior role with project management responsibilities for running local trials and, eventually, international studies.

Areas of work

An experienced CRA is likely to be part of a team involved in:

  • Identifying and selecting clinical investigators to carry out trials
  • Developing the protocol and case report forms for the trial
  • Coordinating ethics committee and regulatory authority applications and approvals
  • Visiting the investigational site before, during and after the trial. During a trial, visits will take place every 4-6 weeks to monitor recruitment of patients, to ensure that the trial is being conducted according to the protocol and to address any issues that have arisen
  • Organising investigator meetings
  • Ensuring supply of medicines and documentation to the trial site
  • Producing a trial report and archiving all the documentation from it.

Setting up and monitoring clinical trials involves a substantial amount of travel and, although this can have an impact on home and social life, it provides an opportunity to work with a wide variety of people. Language skills are an advantage and they will provide a CRA with overseas travel opportunities. Working to deadlines requires self discipline, but the variety in day to day working, the opportunity to work on your own initiative and new challenges each day make this an exciting area to work in.  To succeed as a CRA you need excellent organisational and communication skills, attention to detail, good time management and the ability to motivate others. Confidence and enthusiasm are important attributes, as are tact and diplomacy!

Career progression

From being a CRA and handling a single study, you can progress to become a clinical research executive responsible for multiple studies. The next step from there is senior clinical research scientist, involved with broader aspects of product development and project management, as well as with independent studies.

A science degree is required for a career in clinical research, but people can go on to further develop their academic credentials, with such accreditation as a Certificate in Clinical Research or an MSc/Diploma in Clinical Research.

Last modified: 20 September 2023

Last reviewed: 20 September 2023