How to Become a Clinical Trial Manager
The demand for Clinical Trial Managers in the UK has heightened as the Department for Health and Social Care’s strategy “Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery” continues to shift the life science industry’s focus onto establishing a sustained and supported research workforce.
The UK aims to elevate itself as a world-leading location for clinical research – a goal that will only be achievable with the right expertise to establish and implement responsive systems and techniques to power clinical trial success.
In recognition of the growing need both nationally and worldwide for Clinical Trial Managers, more scientific professionals are noticing and considering the career path.
In this article, I’ll explain how to become a Clinical Trial Manager, exploring:
- The role of a Clinical Trial Manager
- Key pathways to becoming a Clinical Trial Manager
- What qualifications do you need to work as a Clinical Trial Manager?
- The key difference between working in industry and academia
- Tips for success in clinical trial management
What does a Clinical Trial Manager do?
While the initial stages of a clinical trial often focus on the science and peer review, once the trial has been accepted the challenge shifts onto establishing and implementing effective and responsive systems and techniques to accurately streamline the success of the trial – this is where the role of a Clinical Trial Manager becomes critical.
Clinical trial managerial responsibilities often include (but are not limited to):
- Reviewing literature
- Developing protocols
- Applying for funding
- Designing data collection forms
- Collaborating with the team and external stakeholders
- Running consultations
- Aligning scientific work with an overarching business strategy
Clinical trial management is an exciting area to work in, as it involves acting as the first port of call for the clinical trial process. While in this role, Clinical Trial Managers often develop a knowledge base in a niche area. By the end of your first year, you’ll likely know the project inside and out, making you the go-to person for a range of stakeholders.
Acting as a ‘subject-matter expert’ enables you to build a global relationship with the patient engagement division, Principle Investigator, and Quality Assurance Department, where you’ll be the figurehead of the project itself. This foundational role of responsibility means actively solving problems, answering questions, attending meetings, and reflecting a passion and drive for the success of the research.
Key pathways to becoming a Clinical Trial Manager
A traditional route to becoming a Clinical Trial Manager often involves some element of working your way up. For example, starting out as an Administrator, before becoming a Clinical Research Associate. Working in that role for 3-5 years can provide a good foundation for progressing onto a role as Assistant Clinical Trial Manager or working in the production support team. After working in this role for a further 3-5 years, you could then consider applying for a role as a Clinical Trial Manager.
Alternative career routes are not uncommon in the clinical trial industry. After attaining a Masters, or PhD and garnering both academic knowledge surrounding how clinical trials are run, alongside an interest and commitment to pursue management further, some individuals apply for beginner clinical trial positions which offer the opportunity to train while initiating a career in management.
After working as a Clinical Trial Manager for 3-5 years, professionals often become a sSenior Clinical Trial Manager, where they oversee other Clinical Trial Managers and often have a therapy-specific focused division. From here its common to progress onto roles such as Associate Director, Chief Executive, or Project Manager Lead.
Professional development is key to progressing your career further, whether that’s taking a project management course, or investing your time in developing experience in a specific therapeutic area.
Employers want to see that you’re not job hopping, but that you’re moving up the career ladder by requalifying yourself continuously.
What qualifications do you need to work as a Clinical Trial Manager?
While some professionals progress straight into working in a clinical trial environment after their A-levels and work their way up to becoming a Clinical Trial Manager, the typical qualification route often involves gaining a Masters or PhD
Unfortunately, when professionals enter the profession without A-levels after working their way up, at some point they do experience some level of scepticism surrounding their promotion – regardless of experience. This often drives experienced individuals at late stages of their career to return to education to attain higher level education to bolster their career progression after experiencing setbacks due to the aforementioned scepticism.
For those entering the field with a Bachelor’s as a minimum, or a Master’s and PhD, you’re likely to have a stronger foundation to develop your career in the long term and face less resistance when it comes to more senior positions where a degree is often a baseline requirement for consideration.
The difference between working in a Clinical Research Organisation (CRO) and Academia
Working in industry and academia involve completely different criteria for success.
A successful academic research career comes down to your ability to network. If you can network effectively, communicate well, present your research, and have charisma as an individual, you’re more likely to be able to succeed than someone who can perhaps research and analyse data very effectively.
Alongside those factors, being persuasive and patient are key to success in academic research. Achieving funding means persuasively and effectively applying for a number of grants – most of which you’ll likely have critical rejection letters from – so resilience is also important.
Meanwhile, speaking from a vendor perspective, working in a CRO often results in a modular, supportive environment with ample training opportunities. The sector is increasingly prioritising employee engagement, which often creates a supportive environment where leaders are wary of overwhelming their workers. Alongside this, large CROs don’t experience the same funding challenges as academic research, meaning your job is usually more secure.
However, despite these factors, CROs face high competition therefore providing a clinical research service that stands out from the crowd is critical. Some organisations achieve this by economically leading clinical research, which creates a diligent culture where employees must work very efficiently and achieve hard to meet objectives. However, there is often a lack of room for career growth, making it challenging to advance professionally.
Tips for success in Clinical Trial Management
1. Gain a higher-level qualification
Attaining a degree, whether that’s a bachelors or PhD is highly beneficial, regardless of how tempting it might be to pursue a career in clinical research without one. Having the right academic foundation can make it much easier to progress your career in the long-term.
2. Stay agile
If you find that you’re not gaining much experience, or not enjoying working in a specific area, don’t hold back from moving on to an alternative department or division, where you might just find your ideal niche – the crucial aspect behind a successful career in clinical research is doing something you enjoy and are passionate about.
However, this isn’t to say that frequently moving between jobs is advisable. It’s important to stay in a role for at least 1-3 years before you take the next step to enable you to develop the depth of knowledge required to benefit from and reflect your experience in your next role.
3. Be strategic
When considering a career in clinical trial management, particularly from an alternative academic route, attaining a role can be competitive.
Bear in mind that clinical trial centres run a whole range of projects from non-drug projects to investigational product based clinical trials and this variety can provide an opportunity for you to apply to work from a range of different angles. Remember to exemplify how your experience and academic knowledge relates to the research specialisms. Invest time into developing your CV and present it as effectively as possible, taking the time to prepare for interviews.
Interested in pursuing a career in clinical research?
SRG have supported scientific candidates across STEM into rewarding careers across the clinical industry for over three decades. As scientists ourselves, we use our expertise and knowledge to guide candidates across their career journeys, from beginner roles through to senior and executive positions.
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