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You don’t have to be a researcher to work in research

19 Jun 2017

Picture a career in research. Did you picture a lab coat and goggles? It can be much more nuanced than that. Here, Hays’ Paul Strouts offers an overview of some of the non-research-based clinical research careers you can pursue.

Research and development (R&D) has always been at the heart of the pharmaceutical business, so it should come as no surprise that pharmaceutical roles related to clinical research – those in regulatory affairs, drug safety, and clinical trial and data management, for example – are moving and evolving as the industry continues to embrace radical change.

Whether you are already in clinical research or looking to break into it, it’s worth assessing the skills that are needed, both current and emerging. That way, you can take the necessary actions to optimise your chances of gaining and sustaining employment in this fundamental and exciting field of work.

Today’s clinical talent needs

There are obvious skills that go with the territory as a scientist: critical thinking, deductive reasoning and attention to detail. But, in today’s clinical research environment – with an increasing number of company restructurings, advances in scientific understanding, changes in business practices and the advent of big data – there are other desirable skills that have made it onto employers’ wish lists.

Are you good with IT? Do you have management skills? An understanding of government processes? Excellent presentation skills? All have the potential to move you to the top of the list for a sought-after position in clinical research.

Could you be a regulatory affairs professional?

Regulatory affairs (RA) professionals are responsible for ensuring that companies follow demanding regulatory standards and legislation for providing safe and effective medicines. Aside from a formal education in science or medicine, and a passion for documents and detail, RA professionals must understand every stage of the product life cycle and the regulatory implications of each.

Excellent written and communication skills – for the many exchanges of information with senior-level management – are a must-have for RA candidates. Increasingly, such exchanges are happening at the multinational level, so languages are helpful, too. And, since regulatory conditions affect business outcomes, a solid understanding of business and finance may put you ahead of the competition.

Have you considered working in drug safety?

Drug safety experts at grassroots level are responsible for the fielding and processing of adverse event reports for drugs in the marketplace. It is their job to understand the risks associated with medicines, and to make this information generally available. Like the RA professional, drug safety experts need to understand legislation and regulatory standards, while overseeing pharmacovigilance (PV) processes.

Business acumen is a distinct advantage in the PV arena. A candidate with commercial skills has the potential to improve a company’s understanding of the risk-benefit of certain medicines, and therefore boost the bottom line.

Is a clinical research associate position for you?

The main responsibility of a clinical research associate (CRA) is to monitor the progress of clinical trials. This usually involves visiting sites to ensure that protocols are being conducted in compliance with good clinical practice guidelines.

CRAs have highly diverse, visible positions. Mature interpersonal skills are key, to enable them to work well with the staff at the various sites they visit. Being friendly, professional, knowledgeable, punctual and accessible – and boasting a ‘checklist’ mentality – are good-fit attributes for this type of position. As CRAs principally work from home, evidence of being a motivated self-starter may attract employers’ attention.

How about clinical data management?

Clinical data managers are responsible for ensuring that statistical information and results from clinical trials are recorded accurately, and for maintaining the integrity and security of complex data systems. Expertise with IT, software systems and generally handling large volumes of data is therefore essential.

A willingness to perform general clerical duties, which may include data entry or collating library searches, may also be required. A good understanding of management principles, as for all positions in clinical research, may position hopeful candidates well.

What to do if you’re light on skills

If you’re keen to pursue a career in clinical research, but are lacking in certain skills, it would pay to work towards acquiring or developing them. Fortunately, many skills are transferable, so you don’t necessarily have to gain them in a clinical research setting. Look for courses, locally or online, in subjects such as IT, business management and aspects of communication.

You might also look at applying for temporary positions in your field of interest, or taking on voluntary work for a limited period.

By Paul Strouts

Paul Strouts is the global managing director for Hays Life Sciences. Strouts looks after 27 countries within the group’s portfolio, spanning from New York in the US to Sydney in Australia.

A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.

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