Pros and Cons of a Clinical Research Administration Career
Clinical research administration is a broad heading that encompasses a number of careers and professions. Among these are clinical research coordinator, medical scientist and natural sciences manager.
Below is a table that compares a number of the characteristics of the three career fields:
|Clinical Research Coordinator||Medical Scientist||Natural Sciences Manager|
|Career Overview||Clinical research coordinators oversee research projects, as well as analyze scientific data.||Medical scientists perform research and conduct clinical trials to investigate the prevention and investigation of human disease.||Natural sciences managers plan, supervise and direct the work of natural scientists who conduct activities in research and product development.|
|Education Requirements||Bachelor's degree||Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)||Bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree|
|Program Length||Four years, full-time||Six years (following undergraduate degree)||4-10 years total (depending on degree level)|
|Additional Training Required||None||If you intend to interact medically with patients, you must also earn a medical degree||None|
|Certification and Licensing||Voluntary professional certification is available||Medical license required if you interact medically with or administer drug or gene therapy to patients||None|
|Experience Required||Several years of related experience||Varies||At least five years of experience as a scientist|
|Job Outlook for 2012-2022||Slower than average (6%, includes all natural sciences managers)*||As fast as average (13%)*||Slower than average (6%)*|
|Median Annual Salary||$46,030**||$80,675**||$120,050*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014), **Payscale.com (2014)
Clinical Research Coordinator
As a clinical research coordinator, you may be responsible for conducting screening interviews on potential subjects, developing quality assurance audits and developing training materials. Your duties may also include ensuring compliance regulations are met, reviewing protocol and organizing study files. You may work in academia or medicine, as well as with non-profit organizations, research facilities or pharmaceutical drug companies.
Most entry-level positions only require a bachelor's degree. You can find a variety of related programs, such as the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Clinical Research or B.S. in Clinical Research Management. Programs like these offer courses in relevant topics like research ethics and scientific writing. If you have a bachelor's degree from another field, you may consider a clinical research coordinator certificate program. For coordinators who want to advance in the field, master's degree programs, such as a Master of Science in Clinical Research Administration, can be beneficial.
Below are examples of what employers were seeking in February 2013:
- The National Institute of Aging is looking for a clinical research coordinator to work under the clinical nurse manager. Applicants should have a bachelor's degree and at least six months of professional experience in clinical research.
- An independent research facility in Boise, ID, wants a coordinator with a bachelor's degree in a biomedical field; experience, medical licensure or certification and equivalent postsecondary education may all be used to help meet the requirement.
- A cancer center in New York, NY, wants a clinical research coordinator with at least a bachelor's degree and 3-4 years of clinical research experience; applicants with at least one year of experience in a supervisory role is preferred.
You may stand out by obtaining professional certification. For example, the Certified Clinical Research Coordinator (CCRC) credential is voluntary and demonstrates experience and education in the field of clinical research. You can pursue the CCRC credential with an undergraduate degree, and you need at least 3,000 hours of experience performing essential duties.
While continuing education courses may be required for you to retain certification, they may also serve as an affirmation of your commitment to the profession and your desire to keep abreast of technological developments. You can also join a professional organization, such as the Society of Clinical Research Associates, to have access to seminars and publications, as well as stay current in the field.
With their primary mission being the improvement of the general health of human beings, medical scientists conduct extensive research, clinical studies and investigations. They work largely in research and development facilities and laboratories, academia, pharmaceutical corporations, government agencies and healthcare facilities. In such positions, they may develop methods, instruments and procedures that can standardize drug applications, combinations and dosages. They're also involved in the analysis of the effects of various physical behaviors on biological systems.
In order to become a medical scientist, you should first earn a bachelor's degree in a biological science. Following this, you'll need extensive graduate and postgraduate education. The minimum requirement to become a medical scientist is a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in biology or another life science, such as neuroscience, biotechnology, biochemistry or genetics. If you confine your professional activities entirely to research, this degree may be sufficient. However, if your research entails medical interaction with patients, such as dispensing drugs or utilizing gene therapy, you'll also need to be a licensed physician in addition to having your doctoral degree. There are many schools that offer accredited joint Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)/Ph.D. programs. Though these programs can take as long as eight years to complete, they may offer you greater leeway in the conduct of your clinical research.
Here are some excerpts from employment ads that were running in January 2013:
- A healthcare company in Illinois is looking for a chief scientist specializing in pharmacoepidemiology. Candidates need a doctoral degree in epidemiology or an allied area with considerable experience in epidemiology, as well as at least seven years of experience in epidemiology research and considerable leadership experience. The employer also looks favorably on contacts the candidates might have in the pharmaceutical industry or regulatory agencies.
- The Alzheimer's Association is seeking a medical scientist to fill a position as director of its global science initiative, located in Illinois. Candidates need a graduate degree in an area related to neuroscience or social and behavioral science. At least 5-7 years of experience in developing and managing grant systems and budgets is required.
- A clinical research company in Maryland wants to hire a research scientist specializing in aerobiology. Candidates need a doctorate in aerobiology or a related field and have accumulated eight years of qualifying work experience.
In order to be able to conduct your research and perform your duties with as few restrictions as possible, you should consider earning a medical degree. In addition, the BLS states that you may be able to distinguish yourself and open yourself to more job possibilities by tailoring your research toward areas such as Alzheimer's disease, AIDS or cancer. Continuing your postdoctoral education at universities or government agencies may help you advance or transfer to other projects, which may result in a permanent position.
Natural Sciences Manager
Natural sciences managers are concerned with the planning, development and conduct of scientific research projects. They must be capable of managing the work of researchers in a science or engineering discipline. These managers also have a hand in determining a project's goals, deciding on staff and equipment requirements, developing a budget, and maintaining administrative and production policies. Other duties can include supervising the work performance and providing technical assistance as needed.
You may qualify for a position as a natural sciences manager with only a bachelor's degree in a science discipline. However, before you can secure a position as a manager, you generally must have accumulated a great deal of experience as a scientist. Usually you'll need more than five years of qualifying work experience before an employer will consider you for a management position. Advancement can be a slow process, with your responsibilities increasing as you gain more practical experience.
Here are examples of employment ads that were running online in January 2013:
- A Texas health system wants a full-time laboratory manager who has a bachelor's degree in clinical laboratory science or natural science; applicants with a master's degree are preferred. Candidates should have four years of lab experience as defined by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) and two years of management experience, preferably in a multi-hospital setting.
- A university hospital in Pennsylvania wants a research laboratory manager. Though the employer prefers that candidates hold a master's degree, a bachelor's degree along with 3-5 years of experience with flow cytometry may also be considered. It was preferred that candidates have an understanding of cell biology and some supervisory experience.
Because the job as a natural sciences manager entails the direction and supervision of research, you must be fully versed in the technicalities of the work of those under you. In this case, you may be able to stand out from your competition and put yourself in a better position for advancement by continuing your education at the master's or doctoral level. Since job opportunities are projected to increase at a rate slower than that of the national average, an advanced degree may enhance your marketability. In addition, because the position includes administrative or straight managerial duties, you may differentiate yourself by pursuing a master's degree program that includes business skills, such as a Master of Business Administration.