groups » Training and Career Development » Ask the Experts: Research Careers Month - what questions do you have about careers in research?

April 2014 is RESEARCH CAREERS MONTH, and we are fortunate to have experts on hand to answer all your questions about pursuing a career in research, both in Industry and in academia. You can ask anything - how to create a good cover letter, the pros and cons of industry v academia for your career, how to move between the two, how to get training in one specific area, how to make a good impression in interview.... whatever you like.

About our Experts:
From Industry, we welcome expert Pauline Hope. Pauline is a Senior CRA from Research Pharmaceutical Services currently on assignment with Novartis Vaccine.
From Academia, we have Elizabeth Allen of the South African faculty, based at UCT: Elizabeth is a pharmacist by training, and has worked in clinical research since within the Pharmaceutical and contract research industries (UK and South Africa), as well as managing private and academic clinical trials and methodology research projects.
We also have Lesley Workman, a registered nurse and extremely experienced data manager and scientific coordinator.
You can read more about each of the experts on our 'Careers Month' page - and please feel free to ask any questions below:


careers job application

  • echisupa Eric Chisupa 2 Apr 2014

    thanks for this opportunity, am looking forward to doing the course

  • sreedharsmail sreedharsmail 3 Apr 2014

    There is lot of scope for Research in Ayurveda an ancient system of medicine in India.opportunity for young graduates to explore this field

  • It is an honour to be on the panel for career month. I look forward to engaging with the young scientists of the future.

  • karla Karla Lam 8 Apr 2014

    Thank you very much Pauline, Elizabeth and Leslie. I would like to ask, what are the differences in career paths and opportunities which are offered within academia and industry as a clinical research trial coordinator?

  • Astrid_Erber Astrid Erber 8 Apr 2014

    Hello, I would be specifically interested in the interview process. What do you look for in a candidate during the interview? Could you give examples of typical questions that you ask? Thank you!

  • @ Karla Lam: Thank you for your question. I'm not sure if you are reffering to a study coordinator position or whether you refer to a clinical operations manager. From an industry perspective, the study coordinators are the responsibility of the site to provide; in some instances the CRO may provide assistance to find a relevant study coordinator for the site, but they will be contracted to the site and not to the CRO. the study coordinator is responsible for assisting the site to complete queries/CRFs/any other relevant info. timeously. As it is a busy role, it is advisable to have a single study coordinator for each study, but in my experience this is never the case and hence they have a high workload. There is a lot of opportunity for such roles in industry studies. Other coordinator roles in industry include a CTA (clinical trial assistant), CTM (Clinical trial manager) and a COM (Clinical Operations manager).

  • pharmacology Lesley Workman 9 Apr 2014

    @Karla Lam: Hi Karla, thanks for your question, I will give some background in the role of study coordinator from an academic perspective. In my personal experience clinical trial study coordinators are often registered nurses who have worked in clinical research studies for a few years as a "study nurse", or as part of the clinical team, recruiting participants, consenting, interviewing completing the study CRF/source documents and collecting of samples . A promotion would be to move from a study nurse to study co-coordinator. A basic health Science qualification EG. Bsc/other would also be suitable for this position. This is a demanding position and requires leadership qualities especially if it is a large study or intensive such as a phase one clinical trial. After a few years of study coordinator a more quality control position could be sought, such as monitoring and evaluation or working as a Clinical Research Associate in the Pharma Industry. Good luck and let me know if there are other things that might be helpful? Lesley

  • chaleg202003 Chalachew Misganaw 10 Apr 2014

    Thank you and I am again proud to be involved in Global Health Trials network. My concern is that the institution I am working for was evaluating clinical trial protocols made by researchers from developed countries.But, clinical trial protocols should also be developed by investigators from developing country to deal with their local problems.We were trying to design such and effective and affordable projects locally, however, the link between academia and industries is very week to create an enabling atmosphere for researchers to tap their potentials/ trials especially issues related to sponsorship. So, what can be done on this regard.Thank you

  • Thank you for your question. I think there are certainly transferable skills between the academic clinical research site coordinators and those working in industry (Pharma companies or Contract Research Organisation) clinical research departments - I have done this move myself and employed staff both ways. As my colleagues have mentioned, trial coordinators in academic sites are more at the patient level, so she/he would be involved in the day-to-day operational running of a trial in a clinic or ward etc. They also may need a qualification so that they can multi-task within what could be a small team (e.g. as a nurse to take blood). Coordination of trials from the industry side (which may be part of the CRA role) is more removed from the patient but involves the same kinds of processes/documents and often for multiple sites (though academics sometimes also play this typical Sponsor role too). In industry the coordinator may progress to monitoring, then project management, departmental management etc. - all the way to Director level if good! In academia, I would suggest this managerial career progression is more limited (unless medically qualified), due to a lack of such posts. However, from my perspective, this is more than made up for by the access to further qualifications and independent research. I have been supported to study for a Masters and PhD and now apply for my own grant funding and publish papers. My contemporaries from my industry days are now Directors of Clinical Operations. It's personal which route you want to take and nothing stops you moving between the two your whole career!

  • @Chalachew You pose an interesting discussion topic here, and something I am very passionate about. During my career as a clinical ops manager, I came across these exact problems and ended up in lengthy discussions with the MCC numerous times because they would not approve clinical protocols that were not adapted for the South African market. Since moving to industry from an academic environment, I have noticed the extreme need for this and am actually happy to report that the Pharma companies do too. In my present role, at every PSV we sit down with the investigators and discuss what he/she has found difficult performing trials at their site and then suggest that certain things are added or changed in the protocol. This way, we have less protocol deviations, SAEs, and DQ's... and better, cleaner data! I also know of one such investigator/specilaist in Cape Town who is currently trying to the bridge the GAP between public and private hospital trials (Public hospitals have the patient numbers and private hospitals have the infrastructure).

  • @Astrid The two most common interview styles used in the clinical research environment are behavioural-based questions and Competency-based questions. In my opinion, and every time I have interviewed candidates, I have used these styles. They are perfect for industry roles because 1) as a clinical research associate/manager/assistant we have a LOT of face to face interaction with our clients and with the investigators. 2) We work a great deal of time as a TEAM. 3) We sometimes need to portray a sense of calm in difficult situations. I want to be sure that the person I am hiring has good interpersonal skills and can work pleasantly with the site to get things done. The competency-based questions help to confirm the candidates competency when engaging in everyday activities and also demonstrate your problem solving skills. read up on these two styles, there is a lot of info on the web. Lastly, always have at least two GREAT points/talents about yourself, and also 2 "faults". An interviewer will sometimes ask you to state these to them... so be prepared. Make sure the faults are not faults that would be detrimental to any working environment - so for instance a personality trait could be "perfectionist" for example. I have included a link here: to some questions you might find handy to practice. Good Luck!

  • pharmacology Lesley Workman 10 Apr 2014

    @Astrid: To add a bit to Pauline's comments. Always do research into the institution/organisation and position that you are interested in. Three questions that we nearly always ask are; "What interested you in this position" and "What are your goals/ambitions over the next 5 years"; "What do you think you will add to the group/institution/project". Best lesley

  • pharmacology Lesley Workman 10 Apr 2014

    @Chalachew: I totally agree, researchers need to develop protocol writing skills as they are the ones most in touch with the problems facing their communities. Most post grad diplomas/degrees in Public Health/other will cover a section relating to research methods which will cover protocol development; also there are some standard templates available for researchers to use as a guide – this is the one available on the WHO web-site.
    Best Lesley

  • karla Karla Lam 11 Apr 2014

    Thank you very much for your responses Pauline and Lesley. It is very interesting to hear about the different roles and profiles study coordinators have in industry and academia.

    @Pauline, could you perhaps briefly explain what the other coordinator roles in industry (clinical trial assistant, clinical trial manager and clinical operations manager) involve, please? Thank you.

  • Apologies, Karla, my reply above starting "Thank you for your question" was for you!

  • karla Karla Lam 14 Apr 2014

    Sorry Elizabeth for not noticing it! Thank you very much. It is very interesting to see the perspective of someone that has worked both in academia and industry.

  • paramasivanr Paramasivan R 9 Jul 2014

    Hi, I am basically microbiology, diploma in medical virology,phd in biology having working on vector borne diseases especially on dengue and chikungunya. kindly suggest me shall i undertake a course on global health or global health trials? which one will be useful for me considering the current and future requirements globally. thanks in anticipation

  • Would you please, recommend related websites and online courses other than this helpful one that would help me organize my duties, as we are conducting two trials at the same time starting in August 2014 in our research site. I am the document controller for both studies. I don't wanna commit any mistakes as possible, so am in bad need for helpful checklists & advice for organizing all these documents.

  • hedejesus Hilarious de Jesus 11 Aug 2014

    My question is primarily for the Industry panel but everyone, who have some insight, please feel free to respond. Currently, I work as research nurse in the clinical area, I wonder how much of the skills would be transferable should I consider a career in the industry route? Also, when making that transition, what would be generally the ideal first position to apply for considering my background? Also, what are the usual benefits of the job? I've heard that some of the industry posts allow intra-company transfers to other countries (i.e. for work migration), how true is this? Thank you very much for your time and input.

    (N.B. I am a paediatric research nurse managing about 8-12 studies in different phases of research delivery and my usual job description is project management from start to finish, not a lot of involvement yet with the protocol development phase but will work on it as I take on my MRes in Clinical Practice)

  • Hi Hilarious,

    I would recommend that based on your experience, you look into the different roles within industry that would be of interest to you. The challenge of moving from a clinical environment into a non-clinical one, must not be discounted and it worth trying to find a role which will allow you to interact with sites, and allows you to apply your clinical knowledge at the same.
    A possible role to facilitate this transition could be as a CRA (clinical research associate). The benefits of the job do depend on the company you work with, so maybe research companies like quintiles, ppd etc to see what benefits they offer for CRAs.
    However if you are interested in the protocol development side of a clinical research study it may be more useful to stay within your current environment and finish off your studies and then make the change!

    Good luck and hope I was

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