Hiring New Clinical Researchers


Elizabeth Weeks-Rowe

Elizabeth Weeks-Rowe

In life, the purchase of a new car, or house, invokes feelings of excitement, potential value and sustainability.  Being new is positive thing, with infinite possibility.     

Whereas, in the clinical research industry, a new/inexperienced employee may invoke feelings of unease, and the investment of critical time and resources without prospective return. Wonderful possibility is not anticipated, rather, ability is questioned. This doubt forces the choice of experience over potential, on what is comfortable/predictable (such as the requisite two years of CRA experience for an entry level CRA position) over the unknown. The unknown being the interesting candidate that may have lacked specific clinical research experience but possessed appropriate education and/or clinical skills that were imminently transferable to a clinical research role. A candidate with an abundance of enthusiasm, the diligence for effective assimilation, and the drive to work hard under the most arduous circumstances. That candidate that would most likely have been the better choice for the long haul.      

Enthusiasm is a rare commodity. Or, as Emerson so aptly declared, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Enthusiasm makes for a fertile training ground. The hunger of the untried drives the quest for knowledge, and the overall pursuit of success more dynamically than experience alone. The new researcher just needs the opportunity, wrought by an innovative individual/organization that considers inexperience as fresh palate for creation, that does not merely see a short CV lacking job finesse, but rather a straightforward career narrative with space for impending accomplishment. When an individual/organization invests in a new researcher, they are investing in the future of clinical research. For that microbiology graduate given a second interview may be the next great cancer innovator, or at the very least, a valued addition to your study team, willing to grow and contribute to the institution that provided that first opportunity.  

I can personally attest to value of taking a chance on an inexperienced clinical researcher, and how the principles of loyalty, teamwork and leadership are cultivated with the preliminary investment in a new employee  

I once worked for a research organization that sponsored an entry level CRA training program. The program provided regulatory/monitoring training to research naïve professionals in exchange for a two-year employment commitment, and consistently trained up to twenty researchers annually. The competition was intense for these coveted positions, and it took several weeks to narrow the field from forty, to five, final candidates. During the interviewing process I was gratefully reminded of the importance of enthusiasm, that framed the words/gestures of the candidates.

The top applicant was an articulate young man with a bachelor’s in chemistry from a local university. His credentials were no more impressive than his peers, but his exuberance over a clinical research career was palpable with his engaging demeanor. It reminded me of the excitement I felt at the start of my career, that had never truly waned.  

Despite my lack of clinical research experience, I was hired by a forward-thinking investigator who viewed my nursing experience (the only source of relatability to clinical research on my CV) as the perfect accompaniment to my clinical research assimilation. After hiring several study coordinators who were credibly experienced on paper but not in practice, she opted to hire an inexperienced coordinator (me) whom she could train correctly. It was a memorable training period, replete with misplaced bravado (me) risk (my PI), error (me), stress (me), lessons learned (me), contrition (me), resolve (my PI and me), but most of all, enthusiasm. I was eager to learn and nothing would dissuade that process, not the time I transformed myself into Barny the purple dinosaur while learning to perform gram stains, or missing Friday night plans in order to consent a study patient or help my monitor pull CRF pages for the interim analysis. I may not have been the most proficient or knowledgeable study coordinator, but I was certainly enthusiastic. 

And that impressive candidate never lost resolve despite several setbacks. After receiving his offer letter and anticipated start date, the CRA class was postponed 3 months, 6 months and then indefinitely due to corporate restructuring. Devastated, he was forced to accept short term employment to make ends meet, but his determination stayed the course and he never stopped applying for clinical research positions. He cast a wider net of applications beyond the CRA role to include data management and pharmacovigilance. Eighteen months later he successfully interviewed and was awarded a paid internship with a large pharmaceutical company that emphasized clinical research management training. His enthusiasm was a key contributor to his success, made possible by those willing to invest in new researchers and the future of this incredible industry.

-Guest blogger Elizabeth Weeks-Rowe

Elizabeth Weeks-Rowe works in study start up and with investigational sites in the CRO industry. She is an experienced clinical research writer and trainer with a passion for educating the public about the field of clinical research via creative and engaging communications.