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How to become a Clinical Research Associate (CRA)

Working within Life Sciences as a Clinical Research Associate (also known as a CRA) can be a lucrative and enriching career path. With over 300,000 clinical trials conducted globally on a year-on-year basis, there is an increasing demand for this type of skill set.

In this article, we’re going to highlight how you can begin your career as a CRA either fresh out of academia, or how you can transition into a CRA role from another life sciences/pharmaceutical position.


 Graduates and other academia: entry requirements

If you’re looking to start your career as a CRA, you can either begin right after you have graduated from your Bachelors, or once you have completed a PhD. A PhD isn’t necessary but, if you have one, you will naturally be eligible for a higher salary range.

Biology-based degrees are looked upon more favourably, such as biopharma or molecular biology, to name a few. Other degrees within the medical field such as nursing, microbiology, and medicine also fit the criteria. If you are bi-lingual or speak another language fluently, this can also be a great addition, but isn’t essential.

If you’ve got what it takes, you can join one of the CRA intakes — a prized position considering only the top CROs take a batch of entry level CRAs. The more common route that CRA-hopefuls take is to apply for an entry level role such as a clinical trial associate, trial assistant, or lab assistant within a CRO, biotech, pharma, or research institute and then apply for internal promotions to eventually become a CRA.

A typical starting salary for a graduate would be around £25,000 – £30,000 (about $34k-41k USD) and a PhD starting salary would be between £30,000 and £32,000 ($41k-44k USD).

Equally, if you have purely worked within an academic setting for a number of years, you could also be considered for a PhD level salary, as you would have acquired enough practical experience to justify this salary range.


 Transferring from another role within Life Sciences or Pharma

It’s common for other Life Science professionals to sidestep into a CRA role; however, there are still qualifications you need to have to effectively transfer.

The best way to transfer internally is by working at a CRO, also known as a Clinical Research Organisation. In our experience, this is the quickest and most effective way, however you would have to start at a junior level and work your way up. You may also have to sit exams to acquire ample qualifications before progressing to the next stage.

If you work for the NHS as a Clinical Trial Manager (CTM), and you would like to transfer into the private sector, you would most likely have to take a step back in seniority and work for 12-18 months as a CRA first. It is very common for this to happen, and CTM’s from the NHS are welcomed into the private sector regularly.

Again, you would most likely have to sit practical or written tests. However, larger organisations will facilitate this as part of your transition into a new role.


 What are the benefits to working as a CRA?

  • A lot of autonomy from the get-go: You will have the opportunity to work from home and have a considerable amount of flexibility even if you join at a junior level
  • Travel opportunities: Whether this is local or international travel, it’s one of the perks of working as a CRA. It is a benefit that attracts a number of people to either start or transition into this profession
  • Clear progression path: There is a growing demand for CRA’s, and it’s a profession that is yet to reach its peak. With hundreds of thousands of clinical trials happening globally, there will always be a need for CRA’s
  • Financially lucrative: Along with great career progression, you are also compensated generously even in the early stages of your career. Once you progress to project manager level, you can expect to be earning upwards of £100,000 (~$137k USD) each year.

How can Planet Pharma help you?

Whether you are looking to start your career as a CRA at junior level, or you are looking to transfer from academia, the NHS, or another Life Sciences role, please don’t hesitate to contact us and schedule an initial conversation.

We will explain to you the steps that you’ll need to take to ensure that you are attractive to potential employers, and we will also equip you with the necessary information, so you can flourish at interview stage.


Photo Credit: Canva

By Joshua Smith, Recruiter, Planet Pharma EU

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