Be a rich man if I could.
June 11, 2011 4:08 PM   Subscribe

What's it like to work at a contract research organization?

I'm a university research assistant exploring career options (previously: 1, 2, 3). A very friendly and helpful Mefite has clued me into the world of CROs, and it sounded like a potential good fit.

I'd love to talk to any Mefites (or friends of Mefites) who work or have worked for a CRO. In particular, I'd love to learn about:
  • your academic and professional background
  • skill sets employers seek in entry-level candidates
  • whether you enjoy the work, and why
  • whether your skills are being utilized to their full potential
  • the long-term prospects of an entry-level hire at a CRO
I'm happy to receive responses via private message if you're more comfortable with that route.

For reference:
  • I've been a full-time assistant in cognitive neuroscience for over three years.
  • I enjoy the technical aspects of research (collecting and cleaning up data, statistical analysis, documenting findings, figuring out new equipment), less so the administrative and project management aspects (subject recruitment, scheduling, etc.).
  • My experience is with EEG, followed by fNIRS and fMRI, in that order. I am my team's Matlab code monkey.
  • My background in biology and chemistry is nil, and I've never worked in a real wet lab.
  • I have a particular interest in statistics and applied math. I've taken enough applied stats classes to fulfill the requirements for the graduate certificate, but never formally joined the program. I can use SPSS and R, but not SAS.
  • I only have a BA in cognitive science, but it's from a well-respected university.
I appreciate any and all input.
posted by Nomyte to Work & Money (2 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I work in pharmacovigilance and have been employed by a couple different CROs. I actually have a degree in English, which is very (VERY) unusual in my field--99% of people in drug safety are either healthcare professionals (mainly nurses) or have a degree in a biological/medical field. It is a real uphill climb being in my field without a formal medical/scientific background. I have managed it because I have really extensive clinical knowledge, had a lucky break securing my first job in the field, and have been able to get a lot of experience since then that has made me marketable. I really enjoy my work, for the most part, because it is a good way of combining my love of medicine with my writing skills.

I have worked in both CRO and pharma, and prefer pharma overall (although you are unlikely to get a pharma job without CRO experience first). CROs don't pay quite as well, but the tradeoff is that they are much more willing, in general, to hire people who will need some training. In a CRO, you are beholden to your sponsors and pretty much have to do things the way they want you do. You won't have a whole lot of say in how things are done, in general. You also have to make sure to be billable most of the time (unless you're in a support department like IT or HR, of course).

A medical background is not quite as important in some departments--for instance, your background sounds like a pretty good fit for a clinical data management position, which I know has a lot of potential for growth. I have seen people move up very quickly in data management. Your best bet for an entry-level position is to target one of the large CROs, which tend to have good training programs. Look at PPD, Quintiles, ICON, Covance, Parexel, Kendle, PRA, and i3, to start with. Smaller CROs are not off the table; it's just that they are usually much more hesitant about people who are sort of making a career change.
posted by feathermeat at 6:31 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

A good place to start wrt Pharma and CROs is In the Pipeline:: the people there know a lot about drug discovery CROs, and the blog links are excellent
posted by lalochezia at 9:41 AM on June 12, 2011

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