How to Become a Clinical Research Scientist: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a clinical research scientist. Research the education requirements, training and experience you need to start a career as a clinical research scientist. View article »

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  • 0:03 CR Scientist Career Info
  • 1:00 Earn a Bachelor's Degree
  • 1:56 Earn an Advanced Degree
  • 2:57 Work as a CR Associate
  • 3:49 Work as a CR Scientist

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Video Transcript

Clinical Research Scientist Career Info

Clinical research scientists conduct research and clinical investigations of diseases and conditions to determine accurate diagnoses and effective treatments. They work in a variety of employment settings, including hospitals, universities and pharmaceutical labs. Safety precautions must be followed and protective gear used when dealing with potentially infectious samples.

Degree Level At least a master's degree, but some positions require a Ph.D.
Degree Fields The biological sciences or medicine
Licensure and Certification Licensure is not required; optional certification is available from the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP)
Experience 2-5 years
Key Skills Able to use analytical, scientific, database user interface and graphics software; have extensive knowledge of circuit boards, computer processors, chips and hardware, knowledge of other electronic equipment, and knowledge of specific, such as centrifuges, laboratory flasks, petri plates, and more;
Salary (2015) $82,240 per year (Median annual salary for all medical scientists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Association of Clinical Research Professionals, Survey of job postings from October 2012, O*Net Online.

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Although there are several different pathways to enter the clinical research profession, all prospective research scientists must possess a bachelor's degree in the biological sciences or a related field. Some institutions offer a degree specifically designed to prepare students to work in clinical research. This type of degree program includes courses in biochemistry, pharmacology, effective research techniques, scientific writing, and data management. Regardless of major, undergraduate students intending to enter the field of clinical research should take courses in physics, mathematics, the biological sciences, and chemistry.

Clinical research scientist positions typically require experience. Completing an internship, which some programs may include as part of their bachelor's degree program curriculum, can provide this experience. Usually, during an internship, students are mentored by a qualified physician or scientific research specialist while they work on a research project.

Earn an Advanced Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most clinical research scientist positions require either an advanced degree in the biological sciences or a medical degree. Graduate degree programs in biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology, microbiology, or neuroscience often satisfy this requirement. However, some universities offer master's degree programs in clinical research. Students in these programs learn about research procedures, scholarly publication practices, biostatistics, professional ethics, and clinical trial practices. Alternatively, obtaining a Medical Doctor (M.D.) or nursing degree may qualify individuals to work in the field.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also states that many clinical research scientists choose to complete a dual degree program with majors in medicine and science. Students in these dual degree programs learn about medical practices and advanced research methodology. Possessing two graduate degrees may make students eligible for more job positions after graduation.

Work as a Clinical Research Associate

The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) states that aspiring clinical research scientists typically begin their careers in entry-level positions, possibly as a clinical research associate. These associates typically assist research scientists in designing and administrating clinical trials. They also help evaluate gathered data and monitor the procedures to assure that the methodology complies with professional protocol.

The ACRP currently offers three credentials to clinical research professionals: the Certified Clinical Research Associate, Certified Clinical Research Coordinator, and Physician Investigator. Earning any of these certifications requires passing an exam. These certifications are recognized in the industry as indicating verifiable job skills and, therefore, may help individuals advance in their careers.

Work as a Clinical Research Scientist

Clinical research scientists may work at universities, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, or for the federal government. These scientists typically perform analysis on cells, tissue, and organs to identify bacteria and toxins with the goal of understanding the causes of diseases and being able to develop vaccines or medicines for treatment. However, some clinical research scientists may work directly with patients in health settings by administering clinical trial drugs and therapies, while others may instruct physicians, residents, and technicians about medical laboratory procedures.

Research scientists have opportunities to advance to supervisory or project lead positions with enough experience and strong job performance. High-level managerial and administrative positions within their respective medical facilities may also be available with advanced experience and leadership acumen.

The body of knowledge in scientific fields changes radically and rapidly. Clinical research scientist may find it advantageous to participate in continuing education courses offered by the ACRP or another professional organization. Such training may come in the form of webinars, conferences, online classes, or in-person courses.

In sum, clinical research scientists need at least a master's degree and internship experience in the biological sciences or medical fields. A doctoral degree can be beneficial as well.

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