Abbie Walker

Country: United Kingdom
Sector: Healthcare
Job title: Clinical Research Associate
Subject of study: Biological Sciences
Year of graduation: 2016
Type/Level of study: Undergraduate

Current Employer/Organisation Name


What have you been doing since leaving Exeter, and what are you doing now?

After a summer doing an internship, I took a job at PRA health sciences – a clinical trials company in Reading. My job title was project associate and my main responsibilities were assisting the project managers to a number of global clinical trials. The trials were in a range of disease areas from rare diseases, oncology and paediatric allergies. My main responsibility we’re taking minutes at the regular meeting with the clients including large pharma companies. I was also responsible for running reports to ensure that the databases were compliant and up to date. I was invited to attend 2 face to face meetings with the clients in Rome and Washington DC. At these meetings I got to finally meet my project managers and other study team colleagues who are based all around the world. I was responsible for helping to organise some of the logistics at these meetings. During the meeting it was my responsibility to note down all the action items and make sure there is an effective plan in place to get the issues resolved. Although this was mainly delegatory administrative work it really helped me to understand the industry and a great platform to start my career. I worked as a project associate for 1 year before being promoted to In House Clinical Research Associate. This role was more based on communicating with the NHS hospitals and sites around the UK that recruit patients to take part in the clinical trials. I had to regularly monitor the sites to make sure they were documenting everything correctly so that patients remain safe and there is a clear audit trail in case of an inspection from the regulatory authorities. During this time I went on a few on site visits to help the CRA (Clinical Research Associate) with their work load. While my job was to remotely monitor the site, the CRA would travel to the sites and verify that the data the site was obtaining for the trial was accurate, compliant and ensuring the patients are correctly consented to the trial. After working closely with the CRAs I decided that I wanted to do that job myself. I enjoyed the idea of traveling to different sites around the UK, meeting different people and building strong working relationships. After working as an In Hose for 7 months I looked for opportunities in other companies and I came across an opening for new CRAs at IQVIA. After a couple of phone interviews I was pleased to be offered a job. The role is working specifically with one client – Roche. Their trials are mostly in Oncology but they do work in other areas as well. I’ve been working as a CRA since June. At the start I performed a lot of observational site visits with experienced CRAs and got to understand how they worked. Now I travel to NHS sites around the UK usually around once a week to monitor their progress on the trial. I have to make sure that the nurses and consultants are recruiting eligible patients, helping them if they are struggling to understand sections of the protocol. I verify that their data entry is accurate and that they are keeping up with paper documentation of patients consenting to be involved in the trial. I make sure that the experimental drug is being stored at the pharmacy in the right conditions, that it is being dispensed according to protocol. There’s a lot to learning and it’s incredibly interesting job plus it’s fun to be able to travel the country and visit different places. M degree in Biology has definitely helped me in understanding the medical and scientific terms that are written in the protocol But what makes it even better is knowing that my work is helping to make a small but vital step to bring new and improved drug to patients who need it.

Why did you choose this career? And what do you enjoy most about your work?

After graduating I knew that I wasn’t academic enough to go into further study. I did feel a little overwhelmed towards the end of third year and I couldn’t wait to start working. I wanted a career in a company which was related to science in some way but I wasn’t sure how. I came across PRA Health sciences, I had no idea what they did so I look on their website and it sounded really interesting. Their purpose was anchored in clinical research but I didn’t need to be a doctor/nurse/PhD in order to get involved.

What did you enjoy most about studying here?

I loved the range of modules that were on offer from ecology to Genomics. I really enjoyed the genomics, data analysis, biotech side of things and there were options to focus on these topics if I wanted to. We worked in groups a lot through the course which was really helpful to learn from others and practice team work skills, although sometimes it was quite difficult! The professors were very supportive and I had a lot of 1 to 1 time during my dissertation which allowed me to ask a lot of questions and com out with the best grade I could get.

Why did you choose to study at Exeter?

I chose the study at Exeter because of the modules on offer in Biosciences and the facilities in the department during the open day we had a mini lab experience which was great to get a taste of what Exeter Biosciences had to offer. But also because of the extra curricular groups that were available. I loved getting involved in the music societies and this range of clubs really stood out beyond other universities offering a similar biosciences course.

What skills and experiences have been most useful for your career?

Team work, communication and leadership are incredibly useful in my career and I definitely learnt a lot of these skills during my time at Exeter. Either in group work during my studies or completing the Exeter leaders award.

What advice would you give to a current student who wishes to pursue your career?

Study hard and learn as much as you can and try to enjoy it as well! Don’t be put off by starting in a supportive or administrative role. I know that you can do more than that but you learn so much in these roles and may even get to go on some fun trips abroad and learn from people in more senior positions. don’t be afraid to look outside of your current company for more opportunities if you’re not getting promoted soon enough

What are your plans for the future?

I want to carry on in this role as a CRA for a few more years and really get to grips with my responsibilities. Then I’d like to become a study manager where I will oversee a group of CRAs and take on more decision making.


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