How to Get a Job in Clinical Research

Do you aspire to work in a laboratory with special instruments and techniques, conducting and analyzing experimental data? Then a career in clinical research may be where you should focus your efforts.

Depending upon the amount of education you have or are interested in pursuing, there is a clinical research job that could be the right fit for you.

With just an associate degree, you can work as a chemical technician, veterinary technologist or veterinary technician. Pursue an entry-level job as a clinical or medical laboratory technician, or ambulatory technician with a bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory science, medical technology, or a life science. Similarly, you can consider a career as a biological technician, chemical technician, chemist, materials scientist or veterinary technologist or technician, with a bachelor’s degree. A clinical physician or scientist position will require a bachelor’s degree plus a master’s degree or professional certification and typically hands-on clinical, medical experience. 

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, clinical laboratory technologists and technicians made about $53,120 annually in 2019 while biological technicians averaged $45,860 annually and chemists or materials scientists averaged $78,790 a year in 2019.  Medical scientists typically earned about $88,790 annually in 2019 and a professional degree can substitute for a Ph.D.

What Education and Experience Do You Need for a Job in Clinical Research?

Introductory students heading into the clinical research field should begin with an associate’s degree in applied sciences or chemical technology. Typical classes will include math, biology, physics and chemistry courses. That degree will prepare you to push on for a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, physiology, biology or a related science field, to enter research careers like biological technician jobs, a chemist or a materials scientist job that all require a four-year bachelor’s degree.

After completion of a related bachelor’s degree, the next academic level would be a Ph.D. program that is traditionally paired with a specialized medical degree area. The Ph.D. track offers students more focused study in research methods like project design, methodology, and data interpretation. For students that prefer the medical track, degree holders enter a medical doctor, doctor of dental surgery, doctor of dental medicine, doctor of osteopathic medicine, or an advanced nursing degree program. 

Postdoctoral research positions, medical residency or a fellowship are required to first practice as a medical doctor but not essential if you plan to head directly into a research field. Professional certifications and licensing requirements vary by specialty and state.

Why Do Some Clinical Research Jobs Require a Four-Year Bachelor’s Degree While Others Do Not?

Not all careers in clinical research demand the same amount of education or experience. Clinical research scientists working on a bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory science, biological science, or medical laboratory technology or science, typically spend the first two years of their study in laboratory work, doing classroom lecture studying and testing. According to Learn.org, completing a program that is accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) is required for many credentialing boards and to obtain Clinical Lab Science (CLS) certification. Some but not all states require clinical laboratory licensing before entering the workforce. 

Typically clinical research scientists will find lab work built into the course study and the certification process of earning a bachelor’s degree or Ph.D. Associates and medical technicians pursuing a career in clinical scientific research will typically assist existing clinical research scientists as part of their study, internship, residency or fellowship programs. 

Some bachelor’s programs will prepare students to sit for the Medical Laboratory Technicians (MLT) certification exam from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). If so, you can apply and begin your laboratory career once you complete and pass the exam. The combination of specialty medical training, building researching skills, and pursuing professional training that accompanies each level of academic study helps students focus in on the field of research they would like to pursue, as well as the level of expertise at which they want to function.

Conclusion

If animal or human research, testing, data collection, and analysis appeal to you, a career in the multi-leveled clinical research field may be in your future. The field of clinical research offers beginner careers with just an associate’s degree but also feature career paths that will require a bachelor’s, masters, or doctorate degree with the potential to work as a medical doctor or nurse practitioner. Begin by earning an associate degree.

The next levels of clinical research work are available at the pace you set for yourself but staying at an entry-level position may satisfy your career aspirations. You could advance into a hands-on medical career, turn at some point to laboratory work and transition into the healthcare policy-making arena.