5 Career Tips for a Young CRA

Nurture and grow your career
I came across a fun little article on biospace that offers career advice: 5 ways to be a rockstar at work (via Biospace).
This post echoes the format of that article and I hope you will find it interesting and leave me a comment or email some feedback.

Although I have transitioned to in-house, the bulk of my experience as a CRA is in Regional Monitoring.  Reflecting back on the career tenets I stand by, I am sharing today my 5 best career tips for a new traveling monitor.

1. Be a Partner

  • An auditing approach to monitoring will strain your relationship with the site staff.  You know the regulations that govern our work and you understand the study that you are monitoring including all the expected procedures, assessment windows, and special instructions provided in newsletters and in other study correspondence.  Your attitude can be to train the study site personnel and share with them this information to help them protect subject safety and data integrity, or you can go in and point out everything they’ve done wrong and focus only on the poor performance.  You can write a damaging monitoring report, cover yourself, and simultaneously ostracize the site but you will not have partnered with the site or introduced extra quality; you may be perceived as a bully or hall-monitor.
  • Don’t “police” your sites too strictly.
    This approach is detrimental to
    quality relationship building.

    Remember that coordinators and Investigators have responsibilities beyond your specific trial.  I have addressed this in other posts such as ‘Motivating Your Study Coordinators‘.  If you can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes you won’t be able to influence them to help you with your goals during the visit or in future visits.

  • At crunch time you will cultivate the relationships you have built. Need access to the site at a greater frequency or increased duration?  Need your coordinator to stay late and do some extra data entry or query resolution?  If you have been friendly and respectful to date, you improve your chances of getting what you need out of your sites – even at short notice.

2. Know your Metrics / Deliver Quality Results

What is expected of you? How do you
rank in performance compared to your
peers?  Are you accountable at work?
  • You are being measured against your peers.  Approach your work in a task-oriented manner and ensure that you know which deliverables are due, when, and in what manner.  Deliver early and track your contributions.
  • Be current on all training and don’t expect a prize for meeting this basic job responsibility.  Even if “nobody else is getting their SOPs done”, stay current on yours and don’t link your performance (or failure to perform) to others.
  • You’ll come to find that cultivating quality relationships and trust with your sites will go hand-in-hand with producing excellent metrics.  Focus on quality first and the metrics will follow.

3. Raise your Flag / Get Noticed

Me me me.  Don’t forget to highlight the successes
of your supervisor and the collective team.
Contributing to other people’s happiness
and “ team buzz” will return to you in dividends.
  • Pause and reflect as needed to appreciate your body of work.  I keep a “praise” folder in my email to store thank you notes and stories of major deliverables I have met or produced.  I reference the “praise” folder as a pick-me-up when I am feeling overwhelmed and challenged.
  • Since you are always identifying your deliverables and finishing everything ahead of the deadline and tracking your contributions as I have suggested, you can provide this information to your immediate supervisor at 1:1s, in performance reviews, or in status report emails.
  • Don’t overreach.  If you are promoting yourself to your bosses boss, you may be overstepping and actually undermining your current boss or creating animosity among your peers.  Tread carefully here.  Be humble and use good judgment.

4. Don’t Commiserate / Nobody likes a Debbie Downer

Moaning about what isn’t working is easier
than focusing on what is going well or
coming up with solutions to improve
situations that are not ideal.
Resist the temptation to commiserate.
  • Your peer CRAs may live and work in cities far away.  They will have different financial circumstances, family backgrounds, tastes and preferences, and values.  Typically the easiest common ground when forging a relationship with your peers is to talk about work and the projects at hand.  Inevitably, this will lead to grumbling or complaining about the demands on your time, or a boss who just doesn’t get it, or a lead who seems checked out, or a site that is difficult to work with.   You may feel you are “just venting”, but negativity is toxic, counter-productive, and a bad attitude will adversely affect your future career prospects.
  • If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  In every job you have to evaluate the gap between what you want from your ideal position and what you have in your current position.  It is your charge to reconcile that gap by identifying concrete and measurable outcomes that leave you satisfied.  If you simply cannot overcome the gap because of a corporate culture mis-match, timing, resourcing restraints, etc. you have to decide 1) Am I going to acclimate and deal? or 2) Am I going to bolt?  You should only be asking those two questions once you have exhausted every avenue to change your position into what you want.  These are the only two choices.  If you take things to their natural conclusion, you can stop being petulant and accept your circumstances or you can have the maturity to leave your position; either option is ultimately in the best interest of yourself, your boss, the organization, the sites, and the study patients that we are ultimately responsible to.  The scenario where you stay begrudgingly, and half-perform will likely eventually result in your termination. Your metrics will suffer, your relationships outside the office will be impacted, and you will be unfulfilled and miserable at work.

5. Be Patient  / Exercise Humility

The best managers teach you that
you can validate yourself and
recognize your own accomplishments.
  • Your Lead CRA isn’t approving your trip request within two hours of submission? Give it at least a day and recognize that you are one of a team of many CRAs that your lead manages.  This, while your lead simultaneously juggles all of the other CRA Lead and ad hoc responsibilities.  Trust that your request is in the queue and chill out.
  • Not getting the promotion you are ready for or the recognition you want after over-delivering on an important study milestone?  Keep reminding your supervisors of your contributions through status reports, performance evaluations, in 1:1s, or in a team setting.
  • Great managers always have a pulse on your contributions.  Better managers always give you credit for a job well done.  The best managers provide acknowledgement strategically; they make you wait for it to teach you humility, maturity, tact, and solidify your role in the organization.  The quality expectations are very high with the best managers and therefore they reserve praise for only truly exceptional performance.  Feedback that you have to be patient for will prove to be your most valued feedback at work.

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About The Author

The Lead CRA

Nadia started The Lead CRA blog in 2007. She is now lead author for ClinOps Toolkit. Nadia is currently working as a Clinical Program Manager at a small specialty pharmaceutical company in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach Nadia via email at [email protected] anytime.


  • OLA

    June 3, 2015

    Hi Nadia. Good morning. Please can you share your thoughts on how to get organize as a CRA and how to work with a difficult PI and Study Coordinator. Thank you.

  • Talia

    September 8, 2014

    Nadia thank you so much for your very valuable website – I have learnt alot from your posts written in plain English that is easy to understand (unlike my SOPs at a large CRO!). I would love to see a post on how you managed the transition from CRA to study Manager, and what would you recommend for CRAs looking to develop into Project Managers?

  • brianachievepeak

    August 28, 2012

    Career Coaching is the best way to understand what we want and need from we career

  • Career Tips

    October 23, 2011

    Very Nice Article i am really impressed

  • Anonymous

    July 20, 2011

    Great tip! I especially like your advice on site relationships. It is always good to remember that your study is not the only one vying for the coordinators time. If you recognize the coordinator’s efforts and work as a team your site visit will most likely be a success.

  • The Lead CRA

    Siva, some great points. Certification is a great way to stay connected with trends and news. I agree with your point that certification broadens your perspective for global trials as well. Thanks!

  • Siva Mullapudi

    July 19, 2011

    I love your post Nadia. Along with these tips I would recommend CRAs to keep an eye on the regulations and encourage getting a professional certification from organizations such as ACRP or SoCRA. The rules of the industry are becoming tighter and changing more frequently. The certification will help to “Get Noticed” in the organization. At the same time these organizations will help to keep us informed about developments in the clinical research field. I am acting as a Global Lead CRA and feeling the pinch in learning both the global rules and country specific regulations.

    Keep up the good work! -Siva

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