As another cohort of final year undergraduates prepare for their last exams, the next question usually is ‘What next?’ Postgraduate degree? Job? The transition from student to employee can be something of a mystery therefore our focus during #MyCareerStory is to shed some light on different career paths – paths well trodden as well as the road less travelled. We will be inviting professionals from a variety of disciplines to share their stories. In today’s article we discuss with Abiola Owolabi about developing her career in Clinical Research.
APH: Can you tell us about your educational background and career progression to date?
AO: Following my GCSE and A levels in the sciences, I chose a Biological Sciences degree, because of the wide spectrum of subjects it offered – biotechnology, biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology and statistics.
I have worked in clinical research for over fifteen years. Initially starting out in a forensic laboratory, I soon moved into the clinical research laboratories rising to managerial level before I discovered my main gifting was in clinical trial administration.
I am a highly motivated and disciplined individual, who loves to be organised and solve problems.
I have worked for clinical research organisations, such as Chiltern, Quintiles, inVentiv Health Clinical, Richmond Pharmacology, Retroscreen Pharmacology as well as pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies such as Bristol Myers Squibb, Glenmark, Allergan and currently Biogen.
How did a graduate in Biological Sciences get into the world of clinical research?
During my degree, I mostly enjoyed experiments in the laboratory. On graduation, my first contract role was at the Forensic Science Services as a Biological Laboratory Technician. This provided me with a good footing and opened the doors to enter into the laboratories of a Phase 1 clinical research facility of Quintiles – Guys Drug Research Unit as a Clinical Project Assistant and this is where my professional story began.
Do you think that the percentage of bioscience graduates considering clinical research as a viable career option is a minority compared to for example working in the NHS?
I believe about 50% of science graduates consider clinical research as a viable career option. This has increased over the years with the development of genetically tailored treatment. Publications of great results, social media announcements, followed by the approval of life changing drugs has made information about clinical research more readily available.
In your opinion, what are essential skills and personal attributes required to excel in your current role as a Senior Clinical Trials Coordinator.
These include the requirement to have great attention to detail, be very organised, have the ability to multi-task and willing to learn new processes and electronic systems quickly. Good verbal, written communication skills and the ability to build relationships are also essential.
Can you describe a typical working day? What do you like the most and what do you find the most challenging about your role?
Each working day varies and it’s driven by the priorities given to each task. The ability to constructively challenge issues as they arise and escalate information as appropriate is vital to a productive day.
I am part of a large team managing 5 global studies, so the email traffic is consistent and the first task of the day is to review emails, noting actions and electronically filing trial related documents, updating clinical trial management system (CTMS) and study trackers.
Being part of a regulated industry, our standard operating procedures are regularly updated, as such there is time dedicated to training to ensure I am abreast of new processes. Slide review and meeting preparation easily takes up the remaining time.
A 3K run, shower and quick bite takes up my lunch hour.
I return refreshed to start an afternoon of meetings, liaising with the study functional teams – clinical operation leads, medics, safety, statisticians, regulatory, finance, vendor/contract managers to resolve issues, clarify actions. Write minutes and distribute minutes, amongst numerous other tasks.
Do you have any mentors?
Indeed, I have great mentors in the industry.
How important has having a mentor(s) been to you?
Mentors play a key part in my development, they have been in the industry for years and I value their guidance and coaching to take me to the next levels. My mentors prevent me from settling with the good and are always pushing me to aim for the next level and be the best at all times.
What do you wish someone else had told you before you embarked on your professional journey?
The importance of learning another language whilst at school was not emphasised enough. Many emerging countries, such as India, China, Mexico, Brazil, and Russia are increasingly participating in Clinical Trials. The need to be fluent in another language would easily break down some of the linguistic barriers experienced. Often there is a need to communicate to an investigator to ensure understanding of the study requirement or patient symptoms.
What achievements are you most proud of? Have you made any mistakes and what did you learn from them?
Over the years and in different companies, I have received many awards for being part of the Trial Master Files (TMF) inspection readiness team. I am always proud to emerge successfully out of a Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) inspection with no/ minor findings related to the study TMF documentation.
The industry is very heavily regulated and we are required to update our processes to get the best clinical trial data to support the application to market a drug.
Making mistakes is part of development, it is important to learn from them and move on quickly. Rectify issues where possible and mitigating against future events.
Finally, and just as important, how do you maintain a sense of balance while juggling your different roles – both personal and professional?
I maintain balance by continuously creating order and routine into my life, there is a set time and place for everything. I set goals, prioritise and flexibly accommodate interruptions accordingly.
Abiola Owolabi received her degree from the University of North London in 1999. Over the years, she has built up extensive experience in clinical trial administration. Her experience spans a broad range of therapeutic areas, notably Asthma, Arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and virology.
Filled by her passion to teach children, she is an active member of the Children’s ministry at KICC, and also volunteers regularly at her local Children’s Centre.
She is married and has two children.
We are very grateful to Abiola for sharing her career journey with us. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and subscribe to our network! Would you like to share an article in The Hub? We would love to hear from you. Please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org.