Enhanced Skill Set Brings Increased Responsibilities

Project management certificate graduate Cecilia Yu builds her skill set to ensure successful clinical trials

For Cecilia Yu, it was a San Francisco high school AP Psychology course that ignited an interest in science as a career possibility and an application and admission into UC Davis, where she ultimately earned two bachelor’s degrees: one in psychology and another in neurobiology, physiology and behavior.

“During my undergrad, I did a few internships in different departments at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento,” she says. “My most memorable internship was in research at the UC Davis MIND Institute, where I observed the complexity of the assessments conducted for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. From then on, my curiosity and my desire to focus my career in clinical research just grew more and more.”

How so?

“That internship gave me a preview of the rigor of the research, the multiple stakeholders’ involvement and all the preparation necessary to make an assessment,” Cecilia tells me. “The clinical research process really takes a whole village to accomplish—which highlights the importance of project management. I discovered the huge amount of coordination and work needed—from getting different specialists’ input to working together as a team internally and with the children’s parents to come up with a step-by-step plan, which are key project management tasks—and this was my first introduction to some project management skills.”

But it wouldn’t be her last. Cecilia’s career in a scientific field has been enhanced and advanced by the knowledge, skills and techniques she gained from our Certificate Program in Project Management. Let’s learn more about how she got where she is today.

A Career Focus

Born and raised in San Francisco, Cecilia didn’t have far to venture for her first job out of college: a clinical research coordinator at UCSF, where having fundamental project management skills is key to her success.

“My primary responsibilities as a clinical research coordinator were recruiting subjects for our clinical trials and following the study protocol by collecting samples, entering the data and managing internal and external stakeholders,” she reflects. “A clinical research coordinator needs to have not only an attention to detail for data accuracy but also communication skills to ensure the researchers, nurses and patients in the clinical trial are clear on the study procedures.”

Eager to learn more about the guidelines and procedures for administering successful clinical trials, Cecilia was accepted into an online master’s program for clinical research administration through Walden University.

Her next career move was to Gilead Sciences, first as a clinical project assistant and then a few years later as a clinical trial management associate. Responsibilities as a project assistant included:

  • designing a study-specific tracker

  • drafting oversight monitoring plans

  • developing a review template for document tracking and auditing

  • ensuring compliance with regulations for the clinical trials

These activities helped plant the seed that she may need to grow her project management skills.

“When I started my career in the pharmaceutical industry in clinical operations, I was overseeing and managing clinical trials from startup to close-out,” she explains.

As her career advanced to clinical trial management associate at Gilead, Cecilia was knowledgeable on the development lifecycle from her master’s program, but the realization that it all required planning and alignment from internal and external stakeholders was her a-ha project management moment.

“During the planning phase, I learned how critical it is to develop a charter, to identify stakeholders, and to have multiple plans to ensure the sponsor oversight of the clinical trial,” she says. “While I had gained a lot of knowledge and technical skills including the importance of ethics and regulations through my master’s program, I began to see that my daily work in developing these monitoring plans and trackers for risk management actually called for more project management skills.”

Complementing Work in Clinical Research

In September 2016, Cecilia joined then–start-up GRAIL, Inc. as a clinical trial manager. By September of the following year, Cecilia decided it was time to register for our Certificate Program in Project Management to better understand how all of her skills need to successfully work together.

“As I learned more about the tools, techniques, guidelines and processes used in this field,” Cecilia says, “I was able to quickly apply and implement them where I saw an opportunity for improvement at my company.

“This included developing project plans, creating checklists for my clinical trials and designing a dashboard to track key metrics and milestones to ensure the projects are monitored closely.

“I also improved my technical and analytical skills by creating timelines and coordinating with different vendors to make sure all the start-up activities are done prior to enrollment in our clinical trials. Facilitation was a critical skill that I improved on during my meetings,” she adds.

Cecilia chose to further her education with our certificate program because of the curriculum and how she was able to balance her work schedule with her learning. “I liked the flexibility of online or classroom courses, the large selection of courses offered and, most importantly, the quality instructors who all have decades of project management experience.”


Cecilia’s desire to improve and learn more didn’t stop with our project management certificate. In 2019, she also completed our Advanced Program in Project Management and the Professional Sequence in Project Human Resource Management. Her growing professional network played a role in these ambitions.

“I made a lot of connections while I was completing my project management certificate,” she says. “Within that network, many of my fellow classmates highly recommended continuing courses through the Advanced Program in Project Management and the Professional Sequence in Project Human Resource Management. I also had a very supportive manager who encouraged professional career development.”

Our dedicated instructors also made a lasting impression on Cecilia’s career goals. Cheryl Allen in the intensive PMP®/CAPM® exam preparation course and Dr. Zachary Wong, an instructor in the Advanced Human Factors: Improving Personal Effectiveness and Influence course, made the biggest impacts.

“Dr. Wong’s section was fun, interactive and memorable—he made management concepts easy to apply in real-life work settings,” Cecilia commends. “Being a great project manager requires developing soft skills, such as influencing and understanding your values, which are especially important in my highly regulated industry.”

And when it was time for Cecilia to sit for the PMP® exam in 2020, she was prepared. Not only learning the base project management knowledge, but our classes also provided practice exams and key techniques that helped her pass the exam. “I probably would not have passed if I hadn't completed the certificate,” Cecilia relates.

For the Management of Life’s Projects, Too

With our certificate and the PMP® certification under her belt, Cecilia’s career began to move quickly with a new role at GRAIL, Inc.—as a clinical program manager.

“I started managing more complex and multiple clinical studies,” she tells me. “In clinical operations, you start off as a clinical project assistant, move up to clinical trial associate management, then to clinical trial manager managing one clinical trial, and eventually move up to clinical program manager where you are managing different clinical trials within that program.”

Today, Cecilia is an associate director in project management with 4D Molecular Therapeutics (4DMT).

“I am excited to move from the clinical operations department to the project management department in my current role at 4DMT,” she enthuses.

“I collaborate with the cross-functional project teams to proactively establish project management plans, goals, milestones, budget and timelines; I learned these critical technical skills from the courses in the certificate program. Just as important as the technical skills, people skills include working closely with multiple stakeholders to drive the clinical projects to those targeted milestones and goals, as well as leading and facilitating meetings to ensure the project continues moving forward. Courses that incorporate those types of interactive group exercises, such as in Project Leadership and Building High-Performing Teams and in Business Negotiating, provide a valuable skill set for a project manager.”

That’s not only applicable to a science or business environment—project management can carry over into life goals. Cecilia also uses her project management skills volunteering with Girls on the Run Bay Area (GOTR). “I help increase awareness of the program by participating in a variety of strategic and fundraising initiatives to deepen the outreach of GOTR. It brings me great joy to be serving as a young professional board member and to be applying my project management skills outside of work,” she says.

From the research lab to goals that help keep us each happy and healthy, what words of wisdom does Cecilia have for those considering upskilling for their jobs or their personal interests with our courses?

She answers, “If you are looking to make a career in project management, by completing the certificate or a few project management courses, you will develop an invaluable skill set that will look great on your résumé, help you advance your career and open the door for new opportunities.”