When pharmacist Swapna Deshpande moved to the United States in 2013, she had a Master of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Quality Assurance from her native India. One would have thought that she had the professional experience and education to make a move into the biotech industry. But as she relates from her home in Sacramento, there weren't many study/work options available for foreign graduates with medical or health sciences background.
With limited choices, Swapna took advantage of enrolling in a few stem cell courses at Sacramento State. But she needed more education and—more importantly—experience to gain a foothold in the biotech field.
Welcome to Berkeley!
Enter our Clinical Research Conduct and Management certificate, where Swapna could take all of her courses online—especially helpful with a toddler running around.
"I wanted to gain knowledge and prepare myself competitively to work in the clinical research field," Swapna recalls. "The program was very thorough and had the in-depth knowledge that covered every important aspect in clinical trials: regulatory, finance, data, subjects, project management, and roles and responsibilities of personnel." During the final phase of taking classes, Swapna was able to take lessons learned and apply them directly to her volunteer position assisting in clinical trials at UC Davis Medical Center's Department of Internal Medicine.
With certificate in hand in December 2015, Swapna began her job search—but was finding dead ends. Many potential employers were looking to fill their entry-level positions with candidates who had some experience in the field. Granted, Swapna had the volunteering cred from UC Davis, but those employers were looking for more substantial exposure.
An Internship Presents Itself
Fast-forward one year after completing her certificate. In January 2017, Swapna heard from certificate program director Dr. Richard Louie about an exciting opportunity for graduates: internships! As one of our first graduates to complete an internship with the Stanford Clinical Research Preceptor Program, she was able to gain first-hand knowledge by shadowing a preceptor in the Stanford School of Medicine's Thoracic Oncology department.
Swapna describes her experience:
"During my internship, I shadowed a clinical research coordinator who served as my preceptor. Although the minimum requirement was to work eight hours per week, I sometimes worked more per day for the whole 3-month internship.
"I shadowed the preceptor in whatever work she was doing, such as working with regulatory documents, attending clinics for subject visits, and going to team meetings and research group meetings, where they would discuss new projects. I saw how projects are approved.
"In the clinic, I was actively involved in the consenting process, interacting with patients and answering their queries, and collecting and shipping blood sample/tumor tissue. I also prepared the subject binder, which had all of the documents needed for the study. I worked on REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture), EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) and Oncore CTMS (Clinical Trial Management System).
"The Stanford Cancer Center, especially the Thoracic group, is renowned for its contribution to the latest treatments for lung cancer. They had orientation sessions for new hires and interns, which were extremely helpful in building my knowledge by having one-on-one interactions with experts in the field. These sessions were like the icing on the cake. I was lucky enough to have this experience with a great team of coordinators and physicians working on a cell therapy trial."
Have Experience, Will Employ
With both the certificate and the 3-month internship added to her resume, Swapna easily found employment opportunities—even while she was doing the internship! She recalls that three job offers were in her hand before the internship ended. "My internship experience was a big reason behind this. It helped me to increase my skill set and practical knowledge. The internship increased the chances of getting my resume screened for interviews in the first place and then getting through them to actually have offers."
Today, Swapna is happily employed at Pharmacyclics, an AbbVie company, as a clinical information system administrator. There, she works on CTMS and data listings, and ensures that the trial data is consistent and accurate as per guidelines.
"The certificate laid down the base on which I am working today," Swapna enthuses. "I don't think without having done this certificate I would be working at a leading biotech company. The certification made me understand the importance of documentation, SOPs and data management. Clinical research is a vast and ever-growing field. To perform the duties needed, it's important to have clear knowledge about the requirements, which the certificate provides at its best."