For clinical professionals starting out in the industry, getting your big break can prove arduous. But as is the case for professionals working in any sector, once your foot is through the door that is when the real challenge begins. Working your way up the ladder can provide all sorts of obstacles along the way. How you overcome those challenges can often determine how successful you’ll be in your career.
CTA Editor Henry Kerali speaks to Jacquie Mardell, a seasoned professional with many years of experience under belt. As the Senior Director of Clinical Operations at Ascendis Pharma, Mardell has amassed a multitude of experience working in clinical trials and knows what it takes to make a successful career in the life sciences. In this Industry Viewpoint, Mardell imparts her wisdom on some of the keys to her success.
Henry Kerali: What drew you to the life sciences industry?
Jacquie Mardell: I was initially very excited about the possibility of making a difference in patients’ lives. Though I didn’t have an academic background in the sciences, I had long been interested in medicine. The life sciences industry gave me an opportunity to contribute meaningfully.
HK: How long have you been in the industry?
JM: This is my 37th year!
HK: Was it always your goal to work in clinical development?
JM: I started in data management in the early 1980s at a medium-sized pharma company with several products on the market. There were mostly only medium to large companies in the space back then. Genentech was considered a start-up. From that vantage point in a full-size company, I was able to see the breadth of clinical development opportunities, and it wasn’t long before I set clinical operations as my target.
HK: What was your first job?
JM: My first job was coding clinical data – writing coding instructions for punching 80 column cards. From there, I was trained in SAS and became a SAS programmer for five years, before I finally achieved by goal of becoming a clinical research associate (CRA).
HK: What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced throughout your career?
JM: Early on, it was very difficult to become a CRA without being medically qualified. Where I worked, all CRAs were nurses. I had to break through the then-conventional wisdom that a non-medical person would be unable to perform effectively in that role.
HK: What have been the keys to your success to get you where you are now?
JM: I was patient and willing to take the time to learn from each job that I held. I adhered to my personal values of accountability and striving to do the right thing in any situation. And some has been sheer luck – being in the right place at the right time.
HK: What advice would you give to professionals just starting out?
JM: Experience is everything in our business. When I was teaching GCP (Good Clinical Practice) to graduate students at UC Santa Cruz, I counselled them to be in less of a rush. We all need to make a living, but every stage of the journey, every position in every company has something to teach you. Be still enough to learn that lesson before you move off to the next job level, the next salary jump, the next shiny new thing. Your career, your credibility, your contributions will be better for it.
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