Studying Clinical Trials online - James's story

James is a Clinical Trials student from the UK. He tells us how studying the programme has given him a deeper understanding of clinical trials and helped him to develop greater confidence in his professional role.
James McKenna

Please explain a bit about your academic/professional background  
I’ve worked in research for a number of years in academic and commercial settings. I’ve been a Senior/Lead Data Manager on both the sponsor side and contract research organisation (CRO). My role means I lead the data management activities for a number of clinical trials. This includes developing clinical systems and case report forms (CRFs) to ensure the correct data is collected for the trial and verifying it is complete, valid and clean, ready for analysis. I’ve been lucky enough to travel with my role, attending conferences and visiting research sites in Europe and the US to set up trials and provide training.  

Why did you choose to study your course with LSHTM?   

Clinical trials are complex projects requiring large, highly-skilled, multidisciplinary teams. Even while working in research, it can be challenging to gain a practical awareness of the whole lifecycle of clinical trials. This course covered all the main topics and areas to gain a deep understanding of clinical trials from setting the research question to operationalising the trial through to reviewing and reporting of trials. The programme also provided the flexibility to choose from a range of modules that were most relevant to my role and career goals.  

What have been your favourite aspects of the programme?
I’ve really enjoyed the flexibility of the programme. It allowed me to study more intensely when I had the time and take a break if needed. I also enjoyed the flexibility to choose modules which suited my career goals and knowledge gaps.  

How has the programme helped you in your career? 
I have developed a much better understanding of the different functions operating within trials. This has helped me develop confidence in my role, my knowledge and the ability to get involved with different projects.

This course covered all the main topics and areas to gain a deep understanding of clinical trials from setting the research question, to operationalising the trial, through to reviewing and reporting of trials.

What skills have you gained from studying this programme?   

I’ve vastly improved my academic writing skills and ability to communicate complex information, which is vital in clinical trials.   

Have you been able to connect/network with other students? How have you done this?  
I have been able to get involved with study groups remotely via WhatsApp, Zoom and Facebook. Several of the modules I took included group work (not as daunting as it sounds) which was a fantastic opportunity to work with fellow students across the globe with a wide variety of backgrounds. 

What are your plans for after you complete your studies?   
I’m already using the skills and knowledge learned in my day-to-day role. I plan on using this to develop my career. Since starting my course, I have also joined the committee of a professional network and plan to dedicate more time to this when I am no longer studying.  

What advice would you give to someone considering studying your course at LSHTM? 
I was very enthusiastic but somewhat nervous at the start; I was doubting my ability and commitment to complete the course, particularly with it being distance learning. However, I have found it really enjoyable. There is great support and flexibility and I would urge anyone wanting to further their understanding of clinical trials to consider the course.  

Please sum up your experience of studying by distance learning with LSHTM
I’ve found the course immensely useful and enjoyable. Working with fellow students and the support I received from the tutors have both been great. The course has been challenging at times – particularly working in research and studying during the COVID-19 pandemic. I also welcomed my first child into the world during my second year of study (pictured!), which brought its own challenges of balancing work, life and study. However, the flexibility of the course means I am on track to complete the course in two years, instead of my target of three.  

Tell us a bit about you – what do you do when you’re not working or studying?  
I love to travel to new places and attend music festivals during the summer months – particularly Glastonbury festival (when I can get a ticket)!