From PhD to Clinical Research Coordinator

Recently, Beyond the PhD hosted Dr. Hank Hrdlicka to  share his career path to becoming a Certified Clinical Research Coordinator at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare’s Milne Institute for Healthcare Innovation in Wallingford, CT. Hank started by giving some background on his educational and career journey. He is originally from Wahoo, Nebraska and attended Nebraska Wesleyan University where he earned a B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He was a Nebraska INBRE research scholar which allowed him to complete a two-year paid research internship and also served as the president of the Graduate School Club for three years. Hank knew that he wanted to go to graduate school and joined the UConn Health Biomedical Science PhD program in the fall of 2014. After completing his three rotations, he joined the lab of Dr. Anne Delaney in the Skeletal Biology and Regeneration area of concentration and graduated with his PhD in 2020. 

In addition to the technical skills gained during his PhD, Hank shared some of the lessons learned during graduate school. First, he relayed to the audience that you should focus more on the mentor rather than the research. The mentor needs to be someone you will work well with and will help you grow. He also emphasized to prioritize your mental health during graduate school. It’s important to remember that your self-worth is not defined by your results and that maintaining a work life balance is important both during graduate school and after. He also talked about building transferrable skills while in grad school and how these skills are invaluable when job hunting. These can be skills such as communication, writing, project management, organization, task prioritization, problem solving, mentoring, Microsoft Office familiarity, and the ability to use statistics programs.

Hank then went on to talk about starting his career search after graduate school. He sought out careers that built upon his particular strengths and interests. He also contacted the UConn Career Center to help with his resume, CV, and cover letters. When applying for jobs he used platforms such as LinkedIn, Indeed, HigherEdJobs.com, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the State of CT job forums. Hank then went on to discuss interviewing. He suggested that even if you don’t think you will take the job, it never hurts to interview. This can help you get comfortable with the interview process and find strategies that work for you. It is also important to do your homework on the company you are interviewing with. Hank said that finding a position took him about 10 months and that he submitted about 100 applications, demonstrating his resilience and persistence. Next, Hank relayed some lessons he learned from his job hunting experience. He suggested that if you want to shift away from academic or industry research to start planning and applying early. Additionally, take comfort in the fact that bench research can always be a backup. He noted that while some people benefit from networking and connections, others may simply need perseverance to find the right job. 

Hank then went on to discuss his current position as a Clinical Research Coordinator at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare’s Milne Institute for Healthcare Innovation. The Milne Institute is anchored by Gaylord Hospital, a long-term acute care hospital in Wallingford, CT. This hospital is widely recognized for treating and rehabilitating patients experiencing spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, acute and post-acute COVID-19, as well as pulmonary, cardiac, amputee, stroke, and other medically complex conditions. Hank’s role as a Clinical Research Coordinator involves breaking down the barriers to make research more approachable and less intimidating for those with limited prior experience but lots of enthusiasm for research. He often works with other health care workers such as nurses, physical and occupational therapists, and speech therapists. He is involved in facilitating all stages of research such as study conception, preparation of IRB application, recruitment and data collection, data analysis, and manuscript preparation. He is also involved with developing and promoting staff education on good research practices. Hank has been at his current position for a year and a half. During that time Hank has helped increase the number of research studies from a yearly average of 6-8 to a current count of 14 IRB approved and 60 studies overall. He is personally involved in 26-30 studies, has published 3 manuscripts with a fourth under review, and had helped established national and regional collaborations. He has also completed a certification course to become a Certified Clinical Research Coordinator.  Hank’s technical and transferrable skills gained during his PhD have been extremely helpful for this position, but he has also been able to learn and grown now that he has transitioned out of academia.

If you missed Hank’s seminar, but would like to view it virtually to see what you missed, check out the video on our YouTube Channel here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vI3lnLJxIRg.

Visit our seminar recordings page for other recordings of events.

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