The Pros and Cons of Being an Independent Consultant

Clinical RecruitmentChoosing between independent consulting and being a company’s employee is an important decision. Each choice has its pros and cons, and being fully informed of the benefits and drawbacks will help you decide what is best for you.

We have put together a quick Pro/Con list based off of our discussions with clinical research associates. This list is not intended to be all inclusive, but hopefully will make sure you have more information to help you make your decision.

Pros of being an independent consultant:

You have more flexibility with your schedule. If you want to spend the summer with your family in Spain, you are able to choose projects to accommodate your plans. Like to be off on Fridays? This is easier to coordinate as a consultant.

You choose which projects to work and which to pass up. If you have a passion for oncology, being an independent consultant gives you the freedom to work only oncology trials. Similarly, if you find cardiology trials to be uninteresting, you can avoid these projects. You can also be more selective as it relates to the type of company you wish to work with (Sponsor vs. CRO, Large vs. Small, Pharma vs. Biotech or Device, etc.).

You may have the ability to take additional tax deductions. If you are an independent consultant, you can write off everything considered to be a business expense. This can include non-reimbursed travel expenses, home office equipment and supplies, home office space, internet and telephone services, etc.

Additionally, independent clinical research associates can typically earn higher hourly rates because company’s incur less overhead and burden costs than they would when hiring full-time employees.

Cons of being an independent consultant:

You now have two jobs – your clinical research contract position and marketing yourself for your next clinical research contract position. Being a consultant means you are responsible for finding your next contract so you will have to stay focused on constant networking and personal branding. Depending on how often your trials turn over, you may be searching for new trial work several times a year.

You are responsible for your own health insurance and retirement plan. Many talented clinical research associates choose to be directly employed by a company because of benefits. Providing your own health insurance can be pricey, and putting money aside for your retirement requires a lot of discipline.

You no longer have paid time off. It is simple – when you are not working, you are not getting paid.

You are responsible for providing your own clinical research professional liability insurance. Although the cost is not significant, traditional employees enjoy the benefit of being covered by their employer company while Independent consultants are required to cover themselves.

You are responsible for paying your own taxes. This doesn’t mean you will pay more taxes, it just means you have to do it instead of someone else doing it for you. This means you will need to be disciplined enough to continually set aside a portion of your hourly rate pay your own withholdings.

As you can see, there are plenty of benefits, as well as drawbacks, to being an independent clinical research professional. In order to make the right decision, you must evaluate what’s most important to you in terms of both your professional and personal lives.

Have any questions? Ask the team here and we will be happy to help.

Written by Katie Fidler

Investing in a Lifetime of Success,

Angela Roberts

Are you considering a career change? We specialize in the placement of clinical research associates. You can sign up for our Job Seeker email course which provides valuable insight into how to become more competitive in the marketplace.


The Pros and Cons of Being an Independent Consultant — 2 Comments

  1. What is the perspective of a pharma company? Why would they prefer to hire an independent consultant over a consultant that represents a larger company like Paraxel? Is it mostly the cost?

    • Sean, thank you for your question. Pharma Companies (as well as other Sponsor Companies) decide to hire Independent CRAs and directly manage/monitor their trials rather than outsource to a CRO for various reasons. One of these reasons is definitely cost, but this isn’t the only factor.

      Other factors may include gaining more control over the management of their studies, being able to directly select the CRAs who will be assigned to their projects, achieving higher quality monitoring results, better and more direct communication with the site monitors (therefore gaining stronger insight as to what is really going on at the site), more simple and streamlined technology and processes, more flexibility on what the site monitors do while at the site, (there are many other reasons as well).

      There are many things a Pharma (or other Sponsor) will have to consider when making a strategic decision to directly manage and monitor their studies themselves rather than outsource their projects to a CRO. One of which is to establish a partnership with a firm that can provide high quality CRAs for their projects. We work with several Sponsor companies (Pharmas, Biotechs and Medical Device companies) who have made this strategic decision and are extremely successful in directly managing / monitoring their studies without the use of a CRO.

      I hope I have answered your question but please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

      Angela Roberts
      Head of CRA Recruitment