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DCE Magazine

  • Waheed Akberzie

Summer 2022

Alumni Spotlight: Finding a Calling in Clinical Trials

Paving a career path to help others, Waheed Akberzie is driven by his hope to find lifesaving therapies, which began with his DCE certificate.

“Not only did the program satisfy one of two years of clinical research experience required by The Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA) before sitting for their exam, but it also prepared me to pass the exam and move up to my new position at Gilead.” Waheed Akberzie, Clinical Trials Program Graduate

When U.S. troops left Afghanistan last year, DCE graduate Waheed Akberzie and his family were more than just concerned spectators watching from home. They had left the country in the late ‘80s, when Waheed was only six months old, but they still had relatives living there — including one of Waheed’s cousins, with their wife and young child.

“People in Afghanistan are generally optimistic,” Waheed said. “My cousin, like a lot of others, was convinced that once American troops left, their own army would be able to hold. That was the popular opinion, but we begged him to get out. We could see what was happening on TV. He had just bought a house, but we finally convinced him, and they left for Pakistan.”

Waheed knows how fortunate he and his family are to have left the war-torn country when they did. He often thinks of how different his life would be if they had stayed. “I realize how blessed and lucky I’ve been to grow up in Southern California. It makes me feel very grateful to have the opportunities I’ve been given.”

Full of gratitude and fueled by a desire to help others, Waheed’s American journey led him to pursue an education in Biotechnology, and eventually a career changing certificate in Clinical Trials: Medical Devices and Drug Development.

The certificate program helped open the door to his former job as a Clinical Logistics Coordinator at Kite Pharma. As a member of the Clinical Study Team, he earned valuable experience leading to his current role as a Clinical Trials Management Associate at Gilead Sciences, leading clinical trials and helping move potentially life-saving medications through the approval pipeline. Before enrolling with UCI, he had taken only one class in drug development while going for his B.S. in Biology at Cal State Channel Islands, but it inspired him to pursue the subject further.

“Without my DCE certificate I wouldn’t have my current position,” he said. “Not only did the program satisfy one of two years of clinical research experience required by The Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA) before sitting for their exam, but it also prepared me to pass the exam and move up to my new position at Gilead.”

Giving back, moving forward

The first in his family to attend college, Waheed got a jumpstart on his journey with the help of Project ACCESO, a program at Cal State Channel Islands that was launched by Dr. Phil Hampton, one of the school’s professors, with the help of a $6 million grant. It helped provide two years of research experience at CSUCI and also allowed students to tutor underprivileged students in STEM subjects.

“Project ACCESO was everything for me,” he said. “I got to work with students in local high schools and middle schools, teaching them how to design and print in 3D. We even had a competition to see who could make the most efficient windmill blades. It was so amazing to see them design and print their ideas on 3D printers.”

The research experience provided by ACCESO led directly to Waheed’s first job at Thermo-Fisher Scientific at AMGEN, as a senior site specialist. The job fueled his interest in clinical research, and when a colleague joined UCI’s certificate program and landed a job at UCLA before even completing it, Waheed decided to follow suit.

“That got me into the UCI program which further inspired and stoked my love for clinical research, and led to a new role at Kite Pharma,” Waheed said. “Both ingrained in me my love of working on clinical trials.”

A career on the cutting edge

The Clinical Trials: Medical Device and Drug Development certificate program fills a growing need for researchers who can design and implement successful clinical trials to move innovative medicines and devices forward through the FDA pipeline.

It provides a strong foundation in managing, coordinating, and monitoring clinical trials in line with laws, regulatory requirements, and best clinical practices. It also can prepare students like Waheed to take and pass the SOCRA exam to become a Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP®).

“Without UCI I wouldn’t have gotten my job at Kite which started me on my trajectory in the clinical world and towards my CCRP®,” Waheed said. “It’s a prestigious designation, and just qualifying to sit for the exam helped support obtaining my current position at Gilead. Vetting is a big part of getting hired in this field; companies like Gilead need to know you have the chops, and the DCE certificate is a very robust way to demonstrate that.”

Waheed was especially impressed with the small class sizes and opportunities to interact one-on-one with the instructors. “The Regulatory Requirements and Clinical Data Management courses were among my favorites,” he added. “I was also attracted to the flexible schedule. Students can advance in the program at their own pace; since I worked full-time, I took one course a quarter.”

Shortly before he received his CCRP® designation he successfully obtained his current position at Gilead, leading clinical study teams, generating study plans, making sure milestones are met, helping select academic sites for studies, and ensuring the trials are properly executed, among other duties.

“I love my day-to-day work and support of different patients on many different trials, all trying to find the next great therapy and cure.”

Waheed plans to continue learning and advancing in the field, while staying true to his roots and giving back to the next generation. He still drives to Oxnard from his home in Thousand Oaks to volunteer with the CSUCI-sponsored Science Carnival, an event that promotes STEM subjects and higher education.

“The Science Carnival is a great event,” he said. “Students and alumni man activities and experiments, helping kids make perfume, bath bombs, collecting strawberry DNA, and so forth. The purpose is to inspire young students in the area into the STEM field and hopefully college, as they’re surrounded by college students and professors at the event. I’m honored to help.”

Learn more about the Clinical Trials: Medical Device and Drug Development Certificate Program.