Catching up with 2023 SOCRA President’s Award Winner Tammy Neseth, MA, CCRP, CIP

Tammy Neseth, MA, CCRP, CIP

The global clinical research community will converge live and in-person from September 29 – October 1 at SOCRA’s 2023 Annual Conference in Montreal, QC, Canada. During the event, we will present the President’s Award to Tammy Neseth, MA, CCRP, CIP, in recognition of her exceptional service and commitment to SOCRA’s mission.  

With a foundational career at the Mayo Clinic focusing on colorectal cancer screening, Tammy has worked extensively in the clinical research regulatory and compliance sectors. Her journey includes pivotal roles, most notably as the Director of Operations for the Mayo Clinic Institutional Review Board.  A Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota graduate, Tammy has been a dedicated member of SOCRA since 2003, undertaking leadership positions including (but not limited to) co-chairing the SOCRA Oncology Conference and the SOCRA Site Coordinator / Manager Workshop, leading the SOCRA Southeast Minnesota Chapter, and serving on the SOCRA Certification Committee and Board of Directors. 

Join us as we delve into a candid conversation with Tammy about her career journey, her take on clinical research, her experience with SOCRA, and a wealth of insights and inspiration. 

SOCRA: What or who inspired you to pursue a career in clinical research?

TN: My primary inspiration for delving into healthcare was my mom. She returned to school for nursing when I was in grade school. We’d often practice medical terminology together however, my entry into clinical research was somewhat serendipitous. I began my career at St. Mary’s Hospital as a unit secretary. Later, I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant for colorectal cancer, a decision partly motivated by my husband’s family health history. 

SOCRA: What was this first experience with clinical research like? 

TN: My initial experience with clinical research was centered on developing an early detection test for colon cancer. The ambitious target was to enroll 5,000 participants into a research study. This role was not just a job for me; it felt meaningful, as I believed I was genuinely making a difference. Our efforts paid off as the test showed promise, resulting in the extension of our funding. What was initially projected as an 18-month tenure stretched into a fulfilling 7-year journey. 

During this phase, I had the privilege of collaborating with the esteemed Dr. David Ahlquist and Mary Devens. Their influence on my career and the progress of colorectal cancer detection has been significant. Dr. Ahlquist had this uncanny ability to make everyone feel valued, irrespective of their position. He was incredible at making complex topics understandable and his uplifting spirit constantly pushed me to maximize my potential. In the same vein, Mary became a beacon of guidance. Her patience and grace when addressing my many questions set her apart as an exceptional mentor. Even today, she remains an inspiring figure in my life. 

Our team, fondly called the Pooh-bahs, was a testimony to what collaborative efforts can achieve. We complemented each other by focusing on individual strengths and by ensuring everyone was in a role that maximized their skillset. This nurturing environment laid the foundation for my career in clinical research. 

However, as with most journeys, there came a turning point. Dr. Ahlquist’s well-deserved promotion led to his spending less time in the lab, and consequentially, our team was restructured. It was then that I parted ways with the Pooh-bahs. Despite this, the enduring impacts of Dr. Ahlquist, Mary, John Harrington, and the entire team remained. They instilled in me the drive to further my education, earning both my associate and my bachelor’s degrees, which enhanced my prospects for future opportunities. 

SOCRA: Since starting your career in 1998, what has kept your passion for clinical research alive?

TN: What has consistently driven me is the patient-centric approach of institutions like the Mayo Clinic. Their core philosophy that the patient comes first resonates with my personal mission, making advances in healthcare and science through clinical research a career path I wholeheartedly embraced. 

SOCRA: How has patient well-being shaped your work approach? 

TN: My instincts have always leaned toward prioritizing patient well-being, probably due to the stories of the patients and families my mom cared for during her nursing career.  I had the opportunity to serve as an interim research subject advocate and the personal interactions with patients, further bolstered this inclination. I enjoyed helping subjects navigate the complicated and often overwhelming research experience. I loved that! As I transitioned into regulatory and compliance roles later in my career, I always kept the patients’ well-being and safety in mind. If we don’t handle and maintain data properly, it undermines the effort and time participants invest in a study. Research teams are busy, studies are complicated, it’s essential to focus on what truly matters and to filter out distractions.

SOCRA: How has your career evolved over the years? 

TN: My career’s evolution over the years largely stems from the strength of my professional network and the many advocates who recognized my potential. There’s a saying that success is as much about who you know as what you know, and my journey epitomizes this. 

A serendipitous meeting in an elevator was a turning point. Jenny Darcy remembered a past interview of mine and pointed me towards an Audit Coordinator role at the North Central Cancer Treatment Group {NCCTG). Later, she saw my potential, entrusting me with leading training sessions and nudging me towards joining SOCRA. Through those training sessions I met Karen Hartman, she was instrumental in my transitioning to internal compliance and regulatory roles at Mayo Clinic. Though I considered retiring after a few years in the role of Director of Operations for the Mayo Clinic Institutional Review Board, a previous NCCTG colleague, Margie Sinex, introduced me to an industry role, quite a shift from my academic roots. Now, I’m a clinical trial monitor. 

Interestingly, these opportunities mostly found me, a testimony to the reputation I’d built and the relationships I nurtured. Reflecting on this, the power of networking is evident. Being recognized for your expertise and having supporters who advocate for you, even in your absence, is key. That’s one of the benefits of participation in SOCRA — a platform that fosters invaluable professional relationships, shaping careers in profound ways. 

SOCRA: What do you find most rewarding in clinical research?

TN: By far, the most fulfilling aspect for me is making a difference in patients’ lives. Over the past 25 years, many people have assisted me in advancing my career, and I find equal fulfillment in paying it forward by helping others. I especially enjoy leading new coordinator training. To me, being a study coordinator is more than just a job—it’s a calling. I believe it’s vital to inspire newcomers and remind them of the essential role that passion plays in this field. While the work can occasionally become routine or even overwhelming, guiding fresh investigators and coordinators, helping them understand the basics of clinical research, and emphasizing its importance, sets them up for success, which brings me deep satisfaction. 

SOCRA: How has your involvement with SOCRA shaped your career?

TN: SOCRA has been pivotal in my professional journey. Every conference I’ve attended has been a knowledge and networking treasure trove. These events have opened doors to new research areas and fostered lasting professional bonds. My first annual conference presentation at SOCRA was a memorable moment of just how supportive an environment SOCRA is. Sometimes, the relationships you cultivate might not immediately stand out, but they often become cornerstone connections in your career. At SOCRA, you’re not just networking—you’re building friendships. Even if we don’t meet often, catching up is always a delight.

I hold a special appreciation for SOCRA’s chapter program. I tri-chair the Southeast Minnesota chapter with pride, and had a hand in its founding in 2008 with Linda Knowlton – Arns, Lori Bratvold and Teresa Zais.  SOCRA offers a wonderful presentation about starting a local chapter during Annual Conference.  Local groups create spaces for professionals to meet, share insights, and discuss both successes and challenges. I always urge colleagues to start their own chapters. Many have taken that step and become integral SOCRA members, with some even joining the board of directors. Incorporating SOCRA into various stages of a clinical research career can be incredibly beneficial – it truly offers a golden opportunity.

SOCRA: What does receiving this year’s President’s Special Recognition Award mean to you? 

TN: Receiving the award is truly a humbling honor. Reflecting on my journey, it’s evident how instrumental SOCRA has opened doors for me. It has been an essential platform for my professional and personal growth. This award serves as a poignant reminder of all the opportunities SOCRA has presented to me, and for that, I am deeply grateful.

SOCRA: Can you share a preview of your upcoming workshop at the 2023 SOCRA Annual Conference

TN: Certainly. My pre-conference session, GCP 101: A Workshop for the New Study Coordinator, is designed to introduce good clinical practices to the attendees. I aim to dive deep into what it truly means to uphold good clinical practices and the associated responsibilities for study coordinators. I will discuss other vital concepts, share personal experiences, and offer insights into navigating the challenges and opportunities in the field. It promises to be an interactive and enlightening session for those new to the coordinator role and for those seeking a refreshing perspective on clinical research. 

SOCRA: What advice would you give fellow and upcoming clinical research professionals?

TN: Firstly, always remember your “why.” It’s crucial to find and nurture your passion for this work. Ask yourself, what drives you? What fuels your commitment, especially during those challenging days? Remember, our work in clinical research touches lives, from the subjects to their families and to their friends. We make a tangible difference.

Tammy Neseth

Secondly, embrace opportunities, even if they push you out of your comfort zone. While you don’t need to say “yes” to everything, taking on new challenges can lead to unexpected and rewarding paths and benefits. 

Value your role and your contributions, no matter how minor they may seem. During my tenure with Dr. Ahlquist and the Pooh-bahs, I learned that every job is vital to the bigger picture.  Even when I felt my task of collecting stool samples was insignificant, my team taught me the importance of every role, boosting my confidence and feeling of self-worth. 

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of humor. It not only lightens the atmosphere but also fosters unity and camaraderie. After a momentous achievement by Dr. Ahlquist, we greeted him with light-hearted antics, reminding ourselves and each other that, amid the seriousness of our work, it’s essential to find moments of joy and celebrate together. Always search for that silver lining, even during challenging times. 

SOCRA: Any concluding thoughts?

TN: I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Erich Lukas and the SOCRA team for providing the opportunity to nurture and expand our careers. While “growth” typically suggests expansion and reaching new heights, SOCRA uniquely makes me feel grounded and connected, as if I’m part of something bigger. 

Tammy Neseth

To conclude, the landscape of our industry is rapidly evolving. The onset of Covid has shifted our perspectives, prompting us to approach things differently. We’re now considering decentralized trials, using tools like wearable devices, and favoring subject Zoom meetings over time-consuming commutes to clinics. Additionally, the advent of electronic consent, once never considered, is revolutionizing our approach to informed consent. At the core of all these changes is our mission to enhance people’s lives. It’s about eliminating obstacles to research participation, and thankfully, we’re now equipped with the tools to make this journey more seamless. 


We thank Tammy for sharing her insights and congratulate her on her achievements. We anticipate an educational and productive 2023 SOCRA annual conference, so we encourage you to register now to secure your spot. Please visit our website for detailed conference information, sponsorship opportunities, and exhibitor details. For added motivation to attend, don’t miss our blog post highlighting 11 compelling reasons to attend, from SOCRA Board President Jenn Li.

2 thoughts on “Catching up with 2023 SOCRA President’s Award Winner Tammy Neseth, MA, CCRP, CIP”

  1. Tammy Neseth’s remarkable journey in clinical research, dedication to patient well-being, and contributions to SOCRA are truly commendable. Her President’s Award reflects not only personal success but also the collaborative spirit of the clinical research community. The upcoming SOCRA Annual Conference promises valuable insights, with Tammy’s workshop adding to the richness of the event.

  2. Tammy Neseth’s journey in clinical research, her dedication to patient well-being, and her involvement with SOCRA exemplify the impactful contributions individuals can make in advancing healthcare. Her story inspires others to find passion in their work and embrace opportunities for growth and collaboration.

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