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Science & pharmaceuticals Career Pathways For School Leavers

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Overview

There’s no doubt about it – the science industry is vast. It encompasses everything we do, everything we touch and everything that we rely on, after all.

Pharmaceuticals and science are very closely associated to one another, but there is a distinct difference. Pharmaceuticals is responsible for the development, testing, marketing and selling of drugs to the market. These drugs range from the everyday packets that we see in supermarkets, for ailments like coughs and colds, to strong drugs that can only be prescribed by doctors.

This is an incredibly rewarding industry to work in. The work you do could mean that someone is able to access medicine that could change their life and there’s the scope to impact millions of people.

New technologies have allowed for huge developments to take place in the science and pharmaceutical industry. The newly-developed drug that prevents the spread of HIV is an example of how sophisticated technology can allow the development of life-changing medication. There’s also a lot of work going on to develop a test to detect Parkinson’s disease, and drugs in development to help the fight against cancer.

A career in the sciences doesn’t mean that you could just be helping people. In the midst of global warming, the modern day world relies on the work of environmental scientists to help analyse our air and come up with practical solutions to some of the strains that modern day living places on the world. It’s also scientists (or meteorologists, specifically) who monitor the weather and alert us of any danger, and scout out the galaxy to see if there’s any other life out there.

Put simply, there’s a whole host of important areas that you could be working in through science and pharmaceuticals.

Skills

To be a scientist you’re going to need an incredible amount of knowledge behind you in your preferred field. This will vary quite widely across the industry and it’s unlikely you’ll find a job as just a ‘scientist’, you’ll have to specialist further than that and develop your knowledge in that specific area through independent learning and academic qualifications.

Having said that, you will need certain soft skills that will help you in any role within the industry – here are just a few:

- Analytical skills
- Commercial Awareness
- Diligence
- Numeracy
- Patience
- Problem Solving

Progression opportunities

You should be in a position to apply for assistant level roles in the science and pharmaceuticals industry after you complete your apprenticeship if this is the route you decide to go down.

The industry has a lot of opportunities for progression because those with a strong background in the sciences are high in demand. Also, with the rapid development of the industry more roles are being created - especially for those who are eager to learn and willing to strategically upskill for a company. You’ll also find that a lot of companies are willing to support their staff in developing these skills; after all it’s in their interest!

Career paths in the sciences tend to be more defined than in creative sectors - the step-ups will be clear and with each one you will take on more responsibility. There is also a demand in this industry for continual learning and development - you can quickly fall behind!

If you’ve completed an apprenticeship in this area, you could consider going on to university afterwards in order to increase your professional standing. This is likely to be a good idea if you want to increase the amount of technical knowledge that you have.

Types of jobs in Science & pharmaceuticals

Earning potential

As an apprentice, you’ll earn a minimum of £3.70 per hour if you’re under 19 or in the first year of your apprenticeship, or the National Minimum Wage if you’re over 19. This works out at around £150 - £240 per week.

When starting out in the industry (even after your apprenticeship) your wage is likely to be modest, but due to the responsibilities placed upon you and the level of organisation and skill required you could see your salary increase quickly.

Here are average salaries for some jobs in the industry, according to Payscale:

  • Analytical chemist: £22,518

  • Biologist: £25,426

  • Biochemist: £29,331

  • Chemist: £25,187

  • Clinical pharmacist: £36,144

  • Clinical laboratory scientist: £29,225

  • Ecologist: £21,625

  • Senior ecologist: £30,603

  • Food technologist: £25,572

  • Forensic scientist: £26,118

  • Geophysicist: £38,303

  • Geologist: £35,060

  • Laboratory technician: £18,496

  • Materials scientist: £29,905

  • Product development scientist: £25,662

  • Medicinal chemist: £33,500

  • Medical physicist: £35,954

  • Microbiologist: £22,561

  • Physicist: £34,928

  • Pharmacist: £34,644

  • Research scientist: £29,778

Related Companies

TitleHead OfficeIndustry
GSKBrentford, Greater LondonScience & pharmaceuticals

Qualification requirements & subjects to study

Chemistry, biology, pharmacology and engineering are all great subjects to study if you want to work in this industry.

To get a job in this sector as a school leaver, it’s a good idea to undertake a vocational qualification. A diploma, certificate or short course in a scientific subject can give you the practical skills you need to get a job in this sector.

Professional organisations, as well as colleges, can provide these qualifications, or advise you on the best route to take.

Alternatively, you could look at apprenticeships in science and pharmaceuticals. Apprenticeships will see you studying and working for a company at the same time. You will work alongside experienced staff and will have one day off per week to study, usually at a local technical college or equivalent. This can be a great route for those who know what they want to do early, and don’t want to burden themselves with the time and debt of university.

Further Reading

British Science Association
Nature – International Journal of Science
UK Science Festivals Network
Campaign for Science and Engineering
Science Council
UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres
Association of British Healthcare Industries (ABHI)
UK Bioindustry Association
UK Space
Life Science Industry
Institute of Physics
The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)
NHS Scientist Training Programme