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Science & pharmaceuticals Career Pathways & Advice

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Overview

We don’t need to tell you that science is vast – it covers everything from the depths of space to the minutiae of DNA evidence, with all of human, animal and plant life in between.

A huge part of science is pharmaceuticals, which is often thought of as a separate industry – one that creates, develops, tests, produces, markets and sells the drugs that we see on the supermarket shelves and use to rid us of everything from a scratchy cough to a complex illness. Being part of this means you will positively impact health around the world – significantly changing the lives of millions of people.

Huge progress has been made in recent years, and new technologies have been introduced that have changed the way we live our lives. With these advances it has been possible to develop drugs to help the fight against HIV, for instance, improving the lives of millions of people. Having the opportunity to positively impact the lives of people in this way is an exciting thing to be part of.

Of course, it’s not just people that you can help save through a career in the sciences. The world is facing a sustained climate challenge in the 21st Century, and it’s scientists who are fighting this. It’s scientists that are exploring the far reaches of the universe and debating whether we’ll ever make contact with alien life (and whether Pluto is, or isn’t, a planet.) It’s scientists that allow us to go about our daily lives safely, and sort things out when they go wrong.

Skills

Of course, scientific knowledge is the most essential part of your skillset in this industry – and the specifics of this will vary hugely across the sectors, from micro biology to astrophysics, via a multitude of areas in between.

Having said that, you will need certain skills for any role within the sector – here are just a few:

Progression opportunities

Career progression is good in science across the board, with numerous job openings in every part of the industry. People with strong scientific skills are in high demand, and with scientific innovation racing forward there are only ever going to be more roles that need filling.

Because of this, STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths) companies in general find themselves with a skills gap – what is being learnt at university can’t keep up with the industry’s rapid pace of change. Bad news for the industry, maybe - but good news for ambitious science graduates, who can utilise this to strategically upskill, plug the gap, and make themselves invaluable to the organisations that are crying out for scientific talent. Because career paths are much more defined in the sciences than they are in other sectors, for example the arts, with a willingness to keep up with the pace of the industry and continual learning a priority ambitious and driven graduates can progress quickly.

Career development

To really make an impact in the sciences you might need to gain more qualifications than your undergraduate degree. Luckily for those that want to pursue a career in research, funding for PhDs in the sciences are relatively easy to come by when compared to other subjects. Speak to your university department and others that you might want to study at to find out about opportunities.

If you find a graduate scheme in an area that appeals to you without the need for further study, you will immediately be on a clear path that will lay out your immediate goals and what you need to do to achieve them and progress.

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Earning potential

Because of the technical skills they require, the sciences are able to offer relatively good wages. According to the Science Recruitment Group’s 2016 salary survey, the average salary in the industry is just over £34,000.

According to the Graduate Recruitment Bureau (GRB), the average starting salary in pharmaceuticals specifically is £24,000, with salaries for those with years of experience sometimes reaching £100,000.

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

Qualification requirements & subjects to study

You can enter the pharmaceutical industry from any degree background, although chemistry, biology, pharmacology and engineering are all vital and obvious degrees to take if you want to work in the more technical roles. Overall though, there is such a wide range of opportunity that many different degrees are brilliant entry points.

Degrees such as cell biology, biochemistry and immunology, as well as not directly related degrees such as business/management, IT or mathematics could also be useful for pharmaceuticals.

Whilst it might seem obvious that you need a degree in biology to work in that field, for example, the sciences are becoming more and more interdisciplinary – meaning that your degree may be suitable for a complimentary area even if it isn’t directly related. You may need to complete a technical skills or similar course to top up your knowledge, but this will depend on the specific role.

How to get there

It’s worth taking time to explore all your options and to consider the possible job opportunities after a degree. Many of those with undergraduate degrees in the sciences will go on to lab work, whilst many will decide they want to specialise further with a masters, or a doctoral qualification that will allow them to go on to conduct scientific research.

Many employers also offer specific entry schemes for graduates with fast-track career progression. The application criteria and details of the scheme will depend on the individual employer.

It’s important to demonstrate your practical skills as well as your scientific knowledge, as many employers within the science sector find that these skills lacking in recent graduates. Make sure you are clear about the skills that you gained during any work experience, or whilst on your year in industry.

A scheme to consider is the NHS’ Scientist Training Programme, a three-year training programme that includes work-based and academic learning and includes a part-time masters in your chosen specialism. The scheme aims to train the very best people to become clinical scientists.

Industry Bodies

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