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Pharmaceuticals

pharmaceuticals

Pharmaceuticals is a sub-sector of the life sciences sector, which in the UK is one of the strongest and most productive in the world, turning over in excess of £56 billion per year.

Life sciences encompasses areas such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, biomedical technologies, life systems technologies, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, food processing, environmental and medical technology.

More generally, we define 'life sciences' as all sciences that have to do with organisms such as plants, animals and human beings.

Other life science sub-sectors you may wish to explore further are:

Cogent, the UK's strategic body for skills in the science industries, has worked with employers to develop the Career Navigator to help you explore the huge range of roles available.

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Your next steps

Book a careers appointment

PhD and masters students

Look out for these boxes – information specifically for you!
 

Explore the sector

The British pharmaceutical industry has a strong global reputation and is one of the country's leading manufacturing sectors. Approximately a third of individuals employed in this sector work in research and development (R&D).

One of the key differences between the medical and pharmaceutical sectors is the basis of their drug development processes, i.e. the biotech industry uses living organisms or their products, and the pharmaceutical industry uses chemical-based materials and processes. Many of the larger pharma companies are inreasingly involved in both.

According to a recent Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) report, the industry has undergone significant change in the last 10 years, involving the mergers of large companies, downsizing of UK R&D and the growing trend for collaboration with academics or small-to-medium sized companies (SMEs).

An increasing proportion of new medicines are 'biologics' rather than chemically processed medicines and might only be intended for a small subgroup of patients after a diagnostic test has confirmed that the medicine is likely to be effective. This has significantly changed the skills requirements of the industry and will continue to do so.

The ABPI website provides news and industry information alongside a range of publications and information about events.

Roles

The pharmaceutical industry employs people in a huge range of different roles, and the ABPI has an excellent careers website that takes you through each of them in detail.

Once you start to investigate investigate roles and vacancies, you will see numerous sales roles advertised due to the high staff turnover in this area.

It is possible to progress from there into other non-scientific roles, e.g. marketing or managerial, but it will be difficult to move into a scientific position following this entry route into the industry.

CK Clinical have created a great selection of articles and video resources on areas that are currently experiencing skills shortages and how job-hunters get their foot in the door.

Spotlight On... Medical Sales Rep

Carwyn Jones, maths graduate, talks about his first role within the pharmaceutical industry

 
 

Employers

We tend to think of pharmaceutical compnaies as huge global corporate organisations, often referred to in the press as 'big pharma'. While they do account for the majority of UK pharma employment, a growing number of SMEs (companies employing less than 250 people) are becoming involved in drug development, too.

The ABPI has developed a comprehensive list of pharmceutical companies, their contact details and some of the areas they regularly recruit into.

Finding a job

Experience

As entry into this sector is competitive, relevant industry experience will be valuable. Find a summer internship, join an undergraduate taster day/course, or look for opportunities to work shadow someone in the industry for a few days. See our work experience section for more details of these.

Large pharmaceutical companies often advise those who are aiming for R&D roles to contaact them towards the end of their undergraduate degrees and maintain links throughout their further studies so they can stay informed about what employers are looking for.

Qualifications

The ABPI has produced a useful chart, detailing what the different degree requirements for different roles within the industry.

For R&D roles, it is highly likely that you will need a PhD and relevant experience, but the more operations-focused roles, e.g. regulatory affairs, medical information, etc, often recruit at BSc level.

Skills

A recent survey of ABPI members on 'Bridging the skills gap in the biopharmaceutical industry' highlighs a major skills gap in mathematical and computational areas following the rapid development of new fields such as health informatics.

It also focuses on more long-standing skills shortages in translational medicine or clinical pharmacology, which relate to bridging the gap between bench and bedside.

Areas that are anticipated to become more difficult to recruit to in the future include device technology, materials science, physiological modelling and physical chemistry.

Regarding the broader, transferable skills, an increasing number of respondents were concerned about candidates with poorly-developed communication and teamworking skills.

Key skills will vary depending on the role, but typical skill requirements for the scientific side of the industry include:

  • a methodological approach and attention to detail
  • analytical skills and logical thinking
  • excellent numeracy skills
  • problem-solving skills
  • scientific, technical or research skills

Recruitment processes

Large pharmaceutical companies, e.g. NovartisGlaxoSmithKlineAstraZenecaPfizer, usually operate their own formal graduate recruitment, placement and internship progammes.

Companies don't always recruit into technical roles via that route, though, so keep an eye on relevant job boards as well.

The growing number of small companies involved in this sector often have less formal processes, so networking and the use of relevant social media can play an important role in your job search. Visit our pages on how to network effectively for more information.

Many commercial companies use recruitment consultancies to advertise their vacancies.

Vacancy sources

My Career 
Our source of vacancies from local, national and international companies and organisations

As well as viewing companies directly to look for graduate recruitment schemes or vacancies, there are numerous recruitment websites available, including:

Wiley Pharmaceutical Labs

Pharmiweb

Flame Pharma

PMLIVE

Jobs in Pharma

Certain roles in R&D will require postgraduate qualifications. Search the Prospects postgraduate courses database to find a list of the various masters courses and PhDs currently available.

 

 

Finding work experience

Internship programmes are offered by many of the larger employers, but a speculative approach will be more effective with smaller companies.

Networking is key as this will allow you to find out more about the industry and make contacts that could help you to secure work experience.

There are a number of places where you might start your search for internships and placements, including:

 

Your next steps 

  • Identify a relevant online forum, perhaps on LinkedIn, look for a topic that interests you and join in with the discussion. This could be a useful starting point for your networking
  • Join any relevant University societies and look for opportunities to get more involved with relevant research within your department
  • Look at relevant journals and identify where the cutting-edge research that interests you is currently taking place. Find out more about how they recruit and what their requirements are. Perhaps you could arrange some vacation work experience or to work shadow one of their researchers for a few days
  • Look for internship and placement programmes that you could apply to – any industrial experience will be valuable whatever you eventually decide to specialise in
  • Research different roles and try to decide whether you want to pursue a scientific research career, or whether one of the other roles, e.g. medical communications, would suit you better. Make an appointment with a careers adviser to help you make that decision
  • Investigate masters courses and PhD opportunities early so you can be clear about how they will enhance your future applications. Talk to course providers about course content and to potential future employers to gauge their opinions and preferences
  • Build your network of contacts and ask them for advice about your future choices.
 

 

 

Careers and Employability Service

The University of Nottingham
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telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 3680
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email: careers-team@nottingham.ac.uk