Pharmacologists seek to understand how chemical substances interact with the body. They work as part of a research team that is responsible for screening compounds, developing drugs, undertaking controlled experiments and clinical trials in laboratories.
Their aim is to gain a better understanding of diseases, develop new drugs to treat them and promote the safe use of existing drugs. Other substances such as poisons and toxins are also studied by pharmacologists to try to understand how those substances can harm the body.
What is pharmacology?
A degree in pharmacology can lead to a diverse range of employment and postgraduate study opportunities.
Pharmacologists commonly specialise in a particular field of research such as toxicology (the study of how toxic substances affect living organisms), neuropharmacology (the study of the effect of drugs on the brain and nervous system) or pharmacokinetics (the effect of the body on the drug). It's also possible to focus exclusively on animal medicines.
Opportunities for pharmacology students are very diverse. Whether you want to work in a laboratory environment or outside of the laboratory a pharmacology degree will provide you with an eclectic choice of career opportunities. Many students will choose to work in the pharmaceutical industry, academic research, the NHS, research institutes and government departments. You can find out more about these areas and much more by visiting the British Pharmacology Society website.
Alternatively you may want to use your pharmacology degree to work in areas that support scientific research, such as science policy, marketing, patent work and medical writing.
If you are considering a research career you may well undertake a PhD following your undergraduate degree. Studying a PhD may be possible directly from your first degree or after completing a relevant masters programme.
What careers can I go into?
You may want to consider applying for the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). The STP advertises vacancies in January of the year you wish to start. One area you might want to explore on this programme in clinical pharmaceutical science.
For further information on healthcare science careers within the NHS please follow the link to the NHS career planner.
Pharmaceutical companies offer opportunities in research and development, manufacturing and supply, commercial and support functions such as regulatory affairs. Do look at the following companies via the ABPI members list to gain further insight into their work.
Information about working in the pharmaceutical industry
The ABPI website lists lots of useful information on the sectorlists leading pharmaceutical firms within the UK many of which will offer graduate employment, summer placements and placement years.
Medical research charities and research institutes
Medical research institutes such as those linked to the Medical Research Council will undertake research into health and disease. They can have multiple research areas such as The Francis Crick Institute or a singular focus such as The Cognition and Brain Science Unit.
Medical research charities will fund research in universities and start-ups and will focus on their specialist area such as Asthma UK, British Heart Foundation, Versus Arthritis, Cancer Research UK. These charities often fund PhD studentships as well.
Medical Research Council list of institutes
Biotechnology and contract research organisations
CRO’s are companies that support pharmaceutical organisations amongst others to carry out clinical study and clinical trials for drugs and medical devices. Contract Research Map lists the research institutions in each country and the work they are currently doing.
Biopharmguy is a good place to look for businesses involved in biotechnology and contract research.
PhD opportunities (funded and non-funded) will be advertised throughout the year by universities, medical research charities, research councils and some pharmaceutical companies.
The two projects below are examples of PhDs advertised in the summer of 2021 that would consider applicants from a pharmacology background.
- First-principles Informed Multi-scale Modelling and Artificial Lung Bioengineering to Study Cardiogenic Oedema and Covid-19
- Role of Calcium Calmodulin Kinase II in the Modulation of Lipid Metabolism and Oxidative Stress in the Articular Cartilage and Osteoarthritis
- Examples of PhDs in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nottingham
What skills have I developed?
During your course, as well as developing your laboratory expertise, you will develop competencies necessary to be a successful scientist, researcher, or to support whatever career you choose to follow. These competencies will be developed within the curriculum, and during any laboratory placement you choose to undertake.
These skills are as follows:
- Professional communication (written and verbal)
- Co-ordinating with others
- Digital capabilities
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking
- People management
- Judgement and decision making
- Cognitive flexibility
- Team working
- Time management
How do I get work experience?