Careers and Employability Service
Services for current students


Close up view of scientific lab equipment and medicine

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. The UK Government’s Office for Life Sciences has produced an infographic on the scale of the biopharmaceuticals sector.

Other related sectors you may wish to explore further are:

Return to jobs list

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 increasingly involved in both.

According to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) report, the industry has undergone significant change in the last 15 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).

The Life Sciences Skills Strategy 2030 report, it is predicted that the sector has the potential to create approximately 133,000 jobs over the next 10 years. It also suggests that skills such as: digital and computational skills; statistical literacy; leadership and inter-disciplinary working will be key.

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.

News and industry information

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

Speculative applications

If you want to search firms to make speculative applications, you could spend some time looking at the UK BioIndustry Association membership directory which lists over 300 companies, from start-ups to multinationals. Search by category, region, business focus or therapeutic area

You could also use BioPharmGuy which lists contract research organisations and biotech companies in the UK and worldwide.

Explore more

Pharmaceutical careers guide 


Employers and roles 


We tend to think of pharmaceutical companies 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 pharmaceutical companies, their contact details and some of the areas they regularly recruit into.

ABPI searchable list of companies

UK - List of Biotech, Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Companies


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.

ABPI careers website

It is possible to progress from sales roles 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.

  • Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) is a scheme where graduates work with an academic or research organisation to support a UK business on a specific project focused on innovation for 12 – 36 months
  • Innovate UK list vacancies and have a ‘End-to-End Medicine Supply Chain Map’ showing drug development organisations and section, networks and research and training programmes. 

Spotlight On: Medical Sales Rep

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

Spotlight On: Project Management 

Sarah Johns, animal sciences alumna, talks about what her roles in project management.


Spotlight On: Pharmaceuticals

Science into Pharmaceuticals

At this event we heard from four science alumni who all work within the industry, but who do not work in a lab. 

Log in to Moodle to watch a recording of this event 

Careers in the Pharmaceutical Industry

At this event five science professionals working in the very different part of the pharmaceutical industry talk about their roles. Check out what they do!

Log into SharePoint to watch this recording

  • Alumni: Email us to provide access to the webinar

Icon of a video playing


Finding a job


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 contact 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.


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.


A recent survey of ABPI members highlights 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 teamwork 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, for example, NovartisGSK, LonzaAstraZeneca & MedimmunPfizer, usually operate their own formal graduate recruitment, placement and internship programmes.

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 
Vacancies from companies targeting Nottingham students and graduates

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

ABPI - List of pharmaceutical recruiters

Wiley Pharmaceutical Labs


Flame 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:

Read Taeshayla's blog: Interested in the Pharmaceutical Industry? Try Pfizer’s Virtual Work Experience

Research institutes

Babraham Institute

The Francis Crick Institute

Institute of Child Health

Medical Research Council

University of Manchester in association with the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust

Learned societies

Biochemical Society

British Society of Cell Biology

Genetics Society

The Royal Society of Biology

The British Neuroscience Association (lists a range of organisations offering grants for projects)

The Physiological Society

Examples of pharmaceutical companies

Astra Zeneca





Get involved at Nottingham - enhance your job prospects



Careers and Employability Service

University of Nottingham
Portland Building, Level D
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 3680
fax: +44 (0) 115 951 3679