Building your career network, AKA Staying in touch with people who LEAVE your company: You…
Do you have a passion for science and an interest in drug development? Are you someone who is passionate about solving the world’s worst diseases? If hands-on bench research and the thrill of discovery drive you, you should consider a career as a pharmaceutical scientist. Are you someone who “enjoys the science”, but also the interaction with patients in a healthcare setting? Maybe a career as a pharmacist is appealing. With an expected annual growth rate of 9.6% for the next five years, the pharmaceutical industry is exploding – with new breakthroughs and products discovered every day. Pharmaceutical scientists are in huge demand and new grads can begin their careers right after receiving a bachelor’s degree in one of the biological sciences, but keep in mind, an advanced degree will open doors to many more career opportunities.
Pharmaceutical scientists work in research labs helping to identify and develop compounds that can potentially cure diseases. Drug development requires teams of specialized scientists who work cross functionally to design and carry out experiments in laboratory environments. Some labs, depending on the products being developed, can have very restricted access and demand the highest level of control to avoid contamination. Pharmaceutical scientists perform methodical product testing to ensure safety and efficacy. It seems like there are a million thresholds and hurdles to overcome, but in the end this process is critical to the approval process.
Pharmaceutical scientists live and die by governing agencies like the FDA. There are so many different directions a career in pharmaceutical science can take, including the development of targeted immunotherapies, developing clinical trials criteria and managing them, regulatory affairs or quality control management. If you enjoy a fast paced environment, you might choose a career path that includes pharmaceutical engineering, more often known as process engineering or a role in ensuring quality as a quality engineer.
Pharmaceutical scientists generally focus their careers in one direction of the drug development process; either in early stage drug discovery, product development or manufacturing. Each step is crucial to the successful development of a new drug or expanding therapeutic areas of an existing medication currently on the market.
You will recognize pharmaceutical industry leaders like Johnson & Johnson, Bayer, Pfizer, Roache, Novartis and GSK. But, the up-and-comers, like Moderna, developer of one of the most widely used COVID vaccines, Amphastar, and dozens of outliers focused on immunotherapies are taking the industry by storm.
Typical responsibilities of a pharmaceutical scientist include:
Typical job requirements for a pharmaceutical scientist include:
There are many employment opportunities for pharmaceutical scientists all over the US. A great way to start your employment search is to utilize a recruiter specializing in the industry.
So now you know what they do and where to work, but how much money does a Pharmaceutical Scientist make?
The average national salary for a pharmaceutical scientist is an annual salary of $71,993. BUT – hold on. Depending on which company you work for, your geographic location, and the level of your education, there are a plethora of opportunities to earn more and advance your career. Managers are generally in the six figures, directors pushing 200K, and VP’s? Well the sky’s the limit depending on the organization. Projections by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics say the outlook for pharmaceutical scientist jobs should grow by 6% over the next ten years. As the pharmaceutical industry grows, and new potential drug compounds are discovered, the demand for pharmaceutical scientists will increase. Our advice, pursue that masters degree! By targeting your career path through an advanced degree, you will dramatically increase the potential to advance your career and salary. And don’t forget the big carrot. If you are part of a drug development team that comes up with a winner, the sky’s the limit on additional compensation through commercialization or the purchase by an industry leader.
So, what does the career path of a pharmaceutical scientist look like? How do you become a pharmaceutical scientist?
All pharmaceutical scientists must start out with a bachelor’s degree in a scientific discipline. Most will choose to major in chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology, biology, microbiology, or pharmaceutical science. It’s critical you learn basic lab techniques, and skills, and general knowledge that can only be obtained through a degree. Any experience gained working in an academic laboratory goes a long way in landing your first job. Employers love to see that you have experience designing, running and troubleshooting experiments, all things you’d be doing on the job. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals who share a passion for science and improving and discovering new medicines can both be inspiring and enriching experiences that may aid you in your job search later. You never know where one of your classmates may end up, and having a wide network of pharmaceutical scientists can always assist you in landing a job or discovering something new in your research.
While not necessary to become a pharmaceutical scientist, a Master’s Degree is a great tool for those who wish to dive deeper into their education and make a further investment into their skills and career. We strongly urge you to go this route! Many pharmaceutical scientists will choose to obtain a master’s degree or a PhD in order to open up doors for career advancement in the industry. Often, new bachelor’s grads will choose to move into a lab in an entry level position and then pursue an advanced degree, either while working or later taking a break from an industry job. It’s a great idea to continue your education at any point in your career and gain better insights and keep current and up-to-date with findings in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
While the idea of investing, 2, 4 or even more years in academia following your bachelor’s, potential benefits are huge. So, how long does it take to become a pharmaceutical scientist? It depends on the level of education that works best for you. You can land a position in a lab immediately after graduating with a 4 year science degree, as long as they have a strong record of hands-on lab experience. It doesn’t hurt to have a few publications under your belt as well! Most institutions will also have some sort of internship program to help students gain industry experience, shadow industry professionals, practice what they’ve learned in class, and make strong networking connections that can help them later in their job search.
Like positions in any industry, a combination of both soft and technical skills will lead to success as a pharmaceutical scientist. If you are a scientific wizard, but can’t effectively communicate, your career path will be limited. Take the opportunity to polish those skills through public speaking classes or even Toastmasters. You need to be able to communicate and sell yourself! On top of that, this is a data driven career. You need to have excellent attention to detail, great analytical skills, and be able to work collaboratively. Prospective pharmaceutical scientists need to have a basic fundamental understanding of anatomy, biology, and chemistry to understand how drugs interact with the body and with each other in order to develop safe and effective medicines and treatments. You should be able to gather and interpret complex data in order to build safe and effective medications and perform experiments and utilize laboratory equipment effectively and safely. Here’s a quick checklist:
In addition to a display of soft skills, hiring managers will look for great lab skills. Candidates who do well after graduation and get those entry level jobs have completed an internship or co-op to gain hands-on benchwork, or have shadowed an industry professional to better understand the drug development process.
People that thrive as pharmaceutical scientists are:
So you are passionate about a career helping solve healthcare’s most daunting diseases? You WANT to be a pharmaceutical scientist. Here’s how you do it.