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Career as Scientist in Pharmaceutical Companies

Updated on April 17, 2013

What is a pharmaceutical company?

Pharmaceutical companies play an important role (s) in our society. They discover, develop, manufacture and market medicines to treat and cure many serious and widespread diseases.

Scientist jobs in pharmaceutical industries

If you admire science, like to work as a group and have a passion to learn multi-disciplines of science, think about becoming a scientist in pharma industry. The job of a pharmaceutical scientist is to contribute to discover and develop novel drugs that can control various diseases. Current approach to bring a drug from lab to clinic involves dedication and expertise from scientists with diverse educational backgrounds. You can become a pharmaceutical scientist after obtaining an undergraduate or advanced degrees in pure sciences, medicine, bioinformatics or engineering.

Tips to work in a pharmaceutical industry

Expertise in more than one scientific field: Pharmaceutical industry provides a challenging and rewarding career for scientists. Traditionally, pharma industry use to hire scientists with degrees in pharmacology, pharmacogonosy, biochemistry, analytical chemistry and organic chemistry. With the advent and application of new technologies in drug discovery programs scientists with knowledge and expertise in more than one field such as neuroscience and computer science; pharmacology and genetics are preferred to participate in drug development programs. Therefore, those who are considering career as pharmaceutical scientist needs to broaden their knowledge in a variety of sciences. For example, an organic chemist who synthesizes drugs needs to know the pharmacology and toxicity of compounds.

Choose to be a pre-clinical or clinical scientist: You can decide your career as a pre-clinical or clinical scientist. Preclinical scientists examine drug mechanisms using animal models, cell culture technique or related biochemical and molecular biology tools. Clinical scientists are trained specifically in the areas of drug efficacy, adverse effects, drug-to-drug interaction, bio-availability and so on-related to clinical trials in humans. Once decided, start building your education, skills and expertise in related field.

Clinical Pharmaceutical Scientist program: Enroll in some specific programs. For example, some of the universities have created a specialty in pharmaceutical sciences called as Clinical Pharmaceutical Scientist program. This program has been designed to train students to perform independent translational research; that is, from laboratory to clinic. Students with Master of Science (MS) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) can join this program. The students are exposed to use state-of-art techniques in both laboratory and clinical setting to evaluate drugs for various diseases. Students will be encouraged to do their dissertation project involving laboratory techniques, pre-clinical models, and human based research. In pharma industry, job opportunities are high for clinical pharmaceutical scientists. I know that University of Pittsburgh, USA, has this kind of program. If you are interested to join, check the below link. Additionally, browse through other university’s web sites to find such program.

Drug delivery specialist: Another demanding professional needed in pharma industry is drug delivery specialist. This job is concerned with designing effective dosage forms of a drug that can be delivered at the site of action with right concentration and route. The dosage forms can be capsules, patches, balm or injections. You should have the knowledge and expertise in the areas of pharmaceuticals, biomaterials and pharmacokinetics.

Computational drug discovery program: If you wish not to do any clinical studies, animal or bench experiments, you can opt to develop computational models of drugs to design and understand the mechanism of drugs. In addition to your pharmacology education, you should possess skill in computer languages or programming to work in this area of drug discovery.

These are some of the career options. Additionally, you can become biochemist or molecular biologist, and it depends on interest and experience.

Advantages of working in a pharmaceutical industry

  • You will find ample opportunities to work with scientists from various disciplines. This will help you to gain knowledge and expertise under one roof. For example, you may have expertise in animal models of disease. By showing some interest you may get a chance to learn cell culture techniques to study drugs.
  • For scientists in universities, professional growth depends on publication record and ability to obtain independent research grants. In pharma industry, there are no such strict criteria to reach for higher positions. It all depends on your hard work, dedication and active participation in various stages of drug development program.
  • Working environment will be either laboratory or office settings.
  • Pharmaceutical scientists can switch jobs as researchers at universities or as officers for various government regulatory bodies.
  • Salary ranges for pharma scientists are more in comparison to a university scientist. For example, a pharma scientist with a bachelor degree with three-four years of experience may earn more than postdoctoral fellows with two-three years of experience. Additionally, some pharma companies pay a generous bonus to their scientists. However, no such perks for university scientists.

Additional information: You can find supplementary information about the meetings, professional development, current scientific publications and career opportunities by becoming member to professional societies. Find the pharmaceutical associations of the country that you wish to work for. Browse through its web page to know more about it. In United States of America, the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists is the key association (


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