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Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology | The Careers Service Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

Discovering, developing, producing and marketing products that improve and save lives are all parts of working in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. The chance to work with cutting edge technology in companies leading global research, and be well remunerated too, makes these industries appealing.

Pharma

The pharmaceuticals (pharma) industry is reliant on multi-disciplinary, cutting-edge research to produce unique, innovative products, and on large teams of sales people backed up by sophisticated marketing skills. The British pharma industry has a strong reputation for research and development (R&D) of the very highest quality and there are major clusters of pharmaceutical companies in the north-east, north-west, south-east and east of England, and a significant number in Scotland. The industry recruits graduates for a wide range of functions (both science and non-science areas) and employs just under 70,000 people in the UK, of whom around 27,000 are directly involved in R&D. The industry is one of Britain’s leading manufacturing sectors and many international companies have established highly-regarded research laboratories here. However, there are huge pressures on the industry and developing new drugs is particularly difficult as any obvious ones have already been made. Furthermore, patents usually last 20 years, after which any company can produce a far cheaper generic version of a drug. The cost of producing new medicines is so colossal that one failure can have devastating consequences for a company.

Biotech

The biotechnology (biotech) industry is a newer sector. Biotechnology is the application of biological systems to solve problems, improve processes and develop and manufacture products. Biotech companies exist in a number of industrial sectors, which include: biomedical, food and agriculture, and environmental. The UK leads Europe in the industrial development of biotechnology and during the past decade there has been rapid and sustained growth in the number of specialist biotechnology R&D-based companies. There are over 900 pharmaceutically related biotech companies in the UK which employ nearly 26,000 people, although the majority of them have fewer than 50 employees. Many of the UK’s biotech companies originate from universities as ‘spin-outs’ and are located around Oxford, Cambridge and in Scotland. Internationally the USA has more than four times the number of biotech companies than the UK. Depending on their size, biotech companies may use support companies, to whom they contract out some aspects of their work, such as the development or marketing of their products.

Types of job

Within the pharma industry there are a range of scientific and non-scientific jobs available, while in the biotech industry the majority of vacancies for graduates are in scientific research, working for small/medium-sized employers (SMEs), perhaps at science parks.

R&D

R&D roles overall have the largest demand for graduates. The organic chemist synthesises molecules which may have the desired properties; the physical chemist establishes the shape of the molecule; the biochemist investigates the metabolism of the compound; the pharmacologist examines its effect in vivo; and, if all is well, the pharmacist decides on formulation, while the medical staff are arranging hospital trials and the statisticians are looking for possible irregularities.

Well-qualified scientists, often with a DPhil, are hired as specialists and initiators to become leaders of groups or managers of research in the future. Increasingly it is useful for applicants to have gained relevant, industry-based work experience during their studies.  This enables them to demonstrate to potential employers that they have practical insights into the differences between academic and industrial research in terms of culture and focus. In this area more than any other, a DPhil scientist will be recruited for his or her specific scientific skills rather than as a well-trained scientific generalist. Those recruiting you as the potential leader of a R&D group will be looking not only for specialist skills but also for signs of leadership skills and the ability to motivate a team of staff reporting to you.

The first-degree scientist, however, should be sure that they are in R&D for one of two reasons: either because work in a laboratory is overwhelmingly attractive, and likely to remain so; or because research, and more particularly development, constitutes a good entry point to the industry in which they want to work and within the company there are good prospects of moving on or moving to another function. Graduates can in theory progress in R&D, but they will need to show exceptional talent for research and a strong willingness to develop.

See also our information on Scientific Research & Development.

Marketing

Marketing is a demanding role. Preparations for the launch of a new product can begin at least three or four years beforehand. A good deal of market research is needed, marketing and promotional strategies have to be worked out, sales training materials written, symposia arranged for doctors, formulation and distribution arranged for different areas, pricing policies settled, and an outline of manufacturing details fixed. Many eminent companies in the field deliberately seek out Arts graduates for marketing positions, looking for creative flair and believing that the basic science can readily be picked up by a graduate with good intellectual ability.

Sales

Sales are encouraged and supported by medical reps, who are often pharmacists or life scientists, but, increasingly, graduates from any degree discipline. They call on doctors, hospital pharmacists and proprietors of chemist’s shops to explain the advantages and method of use of their drugs, and to leave literature or some other reminder of their visit. Their role is to persuade professionals to prescribe their products, and to develop relationships for repeat business.

See our information on Marketing and Sales.

Other roles

Clinical Research Associates (CRAs) co-ordinate clinical trials carried out on new drug substances or currently marketed drugs. A life sciences background is required and the roles may vary depending on the employer, from being involved in the whole process to just being involved in collecting data once the trial has been set up.

Patenting, Registration and Regulatory Affairs roles require both a strong background in science and an understanding of legal matters. They might suit those who enjoy their subject, but are keen to get out of the laboratory. See our information on Patents.

Personnel, Finance and Management Services (especially IT) roles are also options within these industries as they have a broad range of management functions. These are often open to graduates from a wide range of disciplines. See our relevant sector webpages for information.

Getting experience

For jobs in the pharma and biotech industries prior work experience is useful, not only for developing skills but also for raising your commercial/industrial awareness. Industrial employers are keen to employ people who understand the business, and certainly a criticism from some employers has been that DPhils (and indeed postdoctoral researchers) often lack commercial awareness. Work collaborations, placements, or work-shadowing whilst studying or during a postdoc can be ways of overcoming this lack of awareness. Some of the larger firms may offer internships, but it will often be necessary to make speculative applications and network to find relevant contacts to approach in smaller firms.

Those who envisage a career in R&D and are intent on obtaining a doctorate are advised by many pharma companies to make contact towards the end of their first degree, and maintain contact throughout their DPhil, so as to develop knowledge of what employers are looking for.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, ABPI, has a careers section on their website which provides a list of pharma recruiters with work experience opportunities.

If you do arrange work experience, there is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

Insight into Pharma/Biotech is run by the Careers Service, and includes a visit a local pharma/biotech company to find out more about the industry. It takes place in 9th week in certain terms: check the Events calendar on CareerConnect in advance. Likewise, Catenion usually run an interactive workshop – A Risky Business: Careers in the Pharmaceutical Business – during Michaelmas Term, which is an opportunity to understand how the pharma business operates. Again, check the Events calendar on CareerConnect.

Also look out for events run by the Oxford University Biotech Society and the Oxford University Biochemical Society where there may be opportunities to meet people working in the industry.

Getting a job

A number of larger companies do recruit graduate trainees for all roles through the annual milkround, but for most R&D vacancies requiring specialist postgraduate skills the relevant scientific magazines and websites, such as New Scientist, are the places to look. Attend the annual Science, Engineering and Technology Fair in Michaelmas Term where there will be a range of scientific companies as well as a talk on Careers in Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology – see our events on CareerConnect for more details. If you are interested in working in Oxfordshire then come along to our OX Postcode Fair as local pharma/biotech companies often attend; also see our webpage on Finding Work in Oxford. Some University departments and societies may also have strong links to these companies, so keep your eye out for other specific recruitment activities.

Also look at the ABPI website which lists pharma companies with job vacancies, and use the UK Life Sciences’ search facility to identify pharma/biotech companies to approach speculatively about job vacancies. Quick online registration is required to access searchable database.

If you have a postgraduate degree, target specific companies most appropriate to your discipline. The ABPI produces an A-Z of British Medicines Research which identifies research area by company and is available online. Local science parks may be a good source of small companies: the UK Science Parks Association will help you locate these. The Royal Society of Chemistry has a job search section on its website which may also be helpful. Some companies may also make use of the services of specialist scientific recruitment agencies – details of some of these are given in the Useful Websites section below.

Turnover in sales functions is high; there are usually many vacancies and much recruiting is done through specialist agencies which frequently advertise in relevant magazines and websites, such as New Scientist. However, many major drugs firms recruit directly into sales and use agencies in the autumn to top up the vacancies they have not been able to fill directly. Sales could be the way into marketing and other non-scientific managerial functions and you can expect intensive, frequent, high-quality training.

Equality & positive action

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

Our resources

 Journals

We subscribe to the following journals in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • New Scientist, weekly

Podcasts of past events

Science, Engineering & Technology Fair – Working in Pharmaceutical/Biotech Industry, Michaelmas Term 2017

Do you struggle to understand the full range of graduate jobs which are available in the pharma/biotech industry? This podcast will give you insights from scientists working in medical writing, pharma consultancy, research and value communications.

Speaker presentations can be found below:

Science R&D – Biotechnology, Careers Conference for Researchers, Trinity Term 2017

  • Lisa Cooper, Senior Scientist, Oxford Biomedica

Working in the Pharmaceutical/Biotechnology Sector, Michaelmas Term 2016

Do you struggle to understand the full range of graduate jobs which are available in the pharma/biotech industry? There are certainly far more different roles available than are fully appreciated, and this podcast will allow you to listen to three Oxford alumni working in research, medical writing and healthcare analysis:

  • Lexi Smith, Analyst, Quintiles IMS (information and technology-led healthcare service provider). Time: 1.29 – 15.10
  • Ben Oestringer, Scientist, Immunocore (biotechnology company). Time: 15.15 – 31.39
  • Sophie Haynes, Medical Writer/Editorial Team Leader, Seven Point Four (medical communications). Time: 31.40 – 50.45

Working in Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology, Michaelmas Term 2013

If you are interested in a career in the pharma/biotech industry then listen to our three speakers who will give you an insight into three different roles, namely R&D, Clinical Research and Medical Writing. An edited podcast is below, the full version is, at the speakers’ request, password-protected: Oxford students can use their SSO details to log-in and listen to it.

External resources

Sector vacancies & occupation information

Societies, organisations & news

This information was last updated on 21 February 2018.
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Recent blogs about Pharmaceuticals & Biotechnology

Bar Pro Bono Unit: Caseworker Volunteering Opportunities

Posted on behalf of Bar Pro Bono Unit. Blogged by Annie Dutton on 15/08/2018.

The Bar Pro Bono Unit is the Bar’s national charity, based in the National Pro Bono Centre on Chancery Lane, London, which helps to find pro bono legal assistance from volunteer barristers. They are seeking dedicated and enthusiastic individuals to volunteer as Academic Year Casework Volunteers 

This is a fantastic opportunity to obtain unique exposure to the Bar as a profession and to a wide range of areas of law. By volunteering you  will  learn a great deal about the practical working of the courts and the needs of litigants in person which should complement your studies.

You will be assisting the caseworkers one day per week, over a four month period. Tasks will include:

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  • Drafting case allocation summaries which are used to try to find volunteer barristers around the country to take on the case on a pro bono basis.
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Closing date for applications: Monday 27 August 2018 at 23:00

Requirements

You must have completed at least one year of law-related study or law-related work.

Previous volunteer’s feedback:

“I would strongly recommend to anyone interested in pursuing a legal career to try and spend some time with the BPBU. Not only does it look great on your CV, it also helps you hone crucial skills such as succinctly summarising the key facts of a case and identifying the relevant legal issues, something that should stand you in good stead for any pupillage or training contract interviews. The staff are all wonderfully welcoming and helpful, and whilst a key benefit is the range of areas you will experience (anything from Defamation to Child Protection), they will also accommodate specific requests to see more work in certain areas. Ultimately you are doing genuinely important work that makes a material difference to people’s lives, whilst being supplied with copious amounts of tea and cake. What’s not to like?”

The Student Consultancy Michaelmas Term – apply now!

Blogged by Lili Pickett-Palmer on 14/08/2018.

Consultancy Training in Michaelmas Term…

The Student Consultancy provides you with an exceptional insight into consultancy practice. Across a term, you will work in a team on a real-life business challenge for a client organisation.

Past students have worked with clients including: The Oxford Boat Race, Yellow Submarine, Belu Water, Eco Concierge, Eve, Happen, IBM, Minervation, Modern Art Oxford, Oxfam, Oxford Limited, OxHub, OxFizz, Oxford City Council, Oxford University Library Services, Pegasus Theatre and the Playhouse Theatre plus a range of start-ups.

… but it isn’t just about consulting!

The Student Consultancy can help you prove or improve a wide range of employability skills, some consultancy but also transferable skills including team work, communication, problem solving and business and customer awareness skills. These will be helpful in a huge range of future careers. Many of the students who take part actually do want to be a Management Consultant – which is great, but not a prerequisite! In other words, we don’t mind what you are studying as long as you have the right attitude and interest. Past TSC participants have ranged from 1st years to DPhils and from English to Economics students – with everything in between.

The Careers Service tries to match you to a client in a sector of interest – to provide experience for future applications. Whether you want a career in museums or marketing, or an insight into IT or charities, The Student Consultancy can help.

Apply now

We run The Student Consultancy each term – and applications for the Michaelmas Term 2018 Student Consultancy are now open. We strongly advise applying as soon as you can, as the application window will close once we have a certain number of participants.

To apply please search “Student Consultancy Michaelmas Term 2018” under the opportunities tab of CareerConnect.

For further information, and for mandatory assessment and training dates, please visit The Student Consultancy webpage.

RisingWISE: Empowering Enterprising Women in Science and Engineering

Posted on behalf of RisingWISE. Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 14/08/2018.

RisingWISE is a newly established Oxbridge network that aims to foster long-term relationships between enterprising early-career researchers and women working in industry, to encourage more women to build careers across the science and technology sector.

PROGRAMME AIMS

Our 4-day workshop will bring together approximately 50 women over three weekends to:

  • Inspire and strengthen the Oxbridge WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) network;
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  • Offer mentoring and leadership skills development opportunities to women in industry; and
  • Help all participates to enhance their confidence, learning techniques to apply these in their own working environments.

WORKSHOP DATES

  • Weekend 1 (Madingley Hall, Cambridge) – Friday 9 November 2018, 14:00–20:00 and all day Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 November 2018
  • Weekend 2 (Egrove Park, University of Oxford) – Friday 30 November 2018, 15:00–22:00, and all day Saturday 1 December 2018
  • Weekend 3 (Egrove Park, University of Oxford) – Friday 18 Jan 2019, 17:00–22:00, and all day Saturday 19 January 2019

Please note – successful delegate’s travel, accommodation, meals and all training workshops will be funded by the programme.

HOW TO APPLY

The application deadline is Friday 31 August 2018. As this is a pilot programme, spaces are limited. For more information and to apply for this programme please visit, the risingWISE page here

Win £50,000 to kickstart your entrepreneurial journey

Posted on behalf of WorldLabs. Blogged by Polly Metcalfe on 09/08/2018.

Got a bright idea? WorldLabs can help you elevate it!

WorldLabs’ mission is to help ideas develop and grow by providing the funding, tools and connections needed to thrive. Too many promising entrepreneurial projects fall by the wayside due to lack of resources, help or funding.

This is why we created the Elevating Ideas Competition: to give you the ability to showcase your idea, find valuable collaborators and gather the supporters you need to elevate your project to the next level.

  • No idea is too big or too small.
  • Projects can come from any field, and will not be judged based on your level of professional or entrepreneurial experience.
  • The award of £50,000 is designed to give your early-stage entrepreneurial venture an instrumental boost!
  • The best 10 applicants will have the opportunity to pitch at a large start-up conference in October in London.

For further details and to apply (deadline 3 September) visit the WorldLabs website.

LGBTQ+ Investment Banking Insight

Posted on behalf of Diversity Solutions. Blogged by Polly Metcalfe on 01/08/2018.

When: 13 September 2018

Where: Central London. Reasonable travel expenses within the UK (up to £75) will be reimbursed.

To apply: Submit your CV and a covering letter as soon as possible through the Inside & Out Website. 

Inside & Out is an investment banking insight event for first and second year LGBTQ+ undergraduates of all degree disciplines (i.e. finishing studies in 2020 and 2021).

A career in investment banking is highly competitive and extremely challenging, so it’s important that you have a strong academic background. If you are to attend, you should have achieved good grades at A-level (120+ UCAS Points or equivalent if you completed A-Levels in 2017 and earlier). Of course we will take any mitigating circumstances you provide into account. Because of the wide range of careers we offer, we welcome applications from all degree disciplines, so you don’t have to be studying a traditional finance-related subject to apply. What you will need is a real desire to find out all you can about the industry and the wide range of intern and full-time opportunities on offer.

The participating firms are:

  • BNP Paribas
  • Citi
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Goldman Sachs
  • HSBC
  • J.P. Morgan
  • Morgan Stanley
  • Nomura
  • Royal Bank of Canada
  • Bank of America Merrill Lynch

The day will include a number of sessions, including a welcome speech from our supporters Stonewall and a networking session with representatives from the aforementioned firms.

Any issues? Queries? Email the organisers at events@staffordlong.co.uk and we’d be more than happy to help!

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