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. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry careers website has over 100 case studies of different roles within this sector.
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.
Science Roles Outside the Lab
There are plenty of roles/functions for scientists who are keen to use their scientific background outside the lab. These include Patents, Registration, Regulatory Affairs, Clinical Trials/Research, Medical Writing and Bioinformatics to name a few. See the ABPI case studies for more information. The Careers Service regularly hosts a panel talk on Careers Outside the Lab (most commonly during Michaelmas Term) which gives you the opportunity to hear first hand from scientists working in these sorts of roles.
Clinical research is an essential part of the R&D process and all new medicines are thoroughly tested through a series of clinical trials to ensure they are safe and effective for patients. Clinical trials are carried out in three phases which must all be completed before an application can be made to market a new medicine, and there are a variety of different roles for both scientists and clinicians.
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 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 retail pharmacies 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.
Personnel, Finance and Management Services (especially IT/data science) 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.