Pharmaceutical scientists, also known as pharmacologists, are an important part of health care in the UK. In this role you are experts in the knowledge of medicines. In fact, you focus on how they are developed to treat illnesses. This means you will work studying the effects of drugs and other chemical substances on cells, animals, humans and the environment. Most pharmaceutical scientists work in large pharmaceutical companies. As a consequence you will probably work for international businesses. A smaller number of pharmaceutical scientists are employed through the National Health Service (NHS). Doing this you will study the effect of medicines. On this career route your work is usually done in labs connected to hospitals. There has been a shortage of pharmaceutical scientists in recent years. This has been coupled with the expansion of the range and scale of medicines available. This means your position is increasingly well-paid and well-regarded.
What Does a Pharmaceutical Scientist Do
Pharmaceutical scientists are experts in developing new medicines. You develop and test new medicines over a long period to make sure that they are both effective and safe. In fact, some new medicines can take twenty years to develop. This means it is normal for pharmaceutical scientists to work on one or more aligned medicines over a long time. Key job roles for a pharmaceutical scientist are to:
- Design, set up and carry out experiments.
- Rigorously analyse data. You will use complex equipment and measuring systems.
- Identify trends and impacts.
- You will test drugs on cells in labs. You will also test them through clinical trials.
- Part of your work will be to produce a report and make recommendations. This will be based on the results of research. You will be developing new products and manufacturing processes.
- You need to study the effects of drugs and test the safety of manufactured products. This can be over a long period of time.
Pharmaceutical scientists may focus on the whole lifecycle of a medicine or just part of the development journey. The phases are:
- Discovery to research.
- Dosage recommendations.
- Safety and efficacy.
- Marketing and approval.
Who Employs Pharmaceutical Scientists
Most pharmaceutical scientists are employed by private companies. They work developing medicines and running clinical trials. They are focused on research and testing.
Job Salary for a Pharmaceutical scientist
The official UK Government statistics on the job salary for a pharmaceutical scientist places the starting wage at £25,000. This can rises to £50,000 for experienced and senior pharmaceutical scientists. Another source estimates the average pharmaceutical scientist’s salary in the UK to be £64,558.44. This is based on a recorded minimum of £27,300. It quotes a maximum salary of £136,370. Some other figures are useful to allow you to compare salaries. In the UK, the national average wage is estimated to be around £30,000 according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The current National Living Wage must be paid to people aged 23 and over. This means the minimum untaxed income for a 40-hour week is over £21,000 per year. As with other jobs, there are significant regional differences in the salary of a pharmaceutical scientist in different parts of the UK. If you are a pharmaceutical scientist in London or the South East of England you will be paid more than in other parts of the UK.
How Often is a Pharmaceutical Scientist Normally Paid
As a pharmaceutical scientist you can normally expect to be paid a salary every month.
Who Negotiates a Job Salary for a Pharmaceutical Scientist
Pharmaceutical scientists receive a salary depending on seniority. In fact it will be based on fixed rates specified in contracts of employment. Further, trade unions may be involved in negotiating terms and conditions.
What Sort of Contracts Do Pharmaceutical Scientists Have
Pharmaceutical scientists tend to have a permanent contract which is clear about hours and rates of pay. These contracts will also specify overtime rates. They will normally also be accompanied by confidentiality clauses or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). This is because the work of developing new medicines is usually confidential.
Your potential career progression in pharmacy is linked to experience within the industry. Further, the profitability of the company is also a major factor. It is also worth knowing that it is pretty common for pharmaceutical scientists to switch between companies. You would do this to increase your income and advance your career.
How to Become a Pharmaceutical Scientist
Pharmaceutical scientists have to be properly qualified. This means you need to have undertaken a university course. University courses in pharmacology will generally require the following qualifications:
- 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English, maths and science.
- 3 A levels, or equivalent, including biology and chemistry.
You can also get experience by working as a lab assistant or through work shadowing. Both of these things can be helpful when looking for a place at university to become a pharmaceutical scientist.
Qualifications/Courses – Pharmaceutical Scientist
To become a pharmaceutical scientist, you’ll need to follow one of two career paths.
- One is to complete a science degree to become a pharmacologist. Pharmacology is the most relevant subject, but that is not the only one that is relevant. Alternatively, degrees in biochemistry, physiology, or microbiology may also be accepted by employers as substitutes for pharmacology. Note too that many degree programmes have periods working in the pharmaceutical industry. If you take this route, it can be beneficial when looking for work.
- Another route is to take a degree apprenticeship as a clinical pharmacology scientist. To follow this path you may need to be already working in a clinical pharmacology role. Alternatively you could be a pharmacist looking to use your skills in research. However, you can sometimes enter as a science graduate. To do this you will need to have a range of other skills.
The world of pharmaceutical science is competitive and skilled. A postgraduate qualification may also be a requirement when applying for some jobs.
Recognition as a Pharmaceutical Scientist
Many pharmaceutical scientists join the British Pharmacological Society. This allows for professional recognition. It can also bring training opportunities. It is also useful for making industry contacts which can help further your career.
General Skills Required
- A pharmaceutical scientists must have the willingness to continue to always learn about your trade. You will learn more about pharmacology, medicines and disease throughout your working life.
- Thoroughness and attention to detail is required.
- Excellent maths knowledge is helpful.
- Good analytical thinking skills are needed. You must also have reasoning skills
- You must be a good team player with the pharmaceutical team. This means having the ability to work constructively with others carrying out aligned tasks in healthcare.
- Serious computer literacy is required. This is needed in order to record information relating to patients.
- Finally, confidentiality is important relating to medicines development.
Specific Operational Skills Required
Pharmaceutical scientists will need to be able to operate different lab machinery. You will also need to use a computer to record test results precisely. You will routinely use pipettes and Petri dishes. A pharmaceutical scientist will also set up analytical instruments. Additionally, you must always make sure to sterilise equipment properly. It is also important all employees must follow safety standards and procedures rigorously.
Specific Knowledge Categories Required
- You need to appreciate the ethics of medicines development.
- Chemistry knowledge is vital. This will include the safe use and disposal of chemicals.
- You should also understand biology, general science and maths.
- Research analysis skills are critical.
- You will also need to use specific computer programmes for logging data.
Challenges of Being a Pharmaceutical Scientist
- Someone who is thorough and has a strong eye for detail is suited to this work. Mistakes can be life-threatening. They can also delay the development of medicines.
- It can also often be repetitive work.
- You will also need to maintain knowledge of new and emerging medicines.
- Finally, you will also usually need to wear protective clothing.
Type of Person Suited for this Work
- Someone with a genuine interest in the development of medicines is needed. This is because the medicines being developed are done to cure or mitigate the effects of a disease or medical condition.
- A person with a commitment to the values of the company that employs them is needed. You also need to be a team player. This means working to direction and also direct others if working as head of a pharmacy team.
- You also need to be someone with a patient outlook. This is because you can work on the same medicine over a long period.
- A methodical person is needed. Further, you need to be someone with good analytical thinking skills. Finally you need strong thinking and reasoning skills.
General Expected Working Hours
A pharmaceutical scientist can be expected to work around forty hours a week in a 9 am to 5 pm job.
Location of Work
The majority of pharmaceutical scientists work for large pharmaceutical companies. Senior managers often have the opportunity to travel internationally with work for conferences and to visit other plants.
Larger plants will employ large teams of pharmaceutical scientists. This means there is usually good potential for you to be promoted within the team. Therefore if you are working for large companies chains you can also be expected to be promoted. You could end up as a team manager, regional or national manager. Alternatively, you could also move into medical sales and marketing. Other options include working in drug registration, patent work or information science. It is pretty common for pharmaceutical scientists to switch between companies to increase your incomes and advance your career.