What Jobs Can Chemical Science Graduates do in the Pharmaceutical Industry?

Chemical Scientist

Chemical science graduates are highly sought after in the pharmaceutical industry.

There are a range of opportunities at almost every stage of the pharmaceutical product life cycle.

To figure out the right place for you, you’ll need to consider things such as:

  • Whether you want a lab-based role
  • If you want to work in a multidisciplinary team
  • How good your written communication skills are
  • What level of education you have

Click on an area of specialty below to jump straight to it, or scroll down to read about all specialties.

  • Research
    Lab-based and experiment-driven roles working to find new or improved pharmaceutical products. Best fit for candidates with an advanced chemical science degree (MSc/PhD) and great lab skills.
  • Development
    Practical roles working in a regulated environment that bridge the gap between pure science and the product in a patient’s hand. Best fit for candidates with a minimum of a BSc in a chemical science and hands-on lab experience.
  • Manufacturing
    Roles that support the manufacturing process in a regulated environment, working within multidisciplinary teams to produce medicinal products. Best fit for candidates with a minimum of a BSc in a chemical science and hands-on lab experience.
  • Quality
    • Quality Assurance
      Detail-orientated documentation focused roles that work to ensure the ongoing quality of the manufacturing process. Best fit for candidates with a minimum of a BSc in a chemical science and excellent written communication skills.
    • Quality Control
      Lab-based roles that work to ensure the ongoing quality of manufactured products within a strictly regulated environment. Best fit for candidates with a minimum of a BSc in a chemical science and hands-on lab experience.
  • Regulatory Affairs
    Detail orientated documentation roles that deal with the legal, licensing, and regulatory paperwork associated with a medicinal product. Best fit for candidates with a minimum of a BSc in a chemical science and significant pharmaceutical industry experience.
  • Sales & Marketing
    Head-office or field based roles interacting with healthcare providers. Best fit for candidates with a minimum of a BSc in a chemical science and excellent communication and relationship building skills.

Research

Research roles might be a great fit for you if:

  • You have an advanced degree in a chemical science
  • You’ve got great lab skills
  • You want an experiment-driven role
  • You’d consider employment options other than pharmaceutical companies

Research in pharma is where it all begins. For every pharmaceutical product that successfully makes it to market, there are multiple others that have been researched. Research departments look to identify promising new therapeutic agents, test their effectiveness, find suitable drug delivery mechanisms, and work to optimise drug efficiency.

As you’d expect, the science opportunities in pharma research are typically experiment-driven and lab-based.

Research roles typically require advanced degrees (sometimes a Masters if you’re also bringing additional lab skills / work experience, but usually a PhD)

The specialties companies are looking for depend on the product they’re researching. Job prospects are probably most dependent on the lab skills you’re bringing, so don’t narrow your search too much initially.

Read lots of job adverts to get to grips with where your specialty shines.

Research is involved in the pipeline of every pharmaceutical company but they don’t always keep it in-house. While there are still some employment opportunities directly with pharmaceutical companies, it’s becoming more common for them to outsource research to private labs, contract companies, and universities.

It’s also not uncommon for research to be done by independent companies, with the rights then being sold on to pharma companies once efficacy has been determined – so you might find additional opportunities there.

Be broad with your job search – there are lots of research opportunities out there for chemical science graduates.

Development

Development roles might be a great fit for you if:

  • You have a BSc in a chemical science
  • You have hands-on lab experience
  • You have an understanding of GMPs (or are willing to learn about them)
  • You want to help bridge the gap between pure science and the product in a patient’s hand

Development is the phase after research where creation of a proven drug is moved from the lab to the manufacturing plant. There are specific challenges associated with this, and scientists play a key role in successfully scaling up the manufacturing process while maintaining product quality.

There are a diverse range of development opportunities available throughout the pharmaceutical industry. Specific roles will depend on the product being developed, and the stage of development. Development roles can be in-house with pharmaceutical companies, or as contract roles.

Entry into development roles with a BSc degree is common – but some roles might require additional experience to support this. Applicants with advanced degrees are also in demand here and will likely see a corresponding decrease in the amount of supporting experience required.

All jobs in development will require a sound understanding of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) but pay attention because some adverts might only list this as “desired” rather than “essential”. There are also courses you can take to get that understanding, give your CV a boost, and jump ahead of the competition.

You will see some development roles that highlight a need for a degree in a specific scientific discipline but when we analysed industry job adverts, we found most roles had some flexibility around the specific subject. What appears to be more important is the particular skills you have, and your ability to bring an accredited science mindset to the role.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing roles might be a great fit for you if:

  • You have a BSc in a chemical science
  • You have hands-on lab experience
  • You have an understanding of GMPs (or are willing to learn about them)
  • You want to work in a multi-disciplinary team to produce medicinal products

Manufacturing is the ongoing production stage of the pharmaceutical industry. This is usually carried out by big teams in large manufacturing facilities. Ongoing product quality is key here and there are strict rules and regulations that need to be followed (including Good Manufacturing Practices – GMPs).

In most companies, the manufacturing process is carried out by operators and technicians, but scientific staff are required to support these individuals and the manufacturing process. In the case of very specialised products, scientific staff may take a more hands-on role in the routine manufacturing process.

Specific roles and opportunities will always depend on the product being produced. Manufacturing roles can be found in-house with pharmaceutical companies or with contract manufacturing companies.

Entry into manufacturing science roles with a BSc degree is common – but some roles might require some additional experience to support this. Applicants with advanced degrees are also in demand here and will likely see a corresponding decrease in the amount of supporting experience required.

All jobs in manufacturing will require a sound understanding of GMPs but pay attention because some adverts might only list this as “desired” rather than “essential”. There are also courses you can take to get that understanding, give your CV a boost, and jump ahead of the competition.

You will see some manufacturing roles that highlight a need for a degree in a specific scientific discipline but when we analysed industry job adverts, we found most roles had some flexibility around the specific subject. What appears to be more important is the particular skills you have, and your ability to bring an accredited science mindset to the role.

Quality

The quality department is essential within a pharmaceutical company. Their job is to ensure that processes, systems, and products all meet predefined standards.

Since the products of this manufacturing process are consumed by patients, there are strict rules and regulations in place to ensure that they are safe and effective.

These regulatory obligations are achieved through the implementation of quality procedures.

There are 2 main subsections within a quality department:

  • Quality Assurance
  • Quality Control

There are important differences, so we’ll look at each in turn…

Quality Assurance

Quality assurance roles might be a great fit for you if:

  • You have a BSc in a chemical science
  • You have an understanding of GMPs (or are willing to learn about them)
  • You are detail orientated, particularly with documentation
  • You have excellent written communication skills

Quality assurance is process oriented and focuses on removing any variation from the processes of manufacturing. This is achieved by creating, revising, and strictly implementing a set of precisely defined procedures and quality standards that, when followed exactly, ensure the final quality of the product.

Quality assurance is preventative by nature and makes sure things are done “right first time”.

A BSc in a biological or chemical science is typically an essential criteria for all quality assurance roles. Advanced degrees in the same subjects will also be welcomed.

The specific degree subject is usually irrelevant. What appears to be more important is the particular skills you have, and your ability to bring an accredited science mindset to the role.

All jobs in quality assurance will require a sound understanding of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) but pay attention because some adverts might only list this as “desired” rather than “essential”. There are also courses you can take to get that understanding, give your CV a boost, and jump ahead of the competition.

All roles within quality assurance are opportunities for chemical science graduates and can be found in-house with pharmaceutical companies or via contract with some engineering consultancies.

Quality Control

Quality control roles might be a great fit for you if:

  • You have a BSc in a chemical science
  • You have hands-on lab experience
  • You have an understanding of GMPs (or are willing to learn about them)
  • You want a lab-based role, but within a larger manufacturing team environment

Quality control is product oriented and focuses on testing samples of products from the manufacturing process to make sure they meet the required specifications and standards.

This sample testing is done within in-house laboratories in pharmaceutical companies and all roles within quality control are opportunities for chemical science graduates.

Entry into quality control roles with a BSc in a chemical science is common. Some roles might require some additional experience to support this. Applicants with advanced degrees are also in demand here and will likely see a corresponding decrease in the amount of supporting experience required.

Job adverts suggest that the specific degree is less relevant and companies will accept many biological or chemical science degrees. What appears to be more important is the particular skills and lab experience you have, and your ability to bring an accredited science mindset to the role.

All jobs in quality control will require a sound understanding of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). There are courses you can take to get that understanding, give your CV a boost, and jump ahead of the competition.

Regulatory Affairs

Regulatory affairs roles might be a great fit for you if:

  • You have a BSc in a chemical science
  • You have significant pharmaceutical industry experience
  • You are detail orientated, particularly with documentation
  • You have excellent written communication skills

Professionals in regulatory affairs are responsible for the applications and ongoing paperwork surrounding regulations that must be done before/when a medicine is sold to the public.

All roles within regulatory affairs are opportunities for chemical science graduates but they are rarely entry level – most require significant additional industry experience.

Regulatory affairs roles can be found in-house with pharmaceutical companies. Some contract opportunities may exist.

A BSc in a biological or chemical science is typically an essential criteria for all regulatory affairs roles. Advanced degrees in the same subjects will also be welcomed.

The specific degree is usually irrelevant. What appears to be more important is the particular skills and industry experience you have, and your ability to bring an accredited science mindset to the role.

Examples of jobs in this category include:

  • Regulatory Affairs Specialist / Officer / Associate – involved in ongoing quality monitoring across the company. Gather and collate the data and information needed for review and submission to regulatory agencies.
  • Qualifed Person – is a technical term used in European Union pharmaceutical regulation. QPs are legally responsible for certifying batches of medicinal products before they’re used in clinical trials or available on the market.
  • Pharmacoviligance Officer – also called a drug safety officer. They are responsible for monitoring and reporting the effectiveness and any adverse effects or side effects of pharmaceutical products on the market in the general population and in hospitals and research trials.

Sales & Marketing

Sales and marketing roles might be a great fit for you if:

  • You have a BSc in a chemical science (with or without significant lab experience)
  • You want an office or field-based role
  • You are confident discussing and explaining scientific principles in an accessible way
  • You want a career where you interact & build relationships with a range of external customers

As you might expect, the sales and marketing departments promote the company’s pharmaceutical or medical device products.

This is a uniquely regulated environment though, and all sales and marketing activities must meet the relevant rules and regulations. The rules are different in every country, so take some time to research and understand the specific environment you would be working within.

Sales and marketing roles can be found in-house with pharmaceutical companies. Field-based sales roles are also available through external salesforce contracting companies.

Chemical science graduates may find a place in any role within a sales or marketing department, but they are particularly sought after for:

  • Field sales roles – taking responsibility for building relationships with a range of health care providers across a geographic area. These are target-driven roles that require self-motivation, excellent interpersonal skills, and the ability to discuss and explain disease areas and therapies with a wide range of people.
  • Medical information – typically a head office based role interacting with health care providers to discuss complex and unusual medical questions. This is a highly specialist role that provides an essential bridge between medical professionals and the scientific evidence that supports a product’s use.

A BSc in a biological or chemical science, or healthcare experience, is a desirable criteria for field sales roles. Advanced degrees in the same subjects are typically required for medical information jobs.

The specific degree is less relevant. What’s more important here is a candidate’s ability to discuss scientific principles with a range of external stakeholders.