A higher education in biology can pave the way for a promising career across pharma, from working in clinical trials to playing a key role in drug discovery and development.
In this article, I’ll explore some of the career paths biology graduates take in the pharmaceutical industry, and provide actionable guidance based on my experience in life science recruitment
Pharma careers with a biology degree
The route you take as a biology graduate will largely depend on how your key technical skills translate into the pharmaceutical space.
While most graduates start their careers in pharma as technical assistants, or laboratory assistants, the specific area you’ll be working in will often differ depending on your degree subject.
Below, I will explore some of the most popular biology specialisms and their applications in the pharmaceutical industry.
Biomedical scientists test samples, investigate diseases and carry out experiments in the lab, making their technical skills highly transferable to the pharmaceutical space, particularly for diagnostic roles.
Outside of the pharmaceutical industry, biomedical scientists have a key role in healthcare. In the NHS alone, biomedical scientists support 70% of all clinical diagnoses.
Bioinformaticians have an important role to play in pharma as the pace of digitalisation and ongoing challenge of constant innovation rises.
In industry, bioinformaticians are heavily involved in the drug development process, analyse molecular data while also collaborating with wider areas like clinical trials to assess and optimise the use of data.
Microbiologists study microbes at the level of proteins and genes (molecular biology), at the cellular level (cell biology and physiology), and at the community level (public health, ecology and epidemiology). Branches of microbiology include virology, parasitology, mycology, microbial genetics and bacteriology.
The breadth of topics microbiology covers make an education in the subject lucrative across a range of industries, including pharma.
Given biochemistry’s focus on the molecular biochemical reactions behind cellular function, biochemistry graduates are often hired into the pharmaceutical sector, particularly at the drug discovery stage.
From supporting early target validation, through to late-stage lead optimisation, biochemists have a pivotal role to play in pharma.
Key transferable skills from biology to pharma
Some key transferable technical skills between the disciplines include:
- Cell culture processes
- Molecular biology – extractions, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), DNA sequencing
- Data analysis – including statistical programming
- Protein purification
- High performance liquid chromatography (HLPC)
How to choose the right job in pharma
Before you make your next job move, it’s important to evaluate what key factors motivate you the most, and what workplace environment suits you.
While a role in the pharmaceutical industry can be exciting, it’s not always for everyone. If you’re currently working in academia and enjoy the independent nature of a research project, assess how you would feel working in a more regulation heavy, and process driven role in industry, before you make the shift.
Working with a pharmaceutical recruitment consultant to understand how your skills transfer best into a career in pharma, and what your prospective career path might be is useful to help map out next steps. Additionally, getting advice and support from careers counsellors at universities – even as an alumni can be helpful to understand more about your prospective options.
When you’re ready to make your application, I would advise optimising your LinkedIn profile so that your skills are clear and easy for recruiters to spot. Focusing on listing your techniques on LinkedIn and updating your profile with recommendations, and up to date work experience can be invaluable in accelerating the success of your job search.
Accelerate your career with SRG
At SRG, we have over 30 years of experience helping candidates across the globe establish successful scientific careers in the pharmaceutical industry.
View our latest jobs in pharma below and find your next opportunity.
About the author: Behruz Sheikh specialises in providing innovative solutions around talent to companies across the life sciences sector, with a strong focus on pharmaceuticals, medtech and biotech. Having established a strong network across the north of England across SMEs, start-ups, and big pharma, he has provided a wide range of bespoke talent solutions to organisations from ad-hoc niche scientific searches to onsite RPO solutions. Behruz’s team specialise in placing a wide range of STEM roles spanning across bench to boardroom; typical roles include: analytical chemists, microbiologists, molecular biologists, formulation chemists, upstream biotechnologists, downstream biotechnologists, GMP quality specialists up to qualified person, and commercial roles such as project managers and business development managers.
Connect with Behruz on LinkedIn to learn more about our opportunities in the field.