Discover what qualifications, skills and experience you need for a successful career within this highly competitive industry

This will depend on the job that you'd like to do and available careers within the sector are vast. However, for most jobs you'll need at least a Bachelors degree. Many employers look for graduates with an undergraduate qualification in a science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) subject.

Some roles demand particular qualifications. For example, an analytical chemist will need a degree in chemistry, food technologists require an undergraduate degree in a food-related subject such as nutrition, food safety or food science, and those working in drug development or research will need a degree in chemistry, biology or pharmacology. If you have ambitions to become a forensic scientist see forensic science degrees for more information on required qualifications and courses.

Postgraduate qualifications such as Masters degrees and PhDs are highly valued in the sector and are often a prerequisite for certain jobs. For example; you'll need an accredited Masters in pharmacy to become a community pharmacist and most oceanographers have a Masters or PhD. Areas of work such as biotechnology and astrophysics also often demand a research Masters or Doctorate.

Search postgraduate courses.

For science and pharmaceutical roles in commercial areas such as sales, marketing, IT, human resources (HR) and finance, employers consider graduates of any degree discipline.

For information on entry requirements and relevant qualifications, see job profiles.

What skills do science and pharmaceutical employers want?

You will need to show:

  • analytical, methodological problem-solving skills and logical, objective thinking
  • excellent observational skills and attention to detail
  • commercial awareness
  • an enquiring mind
  • communication and interpersonal skills
  • creativity
  • strong IT and numeracy skills
  • good time management
  • an open-minded approach to new ideas and concepts
  • planning, organisation and project management skills
  • presentation skills
  • scientific, technical or research skills
  • teamwork.

Where can I get work experience?

Competition for science and pharmaceutical jobs is fierce and in all roles work experience is incredibly useful, not only for giving you a taste of what the work involves but also in helping you to stand out to potential employers.

Four-year, science-based sandwich degrees are widely available in UK universities, offering a year in industry where you can gain valuable knowledge and technical skills. However, if your course does not provide a compulsory placement, you could consider applying directly to companies for schemes.

Some of the largest employers in the sector, such as AstraZeneca, GSK, the Met Office, Novartis, Reckitt Benckiser (RB) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) all offer internship opportunities to students and graduates. Work experience schemes at such companies range from three-month summer internships to a year in industry. In many cases, these internships become talent spotting exercises for their graduate schemes.

The also offers science-based internships.

If you're struggling to gain a place on a formal internship programme try applying speculatively to local laboratories, hospital and university departments and research and development centres.

To find more work placements and internships in the science and pharmaceuticals sector, search for work experience.

Can I do a science and pharmaceutical graduate scheme?

A number of science and pharmaceutical graduate schemes are available with large employers and these are primarily advertised on their websites or on university careers sites.

Graduate schemes typically last between one and three years and are provided by organisations such as AstraZeneca, GSK, Reckitt Benckiser (RB), Novartis, Pfizer, the NHS and the STFC.

AstraZeneca offer lots of different graduate pathways including schemes in operations, biometrics and information science, pharmaceutical technology and development and an Innovative Medicines and Early Development (IMED) early phase drug discovery programme. GSK offer a Future Leaders Programme, while RB run a two-year Research and Development Future Leadership Programme.

The NHS also offers a scientist training programme in areas such as microbiology, genetic sciences and informatics.

You can search for graduate science and pharmaceutical jobs in trade magazines and the specialist press, such as New Scientist, or through sector-specific recruitment agencies. Professional bodies such as the British Pharmacological Society (BPS) advertise graduate roles too and also provide advice to job hunters.

To find jobs in the science and pharmaceuticals sector, search graduate jobs.

Can I do an apprenticeship?

Yes. When you start searching for apprenticeship roles you'll be surprised at the range of jobs on offer. Apprenticeship schemes are no longer confined to vocational roles and the number of science and pharmaceutical apprenticeships are on the rise.

Apprenticeships in this sector typically last between one and four years and are an excellent alternative to university study. They can be taken at level 2 (intermediate), level 3 (advanced), levels 4 and 5 (higher) and levels 6 and 7 (degree).

An apprenticeship opens up a vast range of career opportunities. By taking this route to qualification you could become a laboratory technician, science manufacturing technician or pharmacy assistant.

The Novartis Apprenticeship Programme offers two to three year apprenticeships and three to five year higher apprenticeships, while GSK offers a range of advanced, higher and degree apprenticeships, including their pharmaceutical technical programme, laboratory science programme and research and development manufacturing science scheme.

At AstraZeneca you can take part in their North West Apprentice Programme. The laboratory scientist pathway is a higher apprenticeship, which takes three years to complete. Or, you could choose the research and development degree apprenticeship at Unilever.

A number of apprenticeships are also available to those interested in a career in pharmacy. You can train to be a pharmacy assistant or technician. To find out more about the schemes on offer see pharmacy courses.

See what is an apprenticeship? to learn more about an apprentice's working hours, study schedule and salary and discover how to apply for an apprenticeship.

Find out more