Overview of the science and pharmaceuticals sector

Jemma Smith, Editor
February, 2018

The science and pharmaceuticals sector is all about making discoveries, pushing boundaries and promoting innovation. Find out what this key UK industry can offer talented graduates

What areas of science and pharmaceuticals can I work in?

Areas of employment within science include:

  • academic research
  • chemicals
  • food science
  • forensic science
  • geoscience
  • healthcare science
  • life sciences
  • marine biology
  • materials science
  • meteorology
  • nuclear
  • oil and gas
  • polymers
  • toxicology.

There are also opportunities in commercial areas such as IT, finance and human resources (HR), while you may also wish to consider science-related careers in healthcare, engineering and manufacturing, energy and utilities, or environment and agriculture. You could also work within the media and internet sector as a science writer.

Areas of employment within pharmaceuticals include:

  • clinical trials
  • manufacturing and supply
  • marketing
  • medical sales
  • research and development (R&D).

For examples of job roles in this sector, see graduate jobs in science and pharmaceuticals.

Who are the main graduate employers?

There are hundreds of science and pharmaceutical companies operating in the UK and many regularly feature in top graduate employer rankings. These include:

  • AkzoNobel
  • Almac
  • Associated British Foods
  • AstraZeneca
  • AWE
  • BASF
  • Bayer
  • Cellmark
  • Charles River Laboratories
  • Croda Europe Ltd
  • Fugro
  • GSK (GlaxoSmithKline)
  • Merck
  • Met Office
  • Novartis
  • Paraexel
  • Pfizer
  • Procter & Gamble (P&G)
  • QinetiQ
  • Reckitt Benckiser (RB)
  • Roche
  • Sanofi
  • Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
  • Syngenta
  • The Technology Partnership (TTP)
  • Unilever.

Jobs within science and pharmaceuticals also exist in public sector bodies such as the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Ministry of Defence (MOD), local government and the National Health Service (NHS). You could also work in a university, research organisation or an environmental consultancy.

What's it like working in the sector?

You can expect:

  • jobs to be widely available throughout the UK, mainly concentrated in large towns and cities
  • a demanding and fast-paced working environment
  • to occasionally find the work stressful and time consuming. You'll need to meet tight deadlines and solve problems quickly
  • to work in multidisciplinary teams
  • an average starting salary of between £18,000 and £25,000, progressing to beyond £100,000 in certain roles
  • the opportunity to complete academic research or undertake an industrial R&D role
  • working environments to include laboratories, offices, workshops and clinics
  • the opportunity to travel locally. International travel depends on whether the company you work for has offices abroad
  • the work to carry a high level of responsibility.

To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see job profiles.

What are the key issues in science and pharmaceuticals?

Katherine Mathieson, CEO of the British Science Association feels that diversity in the sector is a real issue. 'Currently, the science and engineering sectors are not representative of the UK society that they serve. There is a sector-wide drive to improve diversity by attracting talented people from all groups. Recent graduates can help lead this much-needed shake-up by using their range of backgrounds, outlooks and experiences to change the sector for good.'

Katherine also explains how artificial intelligence (AI) will shape the future of the science sector. 'Many of our future breakthroughs will come from applying AI to a whole range of settings. Graduates with experience or knowledge of AI, coding, computing or related areas will find themselves in demand.'

Finally, Katherine points out that one of the biggest challenges currently facing the science-based sector is how to develop new technologies. 'Who should decide what inventions get the green light? What if the public is opposed to a new technology? What if a scientific development has an unexpected downside? Today's graduates will need to be in touch with public opinion and be aware of their ethical responsibilities right from the beginning of their careers.'

Meanwhile, Andrew Croydon, head of education and academic liaison at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) explains, 'The pharmaceutical industry remains highly diverse, and is dependent on a skills base on which the ABPI continue to assess and report, most recently identifying bioinformatics, statistics, data and informatics as areas of significant need and growth. Additionally, there remain longer-standing skills challenges; these include translational medicine and clinical pharmacology.'

Find out more