There's always room in the science and pharmaceuticals sector for talented graduates. If you'd like to push boundaries and make discoveries then take a look at what the industry has to offer

What areas of science and pharmaceuticals can I work in?

Areas of employment 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
  • Parexel
  • 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.

This depends on the job that you'd like to do. 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.

What skills do science and pharmaceutical employers want?

You'll 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 available at 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, 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), the Biomedical Society, 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 graduate schemes are available with large employers and these are primarily advertised on their websites or on university careers sites.

Graduate schemes 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 biometrics and information science, data science and AI, operations, 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 infection sciences, reconstructive science and vascular science.

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.

Can I do an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are no longer confined to vocational roles and the number of science and pharmaceutical apprenticeships are on the rise.

Lasting between one and four years, apprenticeships are an excellent alternative to university study. 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.

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.'

Find out more