From the smallpox vaccine to antidepressants, pharmaceutical companies have created medicines that save lives and vastly improve the quality of human existence. There are many ways to break into this industry if you get the right education. No matter what your role at a pharmaceutical company, it is highly preferable to have a background in life science.
Research and Development
Only the most original, high quality or efficient drugs become bestsellers and these products are researched and designed by teams of scientists with backgrounds in chemistry, biology, biochemistry, medicine, bioinformatics and genetics. To enter the R & D department of a drug firm, a bachelor’s degree in one of these disciplines is highly preferred. Many of your peers will have a Ph.D. in science and in order to move to the management level, you will need at least a master’s degree. Deciding how far to take your graduate education may be easier after a few years of working in a lab with only a bachelor’s degree.
Pharmaceutical sales can be very lucrative and offer a pathway to an executive position at a pharma company. Drug companies prefer sales reps to have an education in life science, but they will look much harder at past career success and the ability to speak engagingly and professionally about complex topics. This industry rarely hires salespeople right out of college, so a good educational course for a future pharmaceuticals sales rep would be a science-based major that will allow them to work in more than one industry, such as chemistry, partnered with a second major or minor that gives an overview of business-building outreach, such as marketing or communications.
The operations of a drug company are managed by seasoned executives who understand the company’s workings and how to position the company for advancement. To have a strong role in a pharma company’s administration, it would be advisable to pair a flexible science degree, like chemistry or biochemistry, with a second major like accounting, finance or marketing, that will allow you to enter the company at the lower levels. After a few years of service at the entry level, you can obtain an MBA at a top school part-time or in the evening, to further your position at the company.
Public Relations and Communications
Pharmaceutical companies increasingly rely on marketing and advertising to reach the general public without the agency of a doctor. While many companies will have their internal communications in-house, they typically rely on advertising and PR agencies to reach the public. Many big ad firms have departments exclusively devoted to healthcare and pharmaceuticals. To obtain a position at such a company as an analyst, a dual bachelor’s degree in marketing and statistics is ideal. Writing and PR positions are much more competitive and candidates with a degree in chemistry or biology will have an edge, as long as they have an extensive portfolio of published work.
- American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists Career Center: Introduction to Pharmaceutical Science
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Medical Scientists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Chemical Engineers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Market Research Analyst
Laura Holland Fletcher has graduate level training in ESL, linguistics and the teaching of writing. She taught ESL and college writing for more than 10 years in both the US and Asia. She also writes for local and national magazines that cover legal, educational and social justice issues.