If you have a strong science degree with good technical skills you could be working in a cutting-edge field researching and developing new and existing drugs
Pharmacologists aim to understand how drugs work so they can be used effectively and safely. They also conduct research to aid drug discovery and development.
The work involves investigating how drugs interact with biological systems. You could be carrying out in vitro research (using cells or animal tissues) or in vivo research (using whole animals) to predict what effect the drug might have in humans.
There is a high level of collaboration with other scientists and it is typical to share your results with colleagues through meetings, reports and conferences.
You can choose to specialise in one area of pharmacology, such as:
Closely related fields include toxicology, biochemistry and DMPK (drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics).
Much of the role is lab-based, working as part of a scientific research team, and may include:
You will need to disseminate the results of your work to others, which may involve:
You will also need to maintain an awareness of other pharmacological research by reading specialist literature.
Salaries in industry tend to be higher than those in academia, and pharmacologists with a PhD are likely to earn more than those without.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Pharmacologists rarely work 9am to 5pm as flexibility is needed in order to monitor and manage experiments. Some weekend or shift work may also be required for the same reason.
Part-time work and flexible working arrangements are available, and career breaks may be possible. Consultancy work is an option once you become more experienced.
The complex investigations involved in pharmacology require a sound scientific degree. The following subjects are relevant:
Occasionally, it may be possible to start a career in pharmacology with an HND, but this is not common, and further study would be required to progress within industry.
A postgraduate qualification such as an MSc in pharmacology or a related subject, or a relevant PhD, is advantageous and sometimes essential for employment with a major pharmaceutical company where competition can be high. Search for postgraduate courses in pharmacology.
It's possible to study for a PhD while working in research. This helps to develop strong technical research, laboratory and communication skills and can lead to postdoctoral research positions. PhDs that are funded by industry are available and are a useful way to gain relevant experience and contacts if you want to work outside of academia.
You will need:
Relevant lab experience and knowledge of the range of techniques used can be gained through a year's industrial placement. It will also help you to build up contacts and demonstrate your interest and commitment to employers.
Experience can also be gained through lab assistant work, vacation work experience in academia or industry or through work shadowing.
Free student membership of the British Pharmacological Society (BPS) is available to anyone studying a degree that has a pharmacology element. It is useful for networking and gives access to information and advice.
A large number of pharmacologists are employed by companies in the pharmaceutical industry, where they are involved in discovering and developing drugs and carrying out clinical trials.
Pharmacologists may also work for clinical or contract research organisations (CROs), or for companies that target particular aspects of bioscience that relate to drug discovery and development.
Other employers include:
NHS hospitals also employ pharmacologists to work on clinical trials, as well as clinical pharmacologists, who are qualified doctors with a specialism in clinical pharmacology.
Look for job vacancies at:
For smaller organisations, a speculative letter and CV may be acceptable. Many organisations also use contract staff or employ scientific recruitment agencies to fill their vacancies for them.
Most employers provide the professional and specialist technical training needed for you to perform the sophisticated laboratory work.
You will also typically be required to participate in training on health and safety and good laboratory practice (GLP). This training may include risk assessment workshops and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations training.
In addition, short training courses are usually offered in areas such as:
Jobs in industry tend to be accompanied by structured training programmes that may include completing placements in different functions of the organisation, working with a mentor or buddy, and drawing up personal development plans with line managers.
Continuing education programmes are offered by:
Within academia, if you've completed a PhD you can progress on to postdoctoral research positions, which tend to be fixed-term contracts. Job security may be an issue as you will have to keep securing additional contracts and funding to progress. From here, you may be able to gain a research fellowship or lectureship, which can involve an increasing amount of teaching, supervising, administration and management.
If you work in a university department you are likely to be part of a research team and, as your career progresses, you may become principal investigator leading a team.
Career progression within industry is generally based on increased responsibilities, such as supervising and managing projects. More senior management positions tend to include more time spent in the office rather than in the lab.
You can also choose to use your pharmacological knowledge in different areas, such as: