Overview of the science and pharmaceuticals sector

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
January, 2017

Science and pharmaceuticals is a key industry in the UK - meaning that there's always a demand for talented graduates…

What areas can I work in?

Areas of employment within science include:

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

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.

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?

Hundreds of science and pharmaceutical companies have global headquarters or R&D sites in the UK. These include:

  • AkzoNobel
  • Amec Foster Wheeler
  • Associated British Foods
  • AstraZeneca
  • BASF
  • Bayer
  • BP
  • Fugro
  • GSK (GlaxoSmithKline)
  • Met Office
  • Novartis
  • 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:

  • a demanding and fast-paced working environment
  • an average starting salary of between £18,000 and £25,000, progressing to beyond £100,000
  • the opportunity to complete academic research or undertake an industrial R&D role.

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

What are the key issues in the science sector?

Overall, the industry needs technologists and designers to respond to the worldwide demand for more versatile, lightweight, energy-saving products and applications.

The UK is a leading life sciences producer and exporter with a large number of world-class companies specialising in R&D and biotech products. Much of the research is healthcare related, such as developing new treatments to extend life expectancy.

The UK's energy and utility workforce will be recruiting scientists as, according to Energy & Utility Skills, it needs 200,000 new recruits by 2023. According to Cogent Skills, chemical manufacturing is one of the UK's largest and fastest-growing industries. Jobs can be found in the manufacture of chemical ingredients used in the production of pharmaceuticals, paints, plastics and textiles. There's also a demand for scientists in the oil and gas and nuclear sectors.

Polymer composite processing is another area set for growth, according to the government's Skills for Growth report. Polymer composites are used in a wide range of industries including aerospace, medical, transport and packaging.

One of the biggest issues within the science and pharmaceuticals sector is corporate takeovers. The costs of bringing new drugs to market, and the decreasing number of potential research areas and funding available in the developing world, means that profit margins are under increasing pressure. This has led to fewer, larger companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, GSK, AstraZeneca and Roche.

Another key challenge is climate change, with scientists factoring in businesses' impact on the environment into their research.