Pharmacology Career Advice
If you are wondering how to become a pharmacologist, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of genetics, microbiology and toxicology, as well as science and research job prospects in the UK.
The Job Description
Pharmacologists study the effects of drugs and chemical compounds on humans and animals. As a pharmacologist your main duties would include:
investigating the safety and effectiveness of drugs
advising on dosage
creating tests to establish any side effects
identifying elements which may contribute to the discovery of other new drugs.
You would work as part of a team including biochemists, geneticists, microbiologists, toxicologists and pharmacists to run clinical trials of new drugs or carry out research and development work.
Other tasks you are likely to carry out include:
assessing the therapeutic potential and biological properties of compounds
which may be effective against disease
screening biologically active compounds for potency, selectivity, safety and stability
developing new approaches to designing, synthesising and producing drugs
testing drugs on cells, tissue cultures, organs and animals
conducting clinical trials on humans
testing the safety of products such as pesticides, cosmetics, solvents and food additives
assessing the effects of pollutants, poisons and pesticides.
This work involves collecting, analysing and interpreting complex data using computers and sophisticated equipment.
You need to keep abreast of developments in your particular subject area and contribute by carrying out your own research and presenting your findings to colleagues. You may also supervise support staff and manage and co-ordinate projects.
The key personal attributes of good pharmacologists include:
an aptitude for science, maths, statistics and IT
an enquiring mind
a creative and innovative approach to your work
good problem solving skills
an interest in developing new cures and treatments for diseases
the ability to work in a team
accuracy and attention to detail
the ability to analyse and interpret data
well developed written and spoken communication skills
patience and tolerance
the ability to respond positively when experiments fail.
How to become a pharmacologist
To work as a pharmacologist you need a degree-level qualification. The most relevant subject to study is pharmacology, however, a degree in another biological science, such as biochemistry, physiology, or microbiology may also be accepted by employers.
Pharmacology degree courses are available throughout the country, on a full- or part-time basis. There are also pharmacology sandwich degree courses, which include a year working in the industry.
The entry requirements for a pharmacology degree course are:
five GCSEs (A-C)
three A levels, including chemistry, biology and either physics or maths.
Please check with course providers for exact entry requirements because alternative qualifications may also be accepted.
If you wish to work in research and development, many employers will also expect you to have a postgraduate degree in pharmacology or a PhD.
If you have four or more GCSEs (A-C) including English, maths plus two science subjects, you may be able to begin a career in pharmacology at technician level via an apprenticeship scheme. The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers. For more information on Apprenticeships, visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
Through internal promotion and training you may be able to work towards becoming a pharmacologist, however, it is likely this will involve completing a part-time pharmacology degree.
Training and Development
During your training on a pharmacology degree course, you will study a range of areas including:
the effect of medicines on the body
development of new medicines
how and why diseases occur
the importance and implication of drugs in society.
As a graduate, you may be able to get into this industry through a graduate recruitment scheme or graduate apprenticeship. Many employers in this field run schemes like this where they aim to find the most promising new graduates and train them on the job.
Once you are working, you will usually be trained by your employer in the specialist areas of technical and scientific methodology. To develop further in your role, you may be encouraged to attend short external courses such as those offered by the British Pharmacological Society (BPS) or the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).
The Pay (a rough guide)
Starting salaries can be between £19,000 and £23,000 a year
Senior pharmacologists may earn between £55,000 and £100,000.
As a pharmacologist you will find job opportunities across a wide range of organisations in both the public and private sectors. These include manufacturers of chemicals, food and drink products, household goods or cosmetics, the pharmaceutical industry, NHS hospitals, the Public Health Laboratory Service, and government or charity-funded research institutes.
With experience you may be able to progress to supervisor or manager, or move into other areas of work such as medical sales and marketing, drug registration, patent work and information science.
If you work for a multinational company, there may be opportunities to work overseas. To progress in your career you may need to be prepared to relocate.
As a pharmacology graduate, you may be able to move into medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine by completing an accelerated degree. Courses usually take four years to complete and are offered at several universities throughout the country.
Useful research and science resources:
British Pharmacological Society
16 Angel Gate
This page is for pharmacologist careers advice and training opportunities.