The number of directions a career in pharmaceutical science can take is nearly limitless. Developing new medicines or improving the way they are delivered. Investigating crimes and providing regulatory guidance. Enhancing the durability of paint. All these roads begin in the same place. The range of careers open to pharmaceutical science graduates is growing ever more diverse. And not all of them involve working in a lab.
Why are the options so broad? Maybe it’s because pharmaceutical science graduates love challenges. They have exceptional theoretical knowledge, but they also possess the sort of practical skills that mean they can tackle the challenges of industry straight away.
RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW
It’s a good time to be studying in this field. Globally, pharmaceuticals is a growth sector and future-proofed for graduates – your skills will still be relevant in 20 years’ time. Victoria is considered a global centre of excellence in biomedical research, medical technology and pharmaceutical manufacturing.
The sector has strong support from the state government too, which sees significant benefits in creating the right conditions for it to flourish. With global health care spending projected to grow by over four per cent per year, there is an urgent need for new technologies, goods and services. There is strong demand for graduates in Victoria, which will only increase as the sector grows.
WHAT WILL YOUR PATH BE?
The skills that pharmaceutical scientists acquire aren’t only relevant in the pharmaceutical and medical technology industry. They are just as useful in the food, agriculture, chemical, or cosmetics industries.
Some of these career paths require a PhD, but not all of them. Many can be pursued with a Bachelor’s degree only. Regardless of the qualifications required, all present unique and exciting challenges for graduates.
1. Forensic scientist
Forensic science is the application of scientific research to help investigate crimes, accidents and other incidents. It’s not always like what you see on your favourite crime investigation TV shows, but for graduates who love to untangle mysteries, it can be an extremely rewarding field to work in.
Amy VanDerPoel, a drug analyst for the Victoria Police Forensic Services Centre, loves the variety her job brings.
“My job is never dull,” says Amy. “I analyse all sorts of illicit substances and drugs. I also do a lot of analytical chemistry – every day is different.”
She also works as a fire and explosives investigator, attending scenes where there’s suspected arson or a fatality due to fire. “My role is to determine the cause of the fire and if accelerants were used, and to search for other evidence that may assist the investigation.”
2. Pharmaceutical companies
Working for a pharmaceutical company is one of the more obvious options open to pharmaceutical science graduates, but it is also one that offers a huge variety of career paths. Particularly within global companies there are opportunities to explore new areas of expertise, develop strong business skills, and travel and work globally.
Monash PhD graduate Lauren Boak has built an impressive and varied career within Roche, working in both Switzerland and the UK. Initially working as a Clinical Science Specialist in neuroscience, she is now develops products as a Business Manager, and scopes external innovation initiatives to bring into the company.
Lauren’s work gives her opportunities to work on potentially transformative medicines and develop experience across multiple fields.
Pharmaceuticals is a major growth sector globally, and a graduate-level role within a pharmaceutical company can be the first step to a successful and varied career.
3. Regulatory affairs
For graduates seeking a rewarding career outside the lab, Regulatory Affairs can be a fulfilling option. The work involves ensuring a company and its products meet government regulations. For companies producing new pharmaceutically-based products, it is a crucial discipline. A skilled Regulatory Affairs Officer can be the difference between an effective product reaching the market or not.
Regulatory professionals are expected to know the ins and outs of the medical marketplace, and to understand how changing regulations will impact their industry. There is a growing need for qualified professionals who see regulatory oversight not as something that blocks progress but rather an opportunity to help bring more safe, affordable and efficient innovations to market.
Regulatory professionals can accelerate their career in regulatory affairs by expanding their knowledge in the areas of marketing, project management, negotiation, finance and other business disciplines.
4. Sales and marketing
The best people for selling the benefits of a product are often those with the deepest understanding of how it works. For complex products developed and manufactured using pharmaceutical or chemical science, there is often a need for Sales and Marketing representatives able to talk with authority about the science behind the product.
This is a skill many graduates have and for some, sales and marketing can be their next step beyond the lab after working in research and development.
After graduating from Monash, Reshma Prakash worked as an R&D chemist in the cosmetics and mining explosives sectors. However she soon discovered that her degree could open up many doors. Reshma now works in Marketing as a Product Support Manager for a mining company, Orica Mining Services. “I never imagined working in the mining industry,” she says. “My job involves product support for packaged explosives and initiating systems in the mining industry throughout Australia and Asia.
She enjoys the challenge of combining commercialisation with technical knowledge while developing her marketing skills. She particularly enjoys the customer focus aspect of her job.
Sales and Marketing can be a great path for graduates who enjoy people-focused work helping customers and clients find useful solutions to their needs.
5. Product developer/formulator
Product development scientists work in a variety of industries, including food, biotechnology, pharmaceutical science, and medical device manufacturing. They are typically based in the lab, developing new foods, drugs, and medical technologies or researching and developing ways to enhance existing products. They typically possess a bachelor’s degree, but a graduate degree may be required for advancement.
Monash graduate Anthony Agnew is a Formulation Scientist for Hospira, a leading provider of infusion technologies. His role involves researching, developing and testing sample formulations to achieve optimum efficacy, stability and quality.
Anthony’s skills and qualifications have allowed him to work on an incredibly broad range of products during his career. “I’ve developed aircraft cleaners, touch-free automotive wash, coal-dust suppressants, carpet sanitisers, spot-stain removers, waterless hand cleansers and an entire line of home and hardware products.”
He now works on the research and development of injectable drug formulations for the treatment of cancer and infectious diseases.
Product development is a challenging but rewarding career path for graduates who enjoy teamwork, exploration, innovation and problem solving. Job satisfaction comes from being part of the team behind a successful product that solves a real problem in the world.
6. Medicinal Chemist
Medicinal chemistry is an interdisciplinary science, drawing graduates from a range of different fields. A career in this area usually involves working on the development and testing of potentially therapeutic compounds. This might be within a company that is developing new products, for a research facility exploring new compounds, or at a regulatory agency testing pharmaceuticals for compliance.
Jeremy Shonberg works for the Therapeutic Goods Administration as a Pharmaceutical Evaluator. He was originally drawn to medicinal chemistry because it involves a lot of problem solving and can deliver interesting results and great benefits in terms of drug design.
A PhD graduate from Monash, his current role involves evaluating the chemistry, manufacture, quality controls and bioavailability data supplied by pharmaceutical companies to support the products they submit for government approval.
Medicinal Chemists can often find themselves working closely with Regulatory Affairs, both in the private and public sectors.
7. Patent Attorney
Pharmaceuticals are big business. It’s not all about research; to be successfully taken to market, new discoveries need to be commercialised and a company’s intellectual property protected. That’s where a patent attorney comes in. In the pharmaceutical sector, they will often come from a pharmaceutical sciences background.
A patent attorney will typically work for a specialist consultancy, advising a range of clients within their field of specialisation.
Brittany Howard is a patent attorney in the Melbourne Chemistry team at FB Rice, with a keen interest in commercialisation strategy and intellectual asset management. She utilises her knowledge in these areas to help manage clients’ intellectual property portfolios. Prior to her career in intellectual property, Brittany completed her PhD at Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS).
Being a patent attorney is a complex but rewarding career, requiring a deep understanding of relevant legislation, potentially across a number of different countries and regions. It is particularly appealing to graduates with an interest in commercial law and intellectual property.
8. Paints and Protective Coatings
Not all pharmaceutical science careers involve working with products for human consumption. Graduates can find a role working on the development of many of the products humans come into daily contact with, such as paints, pigments and protective coatings.
These compounds are present in our living and working spaces, our clothing, our food packaging and many, many other products and environments. We are exposed to them on a regular basis, so manufacturers must study the way they disperse and be sure that they are safe.
Rachma Saputra completed a Bachelor’s degree with honours at Monash University. She now works for BASF as a Market Development Chemist.
“After working with polymer dispersions and applications,” says Rachma, “I’ll never look at products such as architectural coatings, carpets, adhesives and labels in the same light.”
In her role, she investigates how dispersion and potential applications can be engineered to achieve improved performance and expand a product’s use.
As different technologies converge, other disciplines such as solar energy generation, nanotechnology, and bioluminesce will intersect more and more with the field of paints and protective coatings. It’s a great potential path for innovative thinkers with an interest in developing technologies.
9. Quality Assurance
A company’s reputation is largely built on the quality of its products, especially when they are for human consumption, where there are important safety issues involved. So, as with any manufacturing industry, producers of pharmaceutically-based products run rigorous quality assurance programs.
It is a systems-based career, often focused on designing, implementing and managing new systems for the manufacturing process. And it can be an extremely satisfying; by ensuring the quality of the products being produced, you are making an important contribution to your employer’s reputation and commercial success.
James Schulz first encountered Quality Assurance during industrial placements during his pharmaceutical science studies. He quickly realised it was an area he enjoyed, and is now Quality Assurance Manager at Musashi, who produce sports supplements.
James says “I really enjoy working in the performance nutrition field. Constant changes in requirements and expectations from consumers and from regulators in the area mean that no two days are ever the same.”
With the continual development of superfoods, non-animal protein alternatives, dietary supplements and new therapeutic remedies, and the rise of new regulatory systems to cope, Quality Assurance is a growth area. There is increasing demand for graduates who can take on roles in this increasingly complex sector.
10. Quality Control Chemist
Quality Control and Quality Assurance are two closely related areas in manufacturing, but they have important differences. Where QA is about ensuring that development and maintenance processes are adequate in order for a system to meet its objectives, QC is a set of activities designed to evaluate the developed products.
What does that mean in simple terms? Essentially, a Quality Control Chemist is responsible for testing products to make sure that the QA processes worked. Quality control chemists prepare and test samples from all phases of a manufacturing or other handling process, with the goal of determining if the substance meets the standards or requirements of the project.
It is a role that requires focus and attention to detail, and the confidence to make decisions. If a Quality Control Chemist identifies an issue, it can require a production line to stop working or a product to be recalled – so it’s not a role for someone who isn’t ready to back themselves!