Choices during my degree

The choices you make during your degree will affect the skills and knowledge that you gain, and therefore your employability when you graduate; it’s important to think carefully about these decisions.

During your degree you are likely to have the opportunity to select some of your modules. There is evidence that many people make the wrong choices during their undergraduate degree, and then have difficulty getting into the type of work they wish to pursue. 

Choices to develop your skills

A number of different skills studies have highlighted that most recent graduates don’t have the necessary skills to enter into the workplace. 

The Pfizer skills report (2007) highlighted the following: 

  • A lack of knowledge of the basics e.g. chemists who cannot describe what a mole of compound is, or clinicians with little knowledge of the principles of clinical trial design,
  • A lack of knowledge as to how to apply theory to actual practice e.g. graduates who can only follow a prescribed protocol and do not have the skills to develop new methodologies independently,
  • A lack of practical skills e.g. in vivo biology and toxicology or the awareness of the types, uses and applications of complex technologies.

A more recent skills report by the ABPI (2015) further emphasised that many employers see new graduates to have a lack of additional/different skills. Weak mathematical skills have been highlighted as one of the major skills that are lacking, which is problematic in a world where mathematical modelling techniques are increasingly a core part of the development of a medicine. These skills are essential for the future of the pharmaceutical industry. 

Full copies of both of these reports can be downloaded using the links on the right hand side of this page. 

In summary, make sure that you:

  • Select your modules carefully to ensure that you study the fundamental aspects of the subject, 
  • Can apply that knowledge and that you have the relevant practical skills to go with it.

Many universities also offer workshops to help develop ‘soft’ skills, such as presentation giving and communication skills. As all employers want staff with these skills, taking advantage of these opportunities can really help to boost your employability. 

Should I take time for a year in industry?

Extending your degree by a year is a big decision, but the experience can be invaluable. 

Many recruiters have highlighted that graduates who have had no previous work experience are unlikely to be successful when applying for their organisation’s graduate programmes, so if you’re thinking of applying for one of these schemes you’ll need to make sure you have at least some relevant experience. 

Completing a year in a job gives you the chance to develop strong skills, such as in laboratory techniques and data analysis, and the chance to find out if a career in research (for example) is really what you want to do. It also gives you the chance to make numerous contacts in the industry, which is always handy when trying to start your career after graduation!

If your university course doesn’t offer you the chance for a year in industry, taking advantage of your long summer holidays to get experience is the next best thing.