Undergraduate industrial placements in the pharmaceutical industry

Undergraduate industrial placements: interactions between academic institutions and companies

The pharmaceutical industry has a history of offering opportunities to a wide range of university students, enabling them to work in the front-line of the industry during their degree.

Typically, university students take 6 months to 1 year out of their course to apply what they have learnt in class to solving real-world problems. Apart from taking a sandwich year in industry, a number of undergraduate students carry out shorter placements during their summer holidays.

Undergraduate placements allow students to develop practical and technical skills with one of the UK's leading pharmaceutical companies, which can often lay the groundwork for future careers. By offering opportunities to a wide range of talents, pharmaceutical companies also ensure that young people are developing essential skills for the industry.

1 year in industry
Most undergraduates spent 1 year in industrial setting

In the latest ABPI Industry/Academia Links Survey (15 companies), >90% of undergraduate placements were 1 year in duration, with 5% lasting more than 1 year and the remainder being less than 6 months.

The pharmaceutical industry offers opportunities in increasing number of business areas

The latest ABPI Industry/Academia Links Survey reported over 599 university students from more than 51 academic institutions conducted a placement in the industry. Around half gained skills and experience in pre-clinical research & development (R&D), where they explored the mechanism behind drug and disease with state-of-the-art equipment.

In the latest ABPI survey, R&D accounts for 48% of all undergraduate placements, similar to the R&D proportion since 2013. ‘Other R&D’ in the graph below accounts for R&D placements with unknown clinical classification.

Half R&D, half other areas
The pharmaceutical industry is a great place for placements in both R&D and other business areas

Diverse roles
Most popular roles in the latest survey include supply chain, regulatory, marketing, and communication

However, not all placements in leading pharmaceutical companies involve wearing a white coat and working at lab benches. To make medicines that cure disease, and ensure that medicines are appropriately tested, manufactured, priced, delivered, and monitored, the pharmaceutical industry needs talent from a wide range of disciplines.

In the latest ABPI survey, there has been an increasing number of students developing skills in business areas such as supply chain (0% in 2017 to 14.4% in 2019), regulatory (0.7% in 2017 to 5.7% in 2019), marketing (2.5% in 2017 to 5.7% in 2019), and communication (1.5% in 2017 to 3.0% in 2019). Interestingly, the number of placements in information technology (IT) dropped from 15.5% in 2017 to 2.8% in 2019.

Links between the pharmaceutical industry and academia throughout the UK

The pharmaceutical industry in the UK offers opportunities for a diverse range of students enrolled at academic institutions located throughout the UK.

Partnerships between the pharmaceutical industry and academia are not restricted to any specific academic institution or geographical area.

>50 Universities
Undergraduates from more than 50 universities spend time in industry

Academic institutions support student interactions with industry in a number of ways

An integrated range of blended learning support services delivered across multiple academic years is critical to the success of placement programmes, including individual support, group/cohort sessions, and self-learning activities. In Pharmacology, a placement conference is organised each year for returning students to share their work and experiences with second year students, to inspire and inform them about placement opportunities. Our professional placements teams work alongside academic colleagues, who have both discipline knowledge and extensive industry networks, to develop and maintain our placement opportunities. Providing students with access to relevant networks to enable them to gain insight into the diverse spectrum of roles available is hugely valuable, as this allows students to make informed choices about their placement options, whilst also increasing their commercial awareness and establishing a professional network. Louise Oliver, Placements & Industrial Engagement Manager, Faculty of Science and Dr Christine Edmead, Director of Studies (Pharmacy), University of Bath 
The high number of student placements shows the importance of embedding our students in industry where they learn about the workplace and how industry functions. In addition the company has the opportunity to support bright young minds and help shape their future workforce. This work is greatly facilitated by the excellent Careers Network team who provide hands on support for students and companies wishing to engage in this process. David Adams, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Head of College and Director of Birmingham Health Partner
For many years we have sought to embed employability as a core programme thread and encouraging the uptake of work based learning has been a crucial part of this approach, ensuring that we develop outstanding graduates and scholars to make a major impact upon global society. We are delighted and proud to have supported students to gain a variety of placements with GSK, from Regulatory Affairs through to cutting edge R&D, and every single one has returned enriched from their experience, both professionally and personally, and glowing with a maturity and self-confidence that comes from such an immersive experience. Emily Timson, Assistant Head of Student Placement and Dr Al Pickles, Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Industrial Placement Tutor, University of Leeds 

Last modified: 26 September 2023

Last reviewed: 26 September 2023