Rachel, In-vitro Biologist
I am currently working in discovery biology for a global pharmaceutical company. I started on a graduate scheme which involves an 18 month training programme with three six-month rotations between different therapeutic areas within discovery biology.
I’ve worked in Pain, Allergy & Respiratory and Antivirals. The rotation scheme attracted me to the company I’m working for and through it I’ve gained experience of a range of scientific techniques and I’ve been able to ‘try out’ different things before making a more informed decision about the area I wish to specialise in. It’s great to work in different teams and meet new people.
Each day is quite different depending on the experiments I need to run and also because the project that I’m working on can change.
I am mostly based in the lab but I also have to write up my experiments, respond to e-mails and liaise with other people, particularly my supervisor on my plans and problems.
We have regular team meetings where everyone presents their results from that week, and also seminars and departmental meetings to learn more about what’s going on in other groups.
Team work is a big part of working in a pharmaceutical company and it extends beyond working with a group of people you see everyday who work on similar things in the same lab. We also have to liaise with a variety of people with different backgrounds, e.g. chemists, pharmacokinetic experts and statisticians. I work independently on the assays I work on in the lab so there’s a good mix of both.
I’ve been in my current role around 18 months, I started not long after graduating.
I have learnt so much in my first 18 months, I’m a completely different person!! I went in with barely any lab experience and I now work independently and have experience from molecular biology to electrophysiology to plate based assays. As well as the lab side of things I’ve developed really transferable skills, I’ve become used to presenting on a regular basis and I can use lots of different computer programs and I’ve done posters for science days.
I really enjoyed science at school and I knew that medicine wasn’t for me. I applied to do work experience in a lab at the University of Newcastle so I had some idea of what it’d be like to study science at Uni and also what it’d be like to work in a lab after I’d finished. I chose pharmacology because ultimately I was interested in how drugs work but I also thought that it would allow me to gain a broader bioscience background without having to specialise too much.
All the way through my degree I knew that I wanted to continue with a research career once I’d finished but was unsure whether to do a PhD or apply for a job in industry. I didn’t do an industrial placement as part of my degree to help me make this choice, but I was really interested in drug discovery and science as a business and how industry differs from academic research. It was a difficult decision but ultimately I knew that I wanted to experience the world of work, particularly in one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies and I thought that it would suit me and my skills better.
I chose my degree really carefully and I started considering what I wanted to do once I’d finished as soon as I started my final year. Industry jobs for graduate programs come up a lot earlier than you’d expect, so it’s a good idea to consider your options early.
I graduated with a first class honours degree in Pharmacology from the University of Leeds and I studied Biology, Chemistry, History and Physics at A-level.
I didn’t do a year in industry as part of my degree, but I did organise a summer placement in an academic lab at a different University. This was invaluable experience that encouraged me to pursue a science career once I finished my degree. I also did a week long intensive lab based course run by the British Pharmacological Society which also helped me to gain further lab experience, and I chose a final year project with a large lab component using a variety of techniques.
In my experience graduate jobs in the pharmaceutical industry are extremely competitive and most successful candidates have done an industrial placement or have some further lab experience (e.g. a research based masters). That doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful without though!
I really enjoy the social aspect of my career, I have met so many people through my work with such different scientific backgrounds and it is amazing to work alongside such experienced scientists.
When you first start working for a big company you think you’ll never know everyone but it’s surprising how quickly you meet people. Everyone’s really friendly and there are so many team building things like cake clubs, pub lunches and department nights out. There are loads of different activities, lots of sport at the social club and there’s a health club on site.
I am really proud that I was successful in getting a job in one of the big pharma companies; particularly as I didn’t have industrial experience or further qualifications. Since starting work I’m proud of how many new techniques I’ve learnt and how I’ve settled in to working in different groups and departments.
Once I’ve finished my training I’ll settle permanently in one of the therapeutic areas. You can progress up the scale to positions that involve more management and supervision or, if lab work doesn’t suit you, there are lots of other roles in the industry.
The skills you learn here are really transferable and it’s not like going into a research position confines you to a lab for the rest of your life if you don’t want to be!!
It is important to have a genuine interest in science and, if you don’t like working in a lab, then a research based career path isn’t for you. It is important to be a good team player and an excellent communicator, I usually present my data on average about twice a week in informal environments.
Get experience. Showing you have a genuine interest in a scientific research based career in the pharmaceutical industry is really important and employers are looking for graduates who have lab experience.