How to find the right life sciences career

Monique Ellis our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 02/11/2016

If you’ve ever been at a loss as to what to do with your life science degree, or have no idea which profession would best suit your wants and needs, look no further! Proclinical has provided a way to match your interests and skillset with various career options available within the life science industry; whether it be in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology or medical devices.

Each section represents a particular skill or interest and gives a brief explanation of which professions match up, and what it takes to be successful. This guide is by no means exhaustive but may really help to steer you towards an ideal career path.

I’m a people person

A career within clinical trials is a popular choice for many life science graduates. Clinical testing is a central part of the drug lifecycle, which gauges the safety and efficacy or a drug or treatment by testing it on groups of volunteers and patients.

If you would thrive off constant interaction with patients and clinicians, a career as a clinical research associate (CRA) may be ideal. CRA jobs involve a wide range of duties including monitoring patients and data, dealing with clinical supplies, handling case report forms and arranging the start-up and closing down of trial sites. There’s never a dull day as a busy CRA! You’ll need to be extremely flexible and adaptable as you may be required to visit multiple sites. A willingness to travel a lot is a must. 

If you are interested in a drug safety role that is part medical and part patient-focused, you can look into pharmacovigilance (drugs) or materiovigilance (medical devices). This is the practice of detecting, assessing and preventing side-effects. The field is largely for physicians but there are some options for non-physicians. These roles usually involve case processing and entering side effects at first, but can quickly progress into management positions such as senior drug safety officer or systems manager. If you’re interested in the technical side of things, roles such as pharmacovigilance scientist, epidemiologist or those in risk management could be of interest to you.

I’m passionate about scientific study

Scientific and preclinical jobs are crucial for developing drugs and treatments. Here you would be involved in the preliminary stages of discovering a drug or product and testing its safety and efficacy before it reaches clinical trials. There is an industry shortage of individuals working in research and development so if you think you may be interested in this important work, read on!

These roles are very technical and scientific so you must have a strong academic background in subjects such as chemistry. As a research scientist or development/analytical chemist, you will be responsible for the scientific development and testing of a drug at any stage, from its conception to production. A lot of preclinical research is carried out by PhD students, so you can consider this route if you’re interested in further study.

I like when everything works as it should

This field has some crossover with preclinical laboratory work, but there are many other career options within quality assurance. This type of work will suit you if you care a lot about patient well-being or just like making sure that things function well. If you think about it, entire healthcare systems depend on drugs and medical devices working properly and to a high standard, so you’d be doing very worthwhile work! Roles such as qualified person, QA associate or QA consultant would involve you carrying out checks, writing protocols, recording accurate accounts and actioning any analytical tests needed. You’ll need an excellent eye for detail and an analytical mind. A few areas you can specialise in are corrective and preventative action (CAPA), complaints or quality systems.

If you’re interested in engineering, you’d be very much in demand (and well paid!) as a validation engineer. You would be using your expertise to ensure the drug or device is working. You would review protocols and summary reports written by quality professionals.

Regulatory affairs jobs are concerned with the regulation of new drugs, drugs in development, drugs in patent and drugs out of patent. Regulatory professionals ensure that the product is safe and effective so that it can be approved by the relevant health authority. This is needed so the company will be able to market and sell it to the public. It bridges the gap between real scientists, real subject matter experts and the assessors at the competent authority.

Positions in this varied field include regulatory associate, regulatory affairs (RA) officer and RA consultant, and duties include the preparation and submission of regulatory documentation and ensuring regulatory compliance. Your job description will vary and expand as you become more senior and specialised. Specialist areas include clinical/medical devices, labelling, chemistry and manufacturing controls (CMC), post licencing and compliance.

I’m a great communicator

If you have strong scientific knowledge and second-to-none communication and interpersonal skills, a career in medical affairs will suit you. Medical affairs personnel are involved in everything from (clinical) development to marketing the drug or product. In the case of pharmaceuticals, you may act as a disease expert or advisor within the medical community.

Going into medical communications is a great option for those who want to combine a flair for writing with their scientific knowledge and expertise. As a medical or scientific writer you’d be tasked with creating documents that effectively communicate medical information and comply with structural and regulatory guidelines.

If you’re a good influencer and enjoy building relationships, a career in medical science liaison (MSL) may be for you. As a medical information specialist you would be chiefly responsible for building rapport with key opinion leaders (KOLs) – such as doctors and nurses in different therapeutic areas – and explaining how new drugs work and why they are better than what’s already available. MSL jobs are usually field-based non-sales roles and demand excellent communication skills with the ability to network and build relationships.

I’m a strategic thinker

In simple terms, the role of sales and marketing in the pharmaceutical industry is concerned with how to communicate the value of the company’s product to the key influencers (KOLs, budget holders and decision makers) to persuade them to choose your product over your competitors’. In marketing, fresh and innovative ideas coupled with a powerful marketing strategy will bring your company success. You could have a real impact on shaping the market. Sales roles will focus on communicating the value of your product directly to these influential customers. You’ll make hospital or pharmacy visits and build strong relationships.

Have a look at this interesting forecast to see how the pharmaceutical market may look in future years.

I’m good with numbers and data

Calling all data enthusiasts! For those blessed with a knack for programming and statistics, you can find your ideal career within biometrics. If you have a degree in statistics or computer technology and have a passion for life sciences, you could use your skills to analyse clinical trial data, produce data graphs or help to monitor the performance of a drug or product. In the pharmaceutical industry, you may work closely with CRAs as a statistician during clinical trials. Other options include becoming a biostatistician or epidemiologist. Epidemiologists are concerned with analysing the cause and effects of diseases in populations of humans and animals. These roles are highly technical and you’ll need to be able to spot patterns and trends in data.

Proclinical is dedicated to helping you find your passion within the life science industry. Make sure you have a look at our recent job opportunities to see whether the ideal job is already waiting for you. We look forward to hearing from you!