Pharmaceutical Scientist - How to Become a Pharmaceutical Scientist

Pharmaceutical Scientist

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Pharmaceutical Scientist Job Description


We tend to take our medication for granted; the doctor prescribes a bottle of pills and we take them. Have you ever wondered where our medications originate? From rain forests to oceans, our medications derive from a variety of places and pharmaceutical scientists are responsible for uncovering new therapies and medications from our planet. Basically, they discover, develop, test and manufacture new medications. 

Pharmaceutical scientists work in labs discovering how different substances will affect cells and pathogens. These scientists must understand how the new compounds will also affect the body as a whole of the person who takes them. They reveal their findings to the medical community and synthesize new medicines from their research. Pharmaceutical scientists also educate the public about new medications.




Discovering a new medicine is a long, painstaking process that takes the Pharmaceutical Scientist through three stages: discovering new substances and compounds that will fight illness; developing the medication by submitting it to rigorous testing including that of animals and humans; and finally, manufacturing the medication so that it can be distributed to those who need it.

Often enough, hundreds of substances and compounds must be tested to see whether they will be valuable to treat a medical condition. Most of these are discarded through the process of trial and error. It can literally take decades before a new medicine leave the lab and is available from your doctor.

In part because of the complicated and intensive nature of this discipline, most pharmaceutical scientists tend to specialize in one area. Pharmaceutical Scientists can concentrate on finding new uses for existing drugs, discover new medications from natural or synthetic substances, research how the body reacts to certain drugs in order to help make them more effective and safer, study the effects of disease on the human body and what causes the disease, find better, more efficient ways to manufacture the medication, or keep the government and pharmaceutical companies aware of developments.




Pharmaceutical Scientists must have a big skill set since they have to discover and develop new medications.

Some of the main skills needed are the following:

Critical Thinking

Must think critically and outside of the box to discover and develop new medications.

Understand Complex Medical Data

Must be able to know how to manipulate complex medical data and know how to decipher it.

Complex Problem Solving

Must be able to solve complex problems and discover new processes and substances for medications.


Must be able to analyze different situations to determine outcomes or solve issues.


Pay attention to detail so as to determine any problems and fix them or to discover things many others wouldn't notice.


Be able to work and communicate with people on your team to solve problems and create positive outcomes.

Math & Science

Must be able to use mathematics to solve complex problems and must have a strong scientific background to know natural processes and how they can be manipulated.


Working Conditions


There are many employment opportunities available for the pharmaceutical scientist. These professionals are found in government agencies and labs, in the research facilities of universities, in biotech and drug manufacturing companies, and contract research organizations or CROS. Pharmaceutical scientists also teach at universities and hospitals and oversee drug testing.

There are some requirements necessary to being a successful pharmaceutical scientist; the applicant must be able to use computers and sophisticated testing equipment, they must be able to communicate adequately, and they must have patience, as the development of a new drug can take years or trial and error.



How to Become a Pharmaceutical Scientist:


1. Earn Your Bachelor's Degree


To enter the field of Pharmaceutical Science, you will need a bachelor’s degree, at the very least, with a strong emphasis on the sciences such as Biology, Chemistry, and Mathematics. You must be comfortable with the scientific process. Those who wish to pursue this as a career should major in one of the following:

  • Pharmacy
  • Medicine
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Engineering


Your College Curriculum will be dependent on which major you choose. But could look like the following if you go into the Pharmacy, Pre-med, or Biology majors (Engineering will have more engineering courses and physics):


Freshman Year
  • General Biology I & Lab
  • General Biology II & Lab
  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • Calculus I
  • Calculus II
  • Electives
Sophomore Year
  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab
  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab
  • Social Sciences Requirements
  • Electives & Courses to Satisfy Your Major

Junior Year

  • Physics I & Lab
  • Physics II & Lab
  • Electives & Courses to Satisfy Your Major
Senior Year
  • Complete Required Graduation Coursework
  • Prepare for Interviews 
  • Complete Electives
  • Upper-level Coursework


It is considered a good idea to join the student chapter of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, which can not only provide career guidance and support, but also provide information about co-ops or internships.


2. Advanced Education


Many pharmaceutical scientists go on to receive advanced degrees to further their careers, and in fact, many pharmaceutical companies will even pay for this training for bright and promising employees. But, it's not required and you can get a job in the field after receiving your Bachelor's Degree. 

If you do decide to continue your education, you can complete post-grad degrees such as:

  • Master of Science (M.S.)
  • Master of Public Health (MPH)
  • Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
  • Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) 
  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

These degree can help you advance in your career and go into academics and research.



Salary Outlook




Advanced Degrees