Starting a Career in the Bio/Pharmaceutical Industry

Published on: 
Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-05-02-2020, Volume 44, Issue 5
Pages: 62

Having a better understanding about compliance will be of benefit when looking for a job or for furthering one’s career, says Siegfried Schmitt, PhD, vice-president, technical, Parexel Consulting.

Q. While working on a variety of projects in three different continents, I had the opportunity to meet and work with young, enthusiastic newcomers to the industry. They were from a variety of different professional backgrounds, including pharmacists, engineers, and chemists. During our conversations, most of them asked the following types of questions:

  • The college or university I graduated from did not provide courses on compliance or industrial operations-how can I fill this gap?

  • Though I applied for many positions, I have been unable to find a permanent position yet-how can I improve my chances?

  • On the Internet, I found several courses on good manufacturing practices (GMPs), for compliance experts, or similar. These are relatively expensive. Are they worth investing for someone like me (a beginner)?

  • Should I work my way up within a particular department or would it be better if I gain experience in different departments?

A. The following are not exhaustive or the only answers to these questions, but they will give some insight.

It is true that few graduates have seen industrial operations by the time they graduate, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t come equipped with many of the basic skills needed in the industry, such as team working, presentation skills, analytical thinking, and the ability to self-study. Companies will provide training, as a minimum on the applicable and relevant internal processes and procedures, which will cover both the operations and the compliance side of the business. A lot will be learning on the job, from peers and often also from mentors.

Finding your first permanent job can be a frustrating experience, but persistence usually pays off. Gaining experience through temporary voluntary engagements, placements, or positions is what helps improve the chances for long-term or permanent employment. And don’t forget to network through portals such as LinkedIn, Bing, or similar sites that have a good reputation with industry and job agencies. Also, it’s important to write a succinct and well-thought-out curriculum vitae, and there is a lot of great advice available for free online on how to do this. The Internet is the place to research jobs, but often also for potential employers to find the right candidate.

Having a better understanding about compliance will surely be of benefit, whether looking for a job or for furthering one’s career prospects. Whether you are lucky enough to have your employer pay for external courses, be subsidized (e.g., by a state job center), or have to pay yourself, in all cases you should scrutinize the courses offered:

  • How relevant are they to your current or prospective work?

  • Do they provide references? Is there feedback available?

  • Are the certificates merely proof of attendance or are they widely recognized by the industry?

  • Is it just classroom learning or is there also a practical element?

  • Do they provide comprehensive documentation?

The answers to these questions will help you determine if the course is right for you. For example, if you want to become a certified auditor (be it for GMP or ISO 9001), you will have to pay for a course with an approved training company. If however, you want to get a basic understanding of the freeze-drying process, you will easily find free tutorials online. Should you need hands-on experience, then training courses offered by universities or industry associations with in-house training centers will be the right choice.

Switching careers

What if you have been in the industry for a while, but would like to change positions and/or area of expertise? Very often this is less of a question of opportunity, but more of a question of an individual’s preferences. There are equally excellent subject matter experts who never strayed from their vocation (say regulatory affairs, quality control, or manufacturing) and who are perfectly happy in their jobs, and there are those who worked in different departments to become more universal experts. Pharmaceutical companies probably look more for experts in a particular subject, whereas service providers, such as consultancies or contract research organizations, may have a need for experts with more varied backgrounds.

We may not always find the job we want, but we can always learn from what we do, and it will always be a beneficial personal and job experience.

Article Details

Pharmaceutical Technology
Volumn 44, No. 5
May 2020
Page: 62


When referring to this article, please cite it as S. Schmitt, "Starting a Career in the Bio/Pharmaceutical Industry," Pharmaceutical Technology 44 (5) 2020.