Obtaining a PhD in life sciences was hard work. You toiled for any years, published your research, received an accolade or two along the way, and you even have a comfortable faculty position. May be you have been stuck in a lab for many years and finally you decided that publish or perish is no longer a rule you want to live by. Now you yearn for more and you want to find other opportunities. What else is out there? Where else can you apply your expertise other than traditional PhD roles?
Probably the best careers for PhDs in life sciences are in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries. All the years of training, research, publications, teaching, and speaking are very valuable skills that can land you a very satisfying and lucrative position in the pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical industry presents several options for PhDs who are comfortable in a business environment and can apply their scientific skills to support the objectives of a pharmaceutical, biotech, or device company.
There are many different types of opportunities ranging from drug discovery, preclinical studies, clinical studies, regulatory, marketing, sales, publications, and post marketing scientific support in medical affairs. All are excellent opportunities depending on your interest and your entry point into the pharmaceutical industry. Here are some interesting pharmaceutical, biotech, or device company jobs that do not involve lab work and are suitable for PhDs.
What Qualifications do PhDs Need to Work in Pharmaceutical Companies
Requirements vary depending on the role. The following types of experience are desirable for the jobs described below.
- Specialize in a scientific discipline that matches the companies business focus. If you are a neuroscientist look for a position at companies that have a neurology department.
- Know how to design studies and analyze research results. If you have conducted original research it will help you stand out.
- Experience publishing in scientific journals, refereeing publications, or editing scientific paper are very desirable. Pharmaceutical companies are the source of many scientific publications.
- Teaching experience is very valuable and PhDs with academic appointments may want to seek roles that involve teaching healthcare professionals (e.g., MSL jobs) or presenting to the FDA.
- A good understanding of the drug life cycle is very desirable but can be learned quickly.
- Excellent communication skills are a universal requirement.
What are Popular Jobs, Outside the Laboratory, for PhDs at Pharmaceutical, Biotech, Medical Device Companies
Research and Medical Affairs departments of pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies are where you will find most positions for PhDs in lives sciences. Regulatory, medical marketing, and sales also offer additional opportunities. Here are some examples of pharmaceutical industry jobs for life scientists. These are not the only opportunities. Use our job board and plug in your search terms and explore the jobs that are available in the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device industries.
Here are examples of jobs for PhDs at pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device industries. Select links for current openings and requirements for each type of position.
MSLs positions have proliferated in the last several years. This role involves building relationships with key decision makers and educating healthcare providers about the latest research and treatment guidelines that impact use of the company's products. MSLs collaborate with the sales and marketing teams to support the company's educational and product promotion efforts. This role involves giving one-one and group presentations. MSLs work from home and travel to meet with customers. This is a great entry level position.
Clinical research associates either work in the main research facility or work remotely in the field. Their main responsibility is to facilitate enrollment, data collection and provide site support for clinical trials. They give presentations, answer questions about the clinical trial, and help investigators solve problems that may impede enrollment or data collection. This role may involve travel. This is a great entry position for PhDs with little experience or are just venturing into the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device industries.
Medical directors typically are involved in the design of clinical trials, develop scientific educational materials, develop scientific or medical messaging, and are involved in training the commercial and medical teams. Some may present data to regulatory authorities. The exact responsibilities vary between companies. Medical directors may eventually become Vice Presidents or Chief Medical Officers. There is no limit to how far your career can take you.
This is a great entry point into the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device industry. Most companies tend to prefer PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) professionals for this department but PhDs are also a good fit. These professionals develop responses and answer questions from healthcare providers and patients about the company's products. This job requires good writing and spoken communication skills, and a passion for finding answers to questions.
This a popular department for medical as well as non-medical professionals. Drug safety collects, evaluates, and looks for signals in adverse event reports about the company's products. They are involved in clinical trials safety reporting, post marketing safety reporting, and they work closely with regulatory personnel. This is also a great entry point into the pharmaceutical industry.
Regulatory is involved in all submissions to regulatory authorities. It is a very specialized area that is suitable for many different types of professionals, including PhDs. This department also ensures that all the company's promotional materials are within FDA guidelines. They work closely with the sales, marketing, and clinical teams to ensure compliance with FDA rules and regulations that govern many aspects of the pharmaceutical industry. Additional courses and on-the-job training will be required for this role.
Pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device companies publish many articles and posters. The publications department is usually responsible for developing and executing the company’s publication strategy and work closely with research, regulatory and medical affairs teams. Those who like to write, review and edit manuscripts will find a home in publications. The publications team may also write final reports of clinical trials and produce FDA submission documents.
This role has also grown in popularity over the last few years because payers are requesting outcomes data from pharmaceutical companies. This position involves outcomes research and publications. It is a specialized area that may require further training if you do not already have expertise in pharmacoeconomics; a fellowship or equivalent training in pharmacoeconomics is usually required. Professionals with the appropriate credentials will find field opportunities as Pharmacoeconomic MSLs or office based positions.
What are Salaries for PhDs in the Pharmaceutical Industry
Pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device companies typically pay more than academia and other settings where PhDs tend to find work. Pay will vary depending your role, experience and responsibilities. After adding bonuses, stock options or grants, a car (MSL), and other perks, PhDs receive significantly better compensation at pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device companies and there are more growth opportunities. Entry level base salaries may start below $100,000 but after a few years of experience six figure base salaries are customary. You can research salaries for some of the positions mentioned above by searching the job board.
Although PhDs are trained for research and academia they are highly suited for top level positions at pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device companies. Making the transition from other settings to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, or medical device industries is not always easy but it is possible with the right credentials, some planning, perseverance, and a little but of luck. Many life scientists have successfully transitioned and are enjoying life-long careers at pharmaceutical, biotechnology, or medical device industries. The sky is the limit.