Today’s pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry produces modern miracles that save millions of lives and bring comfort to those afflicted with illnesses that were the bane of physicians for thousands of years. Modern chemotherapy drugs can hold deadly cancers at bay, while plagues such as tuberculosis, polio, malaria, and pneumonia have become the scourges of the past. Each of these medical achievements were made through the process of relentless experimental trials in which many thousands of compounds were tested for curative power and safety. For every new miracle drug that reaches the market, many tens of thousands of substances will have been tried and tested; of these many trails, possibly less than a hundred ,will prove to be successful.
The actual production of a new drug or medicine is the final stage of a long process of research and development that starts in the laboratory. Each year, the US pharmaceutical industry employs thousands of researchers around the world to seek out and test millions of new compounds that may potentially prevent or cure diseases. Using sophisticated computers and high tech testing equipment, these scientists make sure that new drugs are safe and effective before they are ever prescribed by physicians.
One of the most important careers in the pharmaceutical industry is in the field of analytical chemistry. Analytical chemists specialize in devising and testing chemical compounds that will be developed into new medicines. Medical scientists and biologists work with analytic chemists to design and test chemicals that will have a desired effect on an illness.
Analytical chemists combine chemical science and sophisticated testing methods to determine whether certain compounds are effective cures for diseases. As in other chemist jobs, the analytic chemist designs experiments, runs experimental trials, and devises new chemicals that can be used in the pharmaceutical industry. The job requires a solid grounding in chemistry, biology, and organizational skills, but the reward is in creating new medicines that can save lives all over the world.
Chemists working in analytical chemist jobs typically work in laboratory settings. Hours are 9-5, Mondays through Fridays, although there may be rare occasions where weekends and extending hours are required. While test labs are kept scrupulously clean and neat, the work does require handling dangerous and/or toxic chemicals. Clean rooms and rigorous safety procedures are therefore often part of the job.
A bachelor’s degree in chemistry or pharmacy is the base requirement for any starting job in a pharmaceutical chemistry career; this training should be focused on organic chemistry. However, many research analytic chemistry jobs require a master’s or PhD as these jobs involve specialized knowledge and experience in working with large-scale testing teams. Degrees are offered by many colleges and universities around the country; as of 2007, there were some 640 BA, 310 MA, and 200 PhD programs approved by the American Chemical Society (ACS). Courses in statistics and laboratory techniques are critical to this training, as analytic chemists working in the pharmaceutical field must know how to run long testing programs to determine the efficacy of a particular medicine.
As of the 2006 US Bureau of Labor survey, the median annual chemist salary was $59,870, with the mid-range (50%) at between $44,780 and $82,610. Starting salaries for Chemistry BA applicants averaged $41,506 yearly (based on the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2007 survey). Workers in the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing area (mostly in analytical chemist jobs) averaged around $57,210, with salaries in associated testing lab positions around $45,730 yearly.
In general, advancement for chemists is expected to remain relatively static, as older workers retire from the field. As manufacturing positions are reduced, competition for chemist jobs in the still expanding pharmaceutical field is expected to remain strong. Candidates with advanced degrees or additional management training will do best in this competition, as this will prepare them for more managerial positions.
Overall, chemist jobs are expected to expand at a rate equal to the overall job market (9%) over the 2006-2016 periods, with employment in the pharmaceutical and medical fields showing the highest increase, due to an expanding market for pharmaceutical products. Of these, analytical chemist jobs typically comprise the largest share of positions, with many firms outsourcing their R&D testing and research work to specialized firms. While overall employment of chemists is expected to show some decline in the manufacturing area, growth in the pharmaceutical/biotech research areas is expected to improve, with advances in genetic engineering opening up new employment avenues.
How to Find Jobs
Jobs within the pharmacological industry can often be found via Internet postings, through job fairs or by speaking to recruiters who come to universities to meet with new graduates. Jobs are also offered via specialized online job boards and headhunting/job search services.