Credit: G. Grullón/Science

Careers in drug science

Alice and her friends answer questions that you don’t want to ask your preceptor, peer, or colleagues regarding your career in science.

Dear Alice,

Q: I am a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences. I want to develop a career that does not involve research or teaching. Some options I’m familiar with are regulatory affairs and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewer, but I would like to know what other career options are available that offer a top salary.

Also, how do I land those careers? If I want to pursue regulatory affairs after my graduation, how do I do that? Is there any advantage to joining the FDA first, gaining experience, and then moving to regulatory affairs at a company?


Focus on courses that provide you with broadly applicable tools: information technology, informatics, drug development, clinical trials, medicinal chemistry, operations management, and regulatory affairs are obvious choices.

Dear Tanvir,

A: Ph.D. training in pharmaceutical sciences trains you for many different types of jobs. At this stage, it is important to pick courses that fit with your goals. Focus on courses that provide you with broadly applicable tools: information technology, informatics, drug development, clinical trials, medicinal chemistry, operations management, and regulatory affairs are obvious choices.

Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to the top paying jobs. As in most careers, unless you have special connections, you start at the bottom and work your way to the best jobs. Doing your very best at each stage, no matter how menial the job may seem, will help you to reach your goals.

To get started in regulatory affairs at a company, you need to get your foot in the door and show your special capability and interest in regulations and compliance. Having had a fellowship or internship at an organization like the FDA (here’s another example) is one way to build your credentials. Another is to find a fellowship after your graduate training in an agency or office involved with regulatory affairs; such fellowships are offered by AAAS (the publisher of Science Careers). Several companies also offer fellowships related to regulatory affairs. Another route is through the recently founded Postdoctoral Professional Masters in bioscience management program offered by the Keck Graduate Institute, (KGI) which consists of 9 months of training in business, management, strategy, marketing, regulation, accounting, and other business skills, together with experience in industry-sponsored team projects.

Also watch the changing medical environment in this country. Pharmacies are starting to offer health- care services beyond filling prescriptions. Just in the last few years, more and more individuals are walking into their local pharmacies to get not just their annual flu shots but also vaccinations. As a pharmaceutical sciences Ph.D., you may be able to contribute to the development and operation of similar new business opportunities. These are exciting challenges for your chosen profession.

—Alice, with Kathy Webster, dean of the KGI School of Pharmacy, Claremont, California


Alice Huang

Dr. Huang is one of the pioneering researchers in molecular animal virology. She trained at Wellesley College and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She has worked at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Medical School, New York University (NYU), and California Institute of Technology. She has served on the boards of the University of Massachusetts, Johns Hopkins University, and the Keck Graduate Institute at the Claremont Colleges, in addition to many other nonprofit organizations. She introduced vesicular stomatitis virus as an experimental model in virology. She carried out many of the initial investigations on the molecular biology of virion structure, replication, macromolecular synthesis, viral spread, and virulence. Her work on the virion-associated RNA-dependent RNA polymerase led to the grouping of many viruses as negative-strand viruses. Her studies on pseudotypes, especially between RNA and DNA viruses, demonstrate the spread of viruses to new host cells and provide important tools for genetic engineering.

As a teacher, Dr. Huang has taught and mentored undergraduates, graduate students, medical students, postdoctoral research fellows, and clinical fellows. She has guided junior faculty members and department chairs. As an administrator, Dr. Huang provided the vision and obtained support for beginning what is now known as “Silicon Alley” around the NYU neighborhood. She is a past president of both the American Society for Microbiology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the publisher of Science Careers), two of the largest scientific societies in the world. She also dedicated 18 years to shepherding the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, together with Sydney Brenner and Chris Tan, into a successful center of research in what is now known as the Biopolis in Singapore. She continues to consult with research institutions and governments, sharing her expertise and practicing science diplomacy and policy.

Throughout her career, Dr. Huang has advocated for women in science. She encourages thoughtful approaches to reforms in teaching, to attract students with diverse backgrounds and interests to become interested in and committed to careers in science. She has been honored for her advocacy as well for her research accomplishments. Her wealth of experience as a leader and team player in research, administration, and advocacy prepares her well to provide advice to those pursuing careers in science.

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