Choices during my degree

Students in a lecture theatre

During the three or four years of an undergraduate degree a number of choices have to be made that will affect your employability by the time you graduate.



Here are a few important questions you may wish to consider...

  • Which modules do I take?
  • Should I take a year out to do an industrial placement?

Choosing the right modules

The following quote has been taken from the ABPI 2005 survey Sustaining the Skills Pipeline... (the full text can be accessed from the link on the right hand side of this page):

"Graduates often have inadequate practical experience, particularly in chemistry, in vivo disciplines, pathology, toxicology and engineering. The cause lies both in insufficient practical components in degree courses as well as a lack of opportunities for industrial experience." (ABPI, November 2005)

Further messages about choice of modules during undergraduate degree courses were developed further by ABPI in our 2008 study; Skills Needs for Biomedical Research.

Choosing modules that have an emphasis on practical experimentation will help to develop your laboratory skills. Other opportunities to extend your practical skills could be through a practical project in a Masters course, through a summer placement or, ideally, by doing an industrial placement year as part of your degree. (See the Getting experience section for more information on this.)

For people interested in an eventual career in the pharmaceutical industry there is evidence that many people make the wrong choices during their undergraduate degree, and then have difficulty getting into the type of work they wish to pursue. Select your modules carefully to ensure that you study the fundamental aspects of the subject – for example a biochemistry graduate should have a good knowledge of enzyme kinetics and will be able to apply that knowledge.

Many biological subjects require an understanding of mathematics, and the ability to apply this knowledge. Mathematical modelling techniques are increasingly a core part of development of a medicine, for instance within computational science, bioinformatics, medicinal chemistry and pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic (PK/PD) modelling. Weak mathematical skills lead to poor candidates for roles in these, and other, areas.

Ensure a sound grounding

The following findings have been taken from the Pfizer Skills Report (the full text can be accessed from the link on the right hand side of this page):

"It is vital to ensure that education and training provides the requisite skills base.

From the deficiencies described in our report it is clear that this is currently often not the case. There are several commonly shared areas of concern across disciplines:

  1. A lack of knowledge of the basics e.g. chemists who cannot describe what a mole of compound is, or clinicians with little knowledge of the principles of clinical trial design,
  2. A lack of knowledge as to how to apply theory to actual practice e.g. graduates who can only follow a prescribed protocol and do not have the skills to develop new methodologies independently and
  3. A lack of practical skills e.g. in vivo biology and toxicology or the awareness of the types, uses and applications of complex technologies." (Pfizer, April 2007)

In summary, make sure you have a sound grounding in the fundamentals of your discipline and the practical abilities to apply the knowledge you have learnt.