In a general sense, pharmaceuticals are defined as medicinal drugs that are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or other regulatory bodies and are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. Biotechnology, or biotech, is the use of biological research techniques to develop products and processes derived from living organisms.

Marie Benton ’18 at Yale Brain Imaging Program
Marie Benton ’18 interns at Yale Brain Imaging Program

Explore Careers

Pharmaceuticals are medicinal drugs that are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or other regulatory bodies and are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical scientists are typically involved in the development of new drugs: discovery, drug delivery systems, drug absorption and distribution, metabolism, and elimination characteristics. They spend most of their time doing research in a laboratory or office setting. Pharmacists also work with existing drugs, patients, and other healthcare practitioners to optimize patient care and drug use. They often work face-to-face with physicians (drug selection and use) and patients (best use of medications).

Biotechnology (commonly referred to as biotech) is the use of biological research techniques to develop products and processes based on genetically manipulated compounds from living organisms. Biotech is the applied knowledge of biology and seeks to duplicate or change the function of a living cell so it will work in a more predictable and controllable manner. Currently, the most common applications of biotech can be found within medicine and agriculture, as well as within industrial process and environmental undertakings. Biotech and pharmaceutical industries are similar, with the exception that biotech firms are more centered on research to develop their initial products.

Analysis and Quality: analytical techniques, quality control, and quality assurance.

Biotechnology: research, development, and commercialization of biotechnology-based pharmaceuticals including genes and gene delivery.

Clinical Pharmacology and Translational Research: clinical research within the pharmaceutical sciences focused on the therapeutic benefits and clinical assessment of drugs and biologicals.

Commercialization: provides market analysis and financial assessments for potential business development opportunities. This may involve product licensing or acquisition and is closely aligned with corporate development, commercial marketing, and research and development.

Diagnostics: equipment and supplies used in screening, detection, and testing.

Real Estate Advisory/Private Equity: capital is raised and invested through institutional investors or high-net-worth individuals. Advisory firms are broken into two areas: property management (managing existing assets) and acquisitions (handling new properties added to a portfolio).

Drug Discovery and Development Interface: medicinal, natural products, molecular and structural chemistry, and drug design and discovery.

Formulation Design and Development: formulation design, research, and development; a multidisciplinary field drawing upon the physical, chemical, biological, and engineering sciences.

Laboratory Technologists: focus on laboratory procedures by performing and reporting on experiments.

Medical Devices: advanced instrumentation and appliances used for medical procedures and therapy.

Manufacturing Science and Engineering: the application and advancement of science and technology as it relates to process development and manufacture of pharmaceuticals and pharmaceutically-related products including medical devices and active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Pharmacokinetics, Pharmacodynamics, and Drug Metabolism: the effect of drugs and metabolites on the body, and the effect of the body on drugs.

Physical Pharmacy and Biopharmaceutics: focuses on preformulation, biopharmaceutics, drug absorption, nanotechnology, and drug delivery systems design and performance including targeted drug delivery.

Regulatory Sciences: the strategic compilation of multidisciplinary information on product performance as it pertains to safety, efficacy, and quality. Resources for Students and Job Seekers What is Biotechnology?
Pharmacy is Right For Me

Prepare for Jobs and Internships

Information, tips, and strategies to help prepare you as an undergraduate.

Those interested in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology should have a strong foundation in mathematics and science. An aptitude for math, chemistry, and biology is vital. Additionally, experience in economics, marketing, or business is beneficial because a multi-disciplinary effort and variety of skills are required to develop, market, and regulate new and effective medicines. Graduates with advanced degrees are in high demand, but so are workers with science-related bachelor’s degrees. Those without a strong scientific background are also needed in the industry in finance, law, marketing, sales, and administration.

Additionally, be sure to consider the following:

  • Participate in research opportunities and submit research to local poster competitions or research symposiums.
  • Read scientific journals, join professional associations, and attend professional conferences related to your area(s) of interest to stay up-to-date with issues in the field and develop networking contacts.
  • Secure strong relationships and personal recommendations from professors or employers.
  • Maintain a high grade point average to improve chances of graduate and professional school admission.
  • Become familiar with the specific entrance exam for graduate or professional schools in your area(s) of interest.

Be sure to note the following:

  • The resume should be clear, succinct and mistake-free. Think of it as a writing sample.
  • Place honors and relevant coursework near the top of the page as these are concise items that convey important information.
  • Seek to highlight unique activities including research, publications or poster presentations, grant submissions, awards, etc.

Conduct informational interviews with alumni and professionals in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, they will be able to provide valuable perspective into the industry and job responsibilities.

  • Make assessments from observations, demonstrations, and experiments.
  • Time and project management, organize work and adhere to deadlines.
  • Problem solving and critical thinking: obtain, retrieve, analyze, integrate, and synthesize information from multiple sources efficiently and accurately.
  • Accurate data collection, recording, analysis, and reporting.
  • Gather and process data, draw appropriate conclusions, and communicate those conclusions in a convincing presentation.
  • Clear and concise technical writing.
  • Familiarity with laboratory procedures, equipment, and protocols.
  • Ability to communicate effectively and work collaboratively in a team.

Given the pace of scientific innovation, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries are constantly evolving to keep address corresponding government regulation, business practices, and the ever-changing needs of patients. Some of the biggest developments shaping these two industries are the:

  • Rise in outsourcing research and development to contract organizations.
  • Increase in the use of generic drugs and increased attention to biosimilars.
  • Intensified focus on stem cell research, cloning, and gene therapy.

Alumni Advice

Advice from alumni who work in this industry.

Heather Gudejko '04

headshot of alum who works in biotechnology

Current Title and Organization: Global Technical Support Manager, Cell Signaling Technology

Major at Colgate: Biology

Advanced Degrees: PhD, Biology

What led you to your current role?

I wanted to remain engaged in science, however, I was ready to move away from the bench.

What activities on campus were most helpful to your transition into your industry and/or life after graduation? 

Real-world lab experience, not just canned lab projects, was helpful in teaching experimental design and confidence in the lab.

What values do you look for in a company when searching for a role?

Corporate responsibility. I look for companies that are environmentally friendly/responsible, as well as companies who use their profits to help the community. Company culture is also very important. I look for companies that appreciate their employees, providing generous benefits and listening to employee suggestions. Working with friendly people is also a big plus!

What was the most challenging aspect of the graduate school application process?

Deciding where to apply was difficult for me, as I wasn't sure what I wanted to study at the time. The best advice I got was to prioritize the location(s) you want to live in when applying to grad school. Grad school will be challenging and you will have bad days. Having a support system and being in an area you like will help to make these days a little easier.

How would you advise students to approach the possibility of graduate school?

Get as much experience as possible in your field of interest prior to applying. I would also recommend taking a gap year(s) to get more experience and to reduce the chance of burnout in grad school. Informational interviews where you speak with people from different areas of your industry are also very helpful. These allow you to get an idea of what positions are out there and what educational experience is needed/helpful to obtain these positions.

What did you do in your gap year?

I took two years off and worked in a lab at Johns Hopkins University. I found this experience very helpful in my decision to go to grad school.

Peter Covitz ’86, senior director, Biogen; Laynie Dratch ’17, genetic counselor, Penn Medicine; Kelly Tschantz ’01, director team leader, personalized healthcare partnerships, Genetech

Find Opportunities

Positions in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries are posted on an as-needed basis. Typically, organizations recruit for entry-level positions most heavily in September through October and again in February through March.

Colgate Handshake Opportunities

Check Colgate Handshake, Colgate's internship and job database, for opportunities that may interest you in this field.

Connect to Careers

Latest stories about internships, workshops, professional networks, and more.

Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology Adviser

Sr. Assistant Director of Career Development / Health and Wellness Career Adviser

James joined Colgate Career Services in September 2014 as a Career Advisor with a focus on the STEM disciplines. Prior to his arrival at Colgate James was employed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he served as an Associate Director and Lecturer in the Archer Center for Student Leadership Development.

James earned an Ed.M. degree in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies with a concentration in Student Affairs Administration from the University at Buffalo and a BA in History from the State University of New York, College at Geneseo. James brings to Colgate more than ten years of experience working with college students in a variety of capacities including, leadership education, curriculum design and assessment, community development, and one-on-one coaching. He enjoys helping students bridge their interests and passions with their professional goals to find a sense of fulfillment and success.

Originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State, James resides in Syracuse and is excited to enjoy the diverse array of outdoor recreational activities that Central New York has to offer.

Questions? Call 315-228-7380 for an advising appointment.