A woman in a white lab coat and protective eyewear and gloves holds a pipette and a test tube to depict working in pharma.
Image: © iammotos/Stock.adobe.com

Working in pharma is not just people in white lab coats

16 Nov 2021

Ipsen’s Liza O’Brien discusses career opportunities in the pharma industry and the increased interest in the sector due to the pandemic.

Covid-19 has fundamentally changed a lot about the way we live and work. In a general sense, there is plenty of discussions around the future of work and the implementation of hybrid and remote working.

But specifically in the health and pharma sectors, the pandemic has had an impact too. An employer index earlier this year highlighted how the pandemic has sparked greater interest in pharma and healthcare careers among Irish students.

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Liza O’Brien, the HR director of French pharma giant Ipsen in Ireland, said Covid-19 has changed the perception of pharma in the public mindset.

“We have witnessed what scientific minds can achieve in such a short period of time, as several vaccines have been developed, tested and approved over the last 18 months. This has contributed towards saving millions of lives,” she said.

“Regardless of the vaccine type, Ireland has the skillsets, capabilities and capacity to play a major role in the delivery of these vaccines. If you add to that the broader expertise in drug development and delivery, as well as medical device innovation and supply, then I believe it is a very exciting time for science graduates.”

What careers in pharma are like

The renewed spotlight on careers in pharma and life sciences is good news for the sector’s talent pipeline, but O’Brien said people often don’t understand what types of jobs and opportunities are available in the sector.

“When people think about pharmaceuticals, they often think of people in white lab coats conducting experiments,” she said.

“Of course, we do have scientists, but we also have supply chain experts, accountants, HR business partners and just about every other role you could think of. All of these roles help to ensure that novel medicines are developed, validated and supplied to patients.”

Graduates looking to pursue a career in biopharma in Ireland have a wealth of companies to choose from, many of which are regularly hiring across their businesses.

According to O’Brien, around one in 10 of Ipsen’s employees in Ireland started working with the company as a graduate.

“A similar number have expanded their careers internationally across the wider Ipsen network, which demonstrates how life-long and meaningful careers in health can be built by going down the pharma route.”

Pipeline challenges

While the interest in pharma careers has increased, there are still challenges when it comes to bringing diverse talent into organisations.

“I personally believe that more could be done in particular to help attract females and those from under-represented backgrounds to consider a career in pharma,” said O’Brien, echoing the sentiments of Amgen’s Jill Christian who recently spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about the representation of women in STEM.

O’Brien also said encouraging second-level students to consider a career in STEM in Ireland is a major challenge.

“Perhaps by looking earlier in the educational system, we could spark the imagination of our next generation and proactively boost interest in STEM. Ireland has for a long time played a key role on the world stage for pharmaceutical manufacturing, and this has not happened by chance. It is a consequence of the business and the scientific ecosystem we have in Ireland,” she said.

“We must also shine more light on the benefits of careers in pharma for upcoming graduates through initiatives and opportunities that open their eyes to the exciting innovation that is driving the future of healthcare.”

Advice for graduates

For those who are seeking a future career in the world of pharma, O’Brien said an open mind is the best tool you can have.

“Obtaining a science qualification is only the start of a journey that could bring you to multiple different destinations. Soft skills which can be developed internationally or otherwise along the journey are also key to success,” she said.

“A great way to get started and gain practical experience as a new graduate is to look at different graduate programmes and opportunities. Ultimately the key is to find something you enjoy and to stick at it.”

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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