Undergraduate industrial placements

Undergraduate placements in pharmaceutical industry - applying knowledge from academia to solve real-world problems in industry.

Undergraduate industrial placements

Research activities are integral to university degrees, and undergraduate students are often required to take part in research projects as part of their course structure. Many pharmaceutical companies host undergraduate students to give students first-hand experience in the process of creating and contributing knowledge to the world. These placements are often the student's first experience in industry and provide skills and allow for networking that improve prospects of employability.

There are various different types of undergraduate placements which may involve projects with industry:

  • Final year degree thesis project,
  • 1 year "sandwich placement" in industry for work experience,
  • Short summer placements.

Undergraduate industrial placements have increased, returning to the high levels seen in 2017.

70% of placements fall within R&D, manufacturing, or other clinical roles.

Placements were hosted by 79 different academic institutes all across the UK.

Undergraduate number of placements and duration

In the 2022 ABPI Industry-Academic Links Survey (14 companies), pharmaceutical companies reported supporting 697 undergraduate placements.

91.54% of undergraduate placements were 1 year in duration, with 4.9% lasting more than 1 year and the remainder (3.4%) having a duration of less than 6 months in industry (Fig 1).

Figure 1. Duration of undergraduate placements in pharmaceutical industry. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns. Refer to previous iterations for more information on previous years.

1 year in industry

Most undergraduates with placements with pharmaceutical companies spend 1 year in industrial setting

Undergraduate placement business area

The 2022 ABPI Industry-Academia Links Survey reported that 70% of undergraduate placements fall within clinical R&D, pre-clinical R&D, manufacturing, or other clinical roles. Almost half (44.6%) of undergraduate industry placements are held within R&D sectors (clinical and pre-clinical) which is similar to the R&D proportion since 2013. Most undergraduate students (27.5%) complete a placement within the area of clinical R&D (Fig 2).

The distribution of other business areas saw 13.5% of undergraduate placements in manufacturing, 4.3% in marketing, 3.9% in IT, 3.3% in regulatory, 3% in communications, 2.3% in "other" roles 1.9% in finance, 1.7% in procurement, 1.6% in HR, 1.6% in supply chain, 0.9% in engineering, 0.7% in design, 0.6% in quality, 0.4 % in administration. 3.9% of undergraduate industrial placement areas were unreported.

These data highlight the wide range of opportunities that pharmaceutical companies also offer in both scientific roles as well as in non-scientific roles.

Scientific and non-scientific roles

Pharmaceutical industry offers a wide range of undergraduate placement opportunities.

Figure 2. Business areas of undergraduate industrial placements. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns. Refer to previous iterations for more information on previous years.

Academic partners supporting industrial placements

79 academic institutions were identified through the 2022 survey to host undergraduate placements with the pharmaceutical industry (Fig 3). This is an increase from 60 academic institutes identified through the 2019 industry-academic links survey. This data shows the continuous support from universities and industry for the training of young people all over the UK.

University of Bath remains the top academic institution for undergraduate placements since the 2017 survey and hosted 61 placements with pharmaceutical industry over the past year, followed by the University of Leeds and Loughborough University (Fig 4).

79 academic institutions

Undergraduate placements with pharmaceutical industry were supported by 79 different academic institutes all across the UK.

Undergrad Map

Figure 3. Map of undergraduate placements with pharmaceutical industry. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns.

Top 20 Undergrad Institutions

Figure 4. Top 20 academic institutions for supporting undergraduate industrial placements with pharmaceutical industry. 2022 data are compiled from 14 survey respondents including nil returns. 

Top 3 academic institutes for undergraduate placements with the pharmaceutical industry

  1. University of Bath
  2. University of Leeds
  3. Loughborough University


Quotes from the University of Bath

The focus of our Pharmacology programmes at Bath is to provide students with the knowledge and skills to pursue a career in drug discovery. For decades we have collaborated closely with the pharmaceutical industry to deliver a relevant curriculum and provide placement opportunities for our students. Every year, approximately 75% of our students undertake a year-long placement, the majority of which are in pharmaceutical companies, involving laboratory projects, focused on drug discovery or in non-laboratory areas such as regulatory affairs, technical support and marketing. The benefits of doing a placement in the pharmaceutical industry are numerous. These placements often underpin much deeper research collaborations between the university and industry that benefit health and society through development of new drugs and therapeutics. Students interact with experts in the field to get a ‘real-world’ insight into drug discovery careers. As well as being exposed to and gaining valuable experience in the latest technologies, students see for themselves the approaches and challenges in bringing a drug to market. The placement provides the opportunity to gain a level of autonomy in experimental/project design, data acquisition and analysis in addition to developing professional and transferable skills and creating valuable contacts in the drug discovery field. These work placements help students think about their future careers and help make our students extremely competitive when applying for jobs and further study. Dr Christine Edmead, Pharmacology Senior Lecturer, Department of Life Sciences
I cemented my passion for hands-on scientific research whilst gaining contacts that will be undeniably advantageous to have for the progression of my research career. MPharmacol placement student, University of Bath
The placement year was more useful than I ever imagined and I developed as both a scientist and a person MPharmacol placement student, University of Bath
Placement for me was a chance to see how great having a job in pharmaceutical sciences was and has given me the direction I need when looking at what to do after university. MPharmacol placement student, University of Bath
I had a great time and became confident that I want to continue to pursue cancer research as a career by studying for a PhD MPharmacol placement student, University of Bath

Quote from the University of Leeds

Industrial placements are the foundation of the industrial-academia relationship and pivotal to the employability and career-readiness of graduates. The Faculty of Biological Sciences (FBS) at the University of Leeds are acutely aware of the value of placements in the pharmaceutical industry and are committed to enhancing our working relationship by providing high-quality placement students to complement their workforce. This is done by having a dedicated team supporting students in all aspects of the industrial placement process, and also by degree programmes being directly relevant to the pharmaceutical industry with a strong focus on ensuring students are properly equipped for the sector. The recognised value of placements in Pharma creates a strong support system with an informed approach, ideally providing placement students that are more capable of ‘hitting the ground running’ for their companies, enabling a truly mutually beneficial partnership. More broadly the university benefits from a strong association with the pharmaceutical industry for several reasons including: industry-informed curricula via Faculty industrial advisory boards, academics with strong research links with industry which directly feeds back into teaching and raises awareness with students, dedicated graduate programmes such as the Biopharmaceutical Development Masters working with industrial partners to incorporate a compulsory placement year. Students return enriched from their experience, both professionally and personally, and glowing with a maturity and self-confidence that comes from such an immersive experience. The value of student placements in the pharmaceutical industry is clear and illustrates why such placements are viewed by the Faculty of Biological Sciences as a jewel of our placements process. We are dedicated to nurturing and increasing such excellent opportunities to work with the pharmaceutical industry to help train and inspire the future innovators and leaders in this sector. Dr Alasdair Pickles, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds

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Last modified: 20 September 2023

Last reviewed: 20 September 2023