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Pfizer on Young Talent and Internships

Developing medicines for patients is a highly rewarding career, but the pharmaceutical industry isn’t renowned for showcasing its best side. Here, Steph Barnes, Global Health and Social Impact Manager at Pfizer UK, explains how the industry can better inspire young scientists and also explores what programs are available within big pharma to help people get a taste for making medicines.

Many industry players say there is a shortage of new talent coming into the industry, with promising students opting for other industries or wanting to stay in academia. What is your view?

Following the pandemic, we have actually found that students are clamoring for real life work experience; there is no shortage of candidate applications for the large range of placement/apprentice opportunities we offer at Pfizer! Our early career programs are thriving with new opportunities offered each year that provide students with experiences that serve to develop and broaden the critical skill sets and competencies that students need to be successful in a business environment.  

We also provide skills workshops that focus on personal development and career building. We have an intake of around 150 early careers talent each September across our apprenticeship, undergraduate placements, and graduate programs. These colleagues bring huge energy, a ‘learn-it-all’ mindset, and incredible smarts that add value to our teams across the business. 

Pfizer clearly has no problem selling itself. How can the wider industry attract young talent?

It’s important for us to build “science capital” in young people. Research shows that, the more science capital a young person has, the more likely they are to continue with science post-16 and see themselves as having a science identity (1).

We love showing young people that science is cool! When students understand the real-life application of the science that they learn in the classroom or lecture hall and understand the mechanisms of disease – and how different modes of action of medicines and vaccines can improve health outcomes, they can see the true power of science.

What is also exciting is showing how this power translates into the huge number of roles available across the pharmaceutical industry. Showcasing the opportunities and the different skill sets used in each role is vital, and it can be done via a few avenues: 

  • Demystifying the process of drug development to show the different phases and how everyone comes together to play their part.
  • Showing how research and development intersects with the commercial side of the organization to create the pharmaceutical business model and how the complexity of the organization makes it constantly stimulating, interesting and ever-changing. 
  • Highlighting the diversity of people that work in science and the general open attitude to continuously learn and grow that fosters a positive working culture. 
  • Demonstrating the positive patient and healthcare system impact of the industry and how this makes our work meaningful. If we can share how our work can help address the global issue of poor health and show we are part of the solution, we can inspire young people to consider joining the industry. 

How does Pfizer promote pharma-based careers to young talent?

We want to bring science to life for young people and inspire them to aim for breakthroughs in whatever they choose to do. Alongside our early careers program, we inspire students of all ages through a myriad of initiatives: 

1. Breakthrough Science is our STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education program for teachers and students aged 11–16. It fuses national science curriculum topics and specification points with real-life applications of science, while also showcasing diverse stories, skills, and career journeys of people working in STEM. We’ve built this program alongside science teachers from the Academies Enterprise Trust (our education partner); The Careers & Enterprise Company (for careers education integration); and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) for clinical research expertise. The program enables teachers to achieve their curriculum aims, the Gatsby careers benchmarks, and create a highly engaged classroom by bringing science to life for students. In our program pilot phase of 98 school students, 76 percent of the students agreed or strongly agreed that “Making the lesson link in with real life made it easier to learn.” 

2. Science Stories is a snapshot into STEM careers in life sciences. This video series complements our Breakthrough Science program but also stands alone as a set of 10 stories from people that work in STEM from Pfizer and the NIHR.

3. Pfizer STEM Ambassadors is an active group of over 90 Pfizer colleagues who visit schools and colleges to share their career stories and run STEM activities to inspire the students behind the next breakthrough. They are equipped to inspire students of all ages with a variety of materials that help them have conversations about the power of science and STEM careers across educational levels. One of these programs is our set of bespoke ‘Medicine & Me’ materials aimed at 7–11-year-old children that includes fun STEM activities based on positive health behaviors, such as handwashing, and starts to tell the story of how medicines are made to primary school students.

4. “Molecule to Market” virtual work experience program is a four-task immersive program that provides hands-on experience to ambitious people that want to learn more about the pharmaceutical industry. As the name suggests, it showcases the development and commercialization of medicines, setting activities based on the final stages of making a medicine available to people, including health economics, brand marketing, and the go-to-market strategy. This program is designed for people of all ages (though recommended for students aged 14+ years) and career levels! It can even be completed by adults considering a career change or those that want to reskill later in life.

Our research and development site at Sandwich, Kent, offers in-person work experience, and we also offer shorter summer placements across other sites. Our holistic approach to career opportunities enables social mobility to be a reality and builds a diverse talent pipeline for our business. 

I believe that the variety within these programs is astounding. For on-site programs, we have people based across three different locations that each have their own specialities. From pharmaceutical marketing to regulatory affairs and from clinical operations to engineering, we host an array of different experiences. A real benefit to these programs is that everyone working on them is connected, so they can learn from each other about the work they do.

Given Pfizer’s enormous access to talent, what do you look for in candidates? 

We look for people who can demonstrate the following: 

  • A growth mindset – a “learn-it-all” approach
  • Initiative – happy to give something a go and work it out along the way!
  • The ability to link together complex ideas 
  • Eagerness to grow and develop 
  • Curiousness – we look for people who ask intelligent questions
  • A willingness to embrace the Pfizer values of excellence, equity, courage and joy 
  • A passion for diversity, inclusion, and wellbeing.
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  1. L Archer, “Engaging children with science: A ‘science capital‘ approach,” 154, 5 (2018). 
About the Author
Stephanie Vine

Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ expertise is presented as a seamless and enjoyable reading experience, whether in print, in digital or on social media. I’ve spent fourteen years writing and editing features for scientific and manufacturing publications, and in making this content engaging and accessible without sacrificing its scientific integrity. There is nothing better than a magazine with great content that feels great to read.

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