What qualifications are typically required?
Each year, the demand for qualified statisticians increases.
To perform well, statisticians need to work effectively both as parts of teams and independently. As well as expertise in statistics, they need a variety of other skills, such as effective communication, computer literacy, good time management and the willingness to learn new scientific areas.
Statisticians generally have a strong background in mathematics and in the use of computers. A route commonly taken is to study mathematics, statistics or computing at A-level (or the equivalent in other systems) and then to specialise in mathematics/statistics-based subjects at university. Many companies in the pharmaceutical industry offer university students work experience (often in the form of year-long industrial placements), and often these students return to start their careers in this industry after they have completed their studies.
While the level of statistical education required generally depends on the seniority of the position, most pharmaceutical statisticians hold both a BSc (e.g. applied statistics or mathematics) and an MSc (e.g. medical statistics). MSc courses are seen as providing statisticians not only with a strong background in statistics but also with the ability and confidence to apply their knowledge to a wide range of problems. Some employers might allow, or even sponsor, new employees without MSc degrees to take them.
A typical BSc degree might itself be in Statistics, perhaps followed by a fairly specialised MSc say in Medical Statistics. Alternatively, a BSc more generally in Mathematics might be followed by an MSc in Statistics. These are only examples of possible BSc+MSc university routes towards the industry. Our careers website carries a great deal of general information about undergraduate degrees involving statistics and about postgraduate degrees involving statistics. The Committee of Professors of Statistics also maintains a website giving information about postgraduate opportunities in statistics.
The industry also recruits at statistical programmer level. Statistical programmers are primarily involved in analysing and summarising data collected throughout a drug's development. They often become very expert in statistical computing programs. Most will hold at least a BSc (for example in mathematics, statistics or computing), though some hold vocational qualifications rather than degrees.