Careers advice from Darren McKerrecher at AstraZeneca

As part of our “How to build a career in the chemical industry” webinar we have had some follow up questions from the audience and also pre submitted questions that we did not have enough time to answer on the day. In order to answer these questions, we will publish written answers to these questions from the different panel members over the next couple of weeks.

Darren McKerrecher, Associate Director at AstraZeneca, has provided us with some excellent answers focussing on getting a scientific job:


Is it harder for graduates who have studied Biological Science to enter the pharmaceutical industry?   Also, how related is working in the pharmaceutical industry to medicine?

We recruit many biological science colleagues across multiple disciplines.  If you are talking about careers in chemistry though, we do look primarily at candidates with recent and relevant experience in medicinal, analytical or synthetic organic chemistry as the backbone of a chemistry career in pharma.   I’d recommend you seek to identify potential gaps that an employer could be concerned about, and look to augment your interest & existing experience with activities focussed on those areas.  Short-term roles or even attending conferences would be valuable to demonstrate your commitment.  Regarding relation to medicine, most of our work as chemists is pre-clinical, but we work closely with clinical colleagues to select the best targets to work on and follow the transition into the clinic of our successes.  When successful, we often get to hear video stories directly from patients describing the impact of our research on their disease and lives – few things are more inspiring!


How can one convince an employer that 25 years plus of broad experience in the Chemical Industry is worth employing? And can add value to any employer even if the CV does not contain the required search words for computer controlled search for the perfect candidate?

I can’t speak for other organisations, but our chemistry recruitment within AZ is not done by computer-controlled search – we read application forms, CVs & cover letters.  We have recently recruited several staff with >25 years experience each in the industry.  While this was partly to fill a skills gap as part of our move to Cambridge, the primary driver was that each demonstrated a continued drive and passion to do chemistry, evidence of keeping knowledge up to date, and articulated what skills they could bring to the organisation.  It may be better to think in positive terms of what you can bring with your experience, rather than fear it may be an issue – doing the latter may come across in your application / interview and decrease your chances.


What advice would you give to a student who wishes to continue researching novel medicines on the best route into the industry? Also is a PhD essential to continue on this route.

As discussed, the right PhD can help, the wrong one can hinder.  Gaining independent research experience during a PhD in a good group in a relevant field is undoubtedly a help in fast tracking your career, but the competition is strong and there are no guarantees.  Alternative routes are to look at summer placements & sandwich years during your degree and also graduate intern schemes to broaden your experience, increase your networks and decide whether this is the right path for you.  Ultimately, we are looking for talented, motivated and flexible researchers, whether they have a PhD or not.


How late can you change careers/speciality? And are transferable skills really seen as transferable?

As I mentioned in the webcast, never underestimate how impressive the analytical skills chemist have can appear in alternative environments.  As part of AZ’s transition, many ex-colleagues have moved into new careers / specialties and are almost all making excellent progress.  I think the key aspects are (a) providing a credible narrative about why the new specialty is for you (not just because my current job ceased to exist and I need something else – no matter how true this is!), and (b) identifying examples which showcase your transferable skills so that these can be used by the recruiter to picture you in a different role.


If you would like to watch the webinar click here

If you are looking for a scientific job, search our latest job here



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Darren McKerrecher