How to Get an Internship in the Pharma Industry

A female medical student attending a school lecture raises her hand to ask a question. The multi-ethnic group of adult students is wearing medical scrubs and protective face masks to prevent viral infection during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A female medical student attending a school lecture raises her hand to ask a question. The multi-ethnic group of adult students is wearing medical scrubs and protective face masks to prevent viral infection during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fly View Productions/Getty Images

Applying to your first pharma internship may feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Discover how to find, prepare for and be successful in an internship in the pharma industry in our guide.

Students and professionals who will one day be working in the biopharma industry likely already know about how important internships are within this field. Almost every entry-level biotech or life sciences job description will list an internship as a requirement.

But knowing how to get an internship in biopharma and selecting the internship that’s right for you can be a daunting task. So if you’re looking for an internship in the biopharmaceutical industry, you’ve come to the right place.

How to Get an Internship in Pharma

Working in this sector encompasses many more positions than many realize. Potential biopharma internships could include dealing with research, diagnostics, communications, clinical trials, vaccines, immunotherapeutics and more. Whether you are an undergraduate student or you’re trying to switch to the biopharma field, internships are the best way to get hands-on experience before applying to your first job.

Where to Find Biopharma Internships

Your search for a biopharma internship will likely be similar to a search for an entry-level job; you want a position that is interesting to you but will also challenge you to grow and hone your skills in the industry. Networking within your life sciences community is a great place to start when it comes to finding the best intern opportunity for you.

Attending poster sessions or any other research-focused presentations is a great place to meet active members of the community. There could also be advertisements for opportunities geared toward undergraduates looking for internships.

You can also take the search into your own hands by searching on online job sites like BioSpace, a job board exclusively for jobs in the life sciences, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. If you’re interested in the sales sector, you can utilize MedReps, a job board exclusively for job seekers interested in medical and pharmaceutical sales.

Some universities with a large biopharma focus will even fund internship programs through the college. The University of Buffalo is among those colleges, as well as Arizona State University, George Washington University and several others.

Alternatively, there’s what’s known as a life sciences supercluster” in the northeastern United States, where several research facilities, clinical trials and biopharma focal points are located.

Cities like Boston, Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York City will all have numerous internship opportunities through the biotech companies located there. For example, InternBio is a biopharma hub exclusively for internship opportunities based out of Boston.

If you’re interested in the research route, you can look for a National Science Foundation (NSF) opportunity. NSF funds research opportunities for undergraduate students through the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. You can search for specific internships based on topic or location, then apply directly to the individual program.

Skills You Need

Whether you already know what your dream job is or you are still figuring it out, there are numerous skills you should focus on refining during school and internship practice in order to be successful in the pharma sector. These skills will not only make you a great applicant for the internship, but they will carry over to your post-graduation job or entry-level position in the field.

For starters, you should focus on your project-planning skills and strategic thinking. Whether your internship is for a research writer, a pharmacist or something else, you will need to employ problem-solving strategies from time to time to stay afloat and productive in your position.

Staying up to date on industry news and trends is an easy way to stay in the biopharma loop. As an intern, you have an opportunity to learn only as much as you want to learn, which is why it’s important to come into the internship with a baseline knowledge of what to expect. Your peers will also be impressed by your knowledge and understanding of the industry.

Professional communication and other transferable skills is also beneficial for interns in any job sector, not just pharmaceuticals. You’ll need to conduct yourself professionally, ask smart questions and learn from your mistakes along the way. The more receptive you are to learning, the more you will grow, both personally and professionally.

Remember, success in your internships could come with an offer to apply for an entry-level position post-graduation, so make sure you’re doing your best work.

What to Know Before Applying

Picking where you want to apply and preparing your resume for the application are only two parts of the internship process. You’ll also need to think about when the best time to apply is and what you can do to stand out from the other applicants at that time.

As far as timing goes, several internships in the pharma sector will stop accepting applications for the summer around January. Though it seems like a long time, you often won’t hear back about whether you’ve been accepted to the internship until mid-spring, so it’s best to send out numerous internship applications during your search.

Though some deadlines extend until the middle of spring, you should do your research about internships nearly two semesters before the internship starts so you can be sure not to miss the application deadline.

When you are at the point in your career where you are looking for an internship, you will likely not have much other technical experience to show. But that’s okay! Biotech companies know that interns are coming to them to learn, which is why they’re looking at your soft skills in the same way they might look at a management candidate’s managerial experience.

Exemplifying that you are a team player, have a passion for biopharma and have a willingness to learn will go far with companies in this sector. If you are involved in clubs or extracurriculars related to the field, be sure to note that on your application or resume. An employer would often rather hire someone with no experience but a lot of potential and personality over someone with many technical skills but no personable communication strengths.

Key Takeaways

Applying to your first biopharma internship may feel overwhelming, but you are not alone in that experience. Thousands of undergraduates and professionals looking to change career paths before you have felt the same way, yet they have been able to complete internships and go on to work within the pharma sector.

At this point in your career, you should not waste time being hard on yourself for not having more experience. Think of the internship as your first job where you will learn more about the field and will begin to define what area of study you’d like to continue in. Every entry-level job in the pharma sector asks for previous experience or an internship, so this process is just getting you one step closer to achieving that goal.

Plan ahead, do your research and network with individuals who are interested in the same things. You will be sure to land an internship in no time and you’ll walk away from it having learned more about the field and about yourself.