Did you ever think about all the different components that go into a product? For example, that aspirin tablet you take when you have a headache contains not only aspirin, but colorants, flavors, binders, and many other ingredients that do not react with each other but serve important roles in the final product. Some of them are included to increase safety or efficacy of the drug, and others aid in the manufacturing process. The science, and art, of determining the proper combination of ingredients, while balancing product quality, stability, cost, and many other factors is an intriguing puzzle that fascinates chemists.
Typical Job Duties
- Design multivariate studies of different formulations of a particular product, minimizing the number of replicates while maximizing the amount of information obtained
- Conduct studies on long-term stability of products
- Help manage clinical trials, pilot studies, and panel tests to compare reactions of potential customers to proposed formulations
- Analyze results of experimental studies and write reports for both corporate records and regulatory bodies
- Develop prototype products for use by focus groups or in clinical trials
- Assist with scale-up from development to production quantities, in collaboration with chemical engineers and plant production personnel
- Modify excipients (inactive ingredients) to increase the bioavailability of low-solubility active pharmaceutical ingredients
An undergraduate degree in chemistry is a good way to prepare yourself for a career in this field. There are a few formal formulation degree programs, but the majority of formulation scientists learn by starting out as a laboratory chemist, and learning formulation science from a seasoned professional. The apprenticeship lasts 4 or so years. The excipients (inactive ingredients) used are very different in different fields, so most people will specialize in a particular class of compounds or industry, and moving between them is exceptionally rare.
Formulation scientists work in a wide variety of industries. They may divide their time testing new formulations in the lab, writing reports, and helping to set up new production facilities in a pilot plant. The amount of time spent in each area depends on the product’s development stage. Depending on the company and industry, you may either stay with a single product from inception through commercial production or specialize in one phase and then hand off the product partway through its development.
- Basic laboratory skills, especially in analytical techniques for product analysis
- Math and statistical skills for complex experimental design and analysis
- Teamwork and interpersonal skills, to work with large, interdisciplinary teams
- Negotiating and the ability to balance competing needs of product quality, ease of production, and cost
- Ability to analyze experimental results, draw conclusions, and propose logical next steps to reach corporate goals
- Written and oral communication skills, including the ability to communicate clearly with other chemists and scientists, as well as nonscientists.
- Ability to work in a fast-paced environment, and manage multiple, changing priorities simultaneously
Formulation science is a hands-on career. Most people start out working at the bench, and remain close to it throughout their career. Advancement comes in the form of larger and more complex projects, more responsibility, and eventually training new formulation scientists. Most opportunities are in large manufacturing companies, but there are a few contract research firms.
Future Employment Trends
Formulation science is a career that is needed but which few people are aware of. A few degree programs are starting to appear, so entry into the field may become more formalized over time. The number of positions in any given industry is small, making the competition fierce.
Is This Career a Good Fit for You?
If you like to solve complex puzzles, and regularly find creative solutions to unusual challenges, this may be the career for you. Formulation is as much an art as a science, and takes a long time to master. You must have patience, as it can take years to achieve just the right combination of ingredients for a particular application, or it may turn out to be impossible; however, the reward of seeing a product you helped develop on store shelves provides a significant source of satisfaction.
Formulation chemists are needed not only in the innovator and generic pharmaceutical industries products, but also for all sorts of chemical products including pesticides and insecticides, paints and coatings, foods, adhesives, cosmetics, fragrances, and many household products.
Either a bachelor's degree or a Ph.D. is acceptable for getting started in this field; the majority of training is obtained on the job by learning from a senior formulation chemist.
Current salary data for this sub-specialty is not currently available.
- Median annual wage ACS members: $72,000 (March 1, 2013)
- Median annual wage for new bachelor's degree graduates: $40,000
Careers A to Z
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