reWorking Michigan: Careers In Pharmacology

Mar 12, 2012

To understand pharmacology, you first need to understand what it isn’t.

Being a pharmacologist doesn’t mean you work in a pharmacy.

Stephanie Watts is a professor in MSU’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. She says skilled pharmacists are important, but their work follows that done by pharmacologists.

"We help design, isolate and figure out how drugs work in your body, such that they can be used safely,” Watts explains. “By doing that, we also learn a great deal about the diseases as we go through the process. So, we’re learning about a disease, and we’re learning how to interfere with the disease to help keep you healthy.”

Watts is working on an experiment to learn more about how peptides in the fat around arteries work. With obesity on the rise, this research could shed light on the role of obesity in hypertension.

Watts says there’s more to pharmacology than research. It can lead to careers in the pharmaceutical industry, or in regulatory affairs.

“If you were to visit the ASPET website,” she says, “the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, our society that we belong to, they would say that pharmacologists are one of the top ranked jobs, not necessarily financial, but in terms of their being so many possibilities.”

Watts and others from MSU’s Research Corridor partners at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University are anxious to promote careers in pharmacology. They’ve posted an online video to make their case.

To make it easier to earn an advanced degree in pharmacology, MSU offers two online master’s degree programs.

Dr. William Jackson is the interim chair of the MSU Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.

“One that’s designed for people who are already employed in the pharmaceutical industry in academic labs, in government labs, to further their careers, so that they can become laboratory managers or study directors,” Jackson states. “In addition to that, we have a spinoff master’s program that’s more generic.”

Students can earn a master’s degree online in as little as 18 months. So far, more than 100 students have enrolled. By the end of this semester, Jackson says there will have been about 35 graduates, many of them working in Michigan.

“More than half of our students are employed in Michigan,” he continues, “and what we’ve heard from them is that once they’ve gotten these master’s, it’s provided them a boost in pay, so they move up the pay scale, and perhaps solidified their employment position.”

One of those graduates is Erica Goodwin. She’d earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical research, but only considered pursuing a master’s degree when she could do it online.

“Working full-time and having a family,” Goodwin says, “at the time I was looking at advancing my career through furthering education I was a single mom of two young boys, so having the online program really was what drew my attention.”

Goodwin turned her master’s degree into a new job at Michigan State, where she interacts with scientists in academia and in industry.

Pharmacology could become one of those fields where good paying jobs can be part of Michigan’s economic turnaround.

reWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as citizens of the Great Lake State explore new ways to make a living and build a future for their families. A project of WKAR NewsRoom, WKAR-TV and WKAR Online.