What they do
Pharmacologists research, develop and test drugs (any chemicals that affects the body's functioning) and their effects on biological systems. They are primarily involved in finding new safe and effective medicines, though they may also test the safety of products such as pesticides, cosmetics and food additives. Once drugs have been administered, pharmacologists monitor test subjects, either humans or animals, to determine the drug's effectiveness and to check for side-effects. They are also interested in determining how drugs travel through a biological system, whether they have the potential to breakdown and form toxic chemicals and how long they remain in the system and in what concentration.
Pharmacologists usually work in laboratories at universities, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, factories or in some government departments. Work is often carried out in a sterile and controlled environment, to avoid contamination and to ensure that any effects can be attributed to the drug and not an external factor. Research into new drugs often involves the use of animals, which must follow strict ethical guidelines. Pharmacologists must keep detailed records of all their work to demonstrate that research and testing has been thorough and to ensure that results can be replicated. They usually work standard business hours, however evening and weekend work may be required, particularly when working to a deadline.
Tools and technologies
Pharmacologists use a range of sophisticated medical and laboratory equipment to collect and analyse samples from test subjects. They may examine blood, urine and tissue samples to determine a drug's effectiveness in treating a disease and to monitor its movement through the body. Pharmacologists may be required to wear protective clothing, including gloves, masks, safety glasses, lab coats and hair nets, both to maintain a sterile work environment and to protect themselves from potentially harmful chemicals. They will also be required to write regular reports on the progress of their research and maintain a current knowledge of scientific developments.
How do I become one?
Education and training
To become a non-clinical pharmacologist you need to complete a degree in science with a major in pharmacology. You may also be able to study a closely related field such as biomedical science or biochemistry.
Most universities in Western Australia offer relevant courses. Contact the universities that you are interested in for more information.