A pharmacologist studies how chemicals interact with biological systems. Not to be confused with a pharmacist, who explains and dispenses medications to consumers, a pharmacologist is a medical scientist who researches issues such as the effects of chemicals on how cell parts perform, the hazards of pesticides and the development of drugs for healthier people. Pharmacologists typically need a doctoral degree for the highest salaries.
Scientists working as full-fledged pharmacologists typically need a Ph.D., usually in biology or another life science, whether they work strictly in a lab or teach at a university. Some pharmacologists have also trained as physicians but prefer doing pure research in a lab and making new medical discoveries rather than treating patients. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical scientists, including pharmacologists, earned a mean annual salary in 2012 of $76,980. The top 90 percent, which would include those holding Ph.Ds., earned an annual wage of $146,650.
Salary and Top Industries
The BLS also reports that the industries where the most medical scientists work are scientific research and development services, with a mean annual wage of $97,370; pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, with a mean annual wage of $100,850; medical and diagnostic laboratories at $97,570; drugs and druggists' sundries merchant wholesalers at $106,480; and colleges, universities and professional schools at $62,870.
As reported by the BLS, many pharmacologists work for pharmaceutical companies and contract scientific research and development organizations developing new drugs or pharmaceuticals.The ExploreHealthCareers website notes that established pharmaceutical scientists, which would include Ph.Ds., earn an average annual salary of $104,000 to $210,000, while those just starting their careers earn an average of $85,000. Pharmaceutical scientists may also receive bonuses following the successful development of a new drug. As an incentive to attract and keep talented employes, pharmaceutical companies often pay workers to complete graduate degrees, such as Ph.Ds.
Postdoctoral Research Salaries
Before taking permanent positions, many Ph.D. pharmolcology graduates complete two to four years of a postdoctoral fellowship to work on a high-level research project following the research they undertook to earn their Ph.D. Fellowships enable them to work under established scientists to hone their skills and interest in specific research. They receive salaries for these fellowships, due to their already completed education and research experience and the expectation that they'll bring their own insights to the study. Stanford University uses a sliding scale to determine salary for postdoctoral pharmacologists, depending on the years of research they've already completed during their graduate education. Those with less than one year of experience earn $43,932.98 annually, while those with five years of experience earn $51,791.79. The National Institutes of Health provide eight levels of the minimum for postdoctoral stipends for project it funds, ranging from $39,264 annually for those with less than one year of research experience to $54,180 for those with seven or more years of research behind them.
In the Future
The BLS expects employment of medical scientists to grow by 13 percent through 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The outlook for pharmacologists appears favorable. The BLS attributes some of this projected employment growth to increased reliance on pharmaceuticals from a growing, aging population and the desire for treatments for illnesses such as Alzheimer's and cancer. Private industries will provide most of the employment opportunities.