Is pharmacology hard? Tips for succeeding in this major

July 25, 2023 · 3 min read · By ASU Online
While pharmacology programs are known for their rigorous curriculum, the journey is rewarding as graduates are prepared for in-demand, high-paying careers. Read on for expert tips for succeeding as a pharmacology and toxicology major.

While a pharmacology degree does include rigorous coursework in biology and chemistry, it prepares you to further your education or pursue a range of in-demand careers, including roles in pharmaceutical companies, public health agencies and as medical scientists.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of medical scientists is expected to grow 17% between 2021 and 2031, which is much faster than the average growth rate for all occupations. The BLS also reports a median annual salary of $95,310 for medical scientists in 2021.


Tips for succeeding as a pharmacology and toxicology major

We spoke with Maxwell Leung, an assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, about ASU Online’s Bachelor of Science in pharmacology and toxicology. He shared his advice on how to prepare for success in this program.

  • Q: What steps can an incoming pharmacology and toxicology major take to succeed in this program?

Leung: To excel in this program, students must have a genuine curiosity about the workings of chemicals in our bodies and the environment. Pharmacology and toxicology involve studying the effects of chemicals, both positive (therapeutic) and negative (toxicological), on humans. As this is a complex major, students are highly encouraged to ask questions and be transparent about their understanding.

Students should also have a strong grasp of organic chemistry, biology and physiology. Additionally, students should be able to recognize and apply the connections between these subjects.

  • Q: What courses should students be most prepared to spend time on?

Leung: Students should be prepared to dedicate significant time to four key courses: 

  • PTX301 - Basic Pharmacology and Toxicology
  • PTX450 - Pharmacology/Toxicology Laboratory
  • PTX475 - Principles of Toxicology
  • PTX432 - Fundamentals of Pharmacology

These four courses form the core of the pharmacology and toxicology major. They are unique in teaching students what pharmacology and toxicology are actually about.

I think Principles of Toxicology and Fundamentals of Pharmacology require the most hours. Both are fourth-year courses. In fact, many recent graduates tell us those courses overlap significantly with classes they’re currently taking during the first year of their Doctor of Pharmacy programs.

Basic Pharmacology and Toxicology is an introductory course and is thus meant to be easier. Pharmacology/Toxicology Laboratory is a one-credit course, which is less intense than PTX475 and PTX432.

  • Q: What obstacles have you seen students run into and how did they overcome them?

Leung: One common obstacle students encounter in pharmacology is the challenge of integrating various subjects to understand the overall idea of how therapeutic agents and harmful chemicals operate. Pharmacologists and toxicologists are interdisciplinary scientists who draw upon chemistry, physiology, microbiology, ecology, bioinformatics and more.

To overcome this challenge, students need to continually ask questions that advance their prior knowledge in pharmacology and toxicology. By actively engaging with new material and consistently applying information from each subject, students can successfully overcome these challenges with time.

  • Q: Is there any other guidance you’d provide to students interested in this program?

Leung: We encourage those with a passion for public health, environmental issues and a desire to pursue a career in pharmacology to reach out to learn more about the program. We’re happy to help you get started on your journey.

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