Careers in Chemistry: What can I do with my degree
after I graduate?
Chemists often refer to chemistry as the central science, because chemistry
plays a vital role in nearly every other scientific field. As a result,
a degree in chemistry can prepare students for a wide variety of careers,
some of which you may have never considered. Below is some information
on possible avenues to use your degree as well as some helpful links to
other career resources.
Industrial Chemistry Careers
The bulk of chemists at all levels are hired to work in the chemical
industry either as chemists working in the plant or on the bench, or as
technically knowledgeable people who work in the business side of the
company. These careers offer a wide variety of paths for both entry and
- Industrial R&D and Production:
An important aspect of any industrial enterprise is the development
of new technology that can be turned into new products.
- Research Chemist:
Research chemists work to develop new or improved technologies for
the companies for which they work. These chemists will typically
work at a bench carrying out chemical reactions and/or determining
chemical structures or properties. The driving force behind the
research will typically be a PhD scientists, but numerous opportunities
are available for BS and MS scientists to work as technicians who
carry out the research under the direction of the PhD supervisor.
- Production Chemist:
The production chemist works to translate the work done by the research
chemist into something that can be performed on a large scale as
part of a manufacturing process. They will work with plant engineers
to maximize the design and use of plant equipment, supervise production,
ensure quality control and ensure compliance with environmental
- Industrial Sales, Marketing, and Technical
Service: Once an idea has become a product, chemical
careers in marketing, sales, and technical service are necessary to
provide the customer with the product. Each of these careers involves
a product-customer relationship. A background in business is required
to a varying extent for each of these careers. Success depends upon
effective communication with the customer.
- Sales: People with
technical backgrounds are often employed by chemical manufacturers
to sell their products to potential customers. Sales people work
with customers to identify what products would most help the customer
achieve their goals. Individuals working in Sales deal with the
customer one-on-one as the company's most visible employees. Interpersonal
skills are highly valued in this function, and the work schedule
is very self-structured.
- Marketing: Once a
chemical product becomes available, marketing professionals must
publicize the material and entice potential customers to purchase
it. A career in Marketing deals primarily with analyzing groups
of customers known as "markets." From such analyses, the
marketing individual must predict future trends and sales, determine
market needs, and develop advertising strategies.
- Technical Service:
A chemical career where laboratory work and customer interaction
are intertwined is Technical Service. Responsibilities include:
developing new applications for products, writing instruction manuals,
and troubleshooting for customers with problems or questions.
The second major option for people with degrees in chemistry is as teachers
of chemistry at the high school, community college, college, or university
level. Most of these positions will require some graduate
study in chemistry
- Faculty Positions
- High School: There
is a significant need for technically trained high school teachers
and chemistry and physics. Students with a B.S. degree in chemistry
would likely need to obtain additional training in education to
be hired at a public high school. Private high schools may directly
hire someone with a B.S. degree in chemistry.
- Community College:
Community colleges will typically hire faculty members with MS or
PhD degrees in chemistry to teach general and organic chemistry.
- Undergraduate Colleges or Universities:
Faculty members at primarily undergraduate institutions will teach
classes and labs in their area. They will also typically direct
students in original research projects. Faculty at these institutions
may write grants to fund their research and will write papers and
give presentations on the results of their work. A PhD is almost
always required for 4-year college positions in chemistry, often
post-doctoral experience after the PhD is desired.
- Research Universities:
Research universities, such as UA, offer BS, MS, and PhD degrees.
Faculty are expected to teach as well as direct research groups
of undergraduate and graduate students in ground breaking research.
Faculty are expected to write grants to fund their research, write
papers, give presentations, and teach undergraduate and graduate
courses. These positions require PhD degrees and almost always will
require post-doctoral experience.
- Support positions
- Lab Technicians, stockroom managers,
safety officers: Colleges and universities often
have a number of support positions that require technical backgrounds.
Safety officers would handle hazardous waste and help enforce EPA
and other safety guidelines. Stockroom managers would order and
maintain inventories of chemicals and supplies for the research
and teaching effort. Lab technicians and staff scientists would
perform support roles for teaching and research, such as operating
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Federal, state, and local governments offer a variety of opportunities
for students with chemistry degrees.
- National Labs: The U.S.
government operates a number of national research labs that employ B.S.,
M.S., and PhD scientists who carry out research on a wide variety of
topics. National labs offer an environment that is a cross between industrial
and academic research.
- Regulatory: Departments
such as the EPA, FBI, FDA, ATF, etc employ chemists who carry our research
and perform analytical services in support of the regulatory role of
Related Fields and Careers:
Not every student who earns a chemistry degree ends up as a chemist or
chemistry teacher. An undergraduate degree in chemistry opens a whole
host of opportunities in fields as varied as medicine, law, business,
and science. Some of these jobs can be obtained with a B.S. degree, while
others may require additional training in fields other than chemistry.
- Related fields of science
- Forensic Chemistry:
Analytical chemistry and biochemistry form the basis for much of
forensic science. A general training in chemistry is one of the
best preparations for a career in forensic science. There is a significant
need for people interested in working for local, state, and national
forensic science labs. See more at the American
Academy of Forensic Scientists.
- Biotechnology: A
background in biochemistry provides good training for people interested
in careers in biotechnology. Biotechnology seeks to take advantage
of biochemistry to produce materials for our modern way of life.
- Toxicology: Toxicologists
are principally involved in the discovery of new knowledge concerning
how toxic substances produce their effects. Many industries employ
toxicologists to assist in the evaluation of the safety of their
products. For therapeutic drugs, food additives, cosmetics, agricultural
chemicals and other classes of chemicals, federal laws often require
that the manufacturer provide adequate testing of the product before
it is released into commerce. More information from the Society
- Environmental Science:
Chemistry is at the heart of many environmental issues. Environmental
scientists attempt to understand how the environment operates and
how human interaction affects the environment. Career opportunities
exist with academic, government, and industrial employers. Environmental
- Food Chemistry: Food
chemists use a knowledge of chemistry to develop better tasting,
longer lasting, and healthier foods. Food chemists may also analyze
foods to ensure that they are safe and nutritious.
- Cosmetic Chemistry: Cosmetics rely heavily on chemistry. There
is a wide range of opportunity for chemists to work in the cosmetics
fields in the development of new fragrances, dyes, and skin treatments,
- Dietary scientist:
People with chemical backgrounds can work to understand how our
diet affects our health and well being.
- Health Professions:
- Doctors, Dentists, Veterinarians,
Pharmacists, etc.: Many students use chemistry degrees
as a stepping stone to a variety of health
professional schools. Chemistry provides a good background on
the basic biochemistry of living systems and drugs, which are invariably
organic compounds. Chemistry also provides critical thinking skills
important for these professionals.
- Nursing: While less
common, chemistry is a good path into the nursing field.
- Lab Technician: People
with chemical backgrounds can find a variety of jobs working in
medical offices and hospitals as lab technicians to who analyze
patient samples in order to help doctors diagnose diseases. Lab
technicians may also be involved in preparing drug preparations
and other materials for the treatment of patients.
- Chemical Information Specialists
- Scientific writing:
Technical journals, trade magazines, and industrial concerns all
need technically trained people with writing skills to write about
science for both scientists and lay people. This career path is
a good way to combine an interest in science with a skill in writing.
A concentration in English and/or Journalism would provide a good
background for this career path. For more info, see the Society
of Technical Writing.
- Scientific Librarian:
Science libraries require people with technical backgrounds and
training in library science. Graduate study in library science would
qualify you to work as a research librarian at a university research
library, government library, or for a large company.
production: With the proliferation of scientific
literature, there is a growing need for people with a combination
of technical, computer, and writing skills to abstract this information
and make it available to the people who can use this knowledge.
- Museums: People with
technical backgrounds and training in information technology can
work in museums researching and preparing materials for exhibits,
doing demonstrations, and acquiring and refurbishing materials for
- Intellectual Property
- Patent Agent: The
federal government employs technically trained people to analyze
patent applications and determine if they are truly novel and worthy
of being awarded a patent. Patent applicants also need patent agents
to ensure that their filings will be found to be novel and approved
by the government.
- Patent Lawyer: Students
with backgrounds in chemistry can go to law school to become patent
lawyers. Patent lawyers help scientists write legally enforceable
patents, ensure that patent rights are maintained, and pursue those
who infringe on an inventors patents. Often law firms or companies
will pay employees to go to law school to become patent lawyers.
- And many, many more
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