A lot of the technological advancements we take for granted, from plastic and vulcanized rubber to laundry detergent and unleaded gasoline, would never have been realized without the painstaking work of professional chemists. Chemistry degree programs can provide an education in the history, theory and methodologies required to train future chemists to advance the modern world even further.
The jobs available to professional chemists contain lists of duties as various as chemical products themselves, but there are a few general responsibilities common among many careers in chemistry:
- Planning and carrying out complex research and development projects
- Performing chemical analyses on substances to determine their elemental composition
- Preparing and using solutions, compounds, solvents, reagents and other chemical tools
- Testing various surfaces and substances for adherence to safety and quality standards
- Composing technical reports and presenting research findings to directors and colleagues
Even basic jobs in the field require formal training in the physical sciences. Study in related fields such as biology, physics or engineering may suffice for certain positions, but employers often prefer candidates with dedicated chemistry degrees at or above bachelor's level.
Coursework in chemistry degree programs
Aspiring chemistry majors can find their field of study at colleges and universities all over the country. No two science programs offer exactly the same schedule of courses, but there are some fundamental concepts that students pursuing a degree in chemistry can expect to study in one form or another:
- General chemistry
- Organic chemistry
- Physical chemistry
- Analytical chemistry
- Experimental chemistry
- Chemical research
Entry-level positions in laboratories or other professional chemistry facilities are typically available to candidates possessing a bachelor's degree, but positions that include advanced chemical techniques or supervisory responsibilities may require master's degrees or higher.
Doctoral degrees are usually necessary for independent research positions with private sector companies or at universities.
Career outlook for professionals with chemistry degrees
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment opportunities for chemists are expected to increase by 6 percent between 2012 and 2022, leading to around 5,000 new jobs for graduates of chemistry degree programs. These opportunities are expected to open up primarily in the chemical research, ecological science and pharmaceutical manufacturing industries, as well as in research departments at colleges and universities.
Chemists nationwide earned a median annual salary of $72,350 in 2013 according to the BLS, with the top 10 percent of earners taking home $122,830 per year or more. The federal government was the highest paying employer of chemists in the same year, offering a 2013 median salary of $105,430.
Materials scientists, who often earn chemistry degrees in school, took home median wages of $88,660 in 2013.
There are several other positions for which graduates of chemistry degree programs may qualify, depending on additional education and experience on the job. At least some dedicated study in engineering is usually necessary for chemists to become chemical engineers, who earned a median annual salary of $95,730 in 2013.
Chemistry majors who want to teach could also become high school/secondary school educators, who earned a 2013 median salary of $55,360, if they fulfill the licensing and certification requirements set forth by Board of Education in their state.
"Chemists and Materials Scientists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/chemists-and-materials-scientists.htm
"19-2031 Chemists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes192031.htm
"High School Teachers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm
"25-2031 Secondary School Teachers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252031.htm
"Chemical Engineers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/chemical-engineers.htm
"17-2041 Chemical Engineers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes172041.htm
"Chemistry Major (B.S.)," Saginaw Valley State University, http://catalog.svsu.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=&poid=2307
"Recommended Academic Plan - Chemistry," The Pennsylvania State University, https://psbehrend.psu.edu/sites/default/files/sites/default/files/CHMBD%20RAP%20General%20FINAL%20S13.pdf