A BS degree in chemistry provides a number of opportunities, which could include a real job, or going back to school for additional study. The following is some information related to these paths, and how chemistry can prepare you.
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. Our Careers in Chemistry page lists jobs in industry, academia, government, and other fields; here’s a quick summary:
Most 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 advancement.
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.
In research labs and regulatory agencies, federal, state, and local governments offer a variety of opportunities for students with chemistry degrees.
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 BS degree, while others may require additional training in fields other than chemistry.
Graduate Study in Chemistry
Many careers in chemistry require, or offer more opportunity, with advanced degrees (MS or PhD). Students who complete the BS degree in chemistry or biochemistry are prepared for admission to graduate programs in chemistry, microbiology, biochemistry, and other related fields. Because of the shortage of American students pursuing advanced degrees in science, there are numerous opportunities for students to attend graduate school. The best part is that graduate students in the sciences typically receive a stipend, which will range from $20,000-30,000 a year. In addition, most departments will waive tuition and most fees to graduate students. The stipends and tuition waivers are offered in exchange for students working as teaching assistants or research assistants.
Students considering graduate studies in chemistry should be aware that it is a demanding endeavor that can take four or more years. Graduate study is very different from your undergraduate degree. While you will take some classes during your graduate study, usually in the first two years, the bulk of your effort will be devoted to carrying out individual research under the direction of a faculty mentor. Graduate students are typically expected to work at least 40 hours per week in the lab, and many advisors will expect more than 40 hours. In addition, students are expected to work year round, including over traditional student holidays, such as spring break and summer. Because of the strong research focus of graduate degrees, students considering this option should have a strong interest in doing research. Doing undergraduate research, particularly full-time during the summer, is a good way to determine if this is a path you are interested in taking.
The MS degree requires additional classes and involves an active chemical research component in conjunction with a research advisor, as well as a master’s thesis. An MS degree will typically take two years to complete. There is a strong demand for MS chemists in industry and academic positions as highly skilled technical staff. Job opportunities are similar to the BS degree, but at a more advanced level. Academic jobs are typically staff research scientists, instrumentation coordinators and administrative positions. MS positions generally pay better than BS positions, offer better job security and benefits, and include more responsibility and independence with a greater involvement in active research than a BS position.
The PhD degree demands original research and publications in addition to the final dissertation. The PhD degree will require four or five years to complete. It is not necessary to earn an MS degree before beginning a PhD program. In fact, many PhD scientists do not have MS degrees. PhD chemists generally run their own research programs or act as project managers and senior staff scientists in industrial and government positions. There is also a growing demand for PhD chemists in the public sector as science advisors and decision makers. The PhD is not for everybody, but is an important prerequisite for pursuing a career in chemical research that will rise to the very top of chemical industry or to finding a high level job in the technical part of the public sector. The PhD is generally a requirement for obtaining a faculty position at a college or university.
Graduate Study in Other Fields
While many chemistry majors will go on to graduate school in chemistry, some may seek out other fields in order to prepare themselves for careers in fields related to chemistry, including medicine, veterinary medicine, engineering, physics, and biochemistry.
A large number of chemistry majors are interested in health professions careers, and thus choose to go on to various health professional schools. Any of the chemistry major tracks will provide all of the necessary prerequisites for nearly any health professional program.
In addition, the chemistry major provides critical thinking skills that are valued by admissions officers at these schools. Examples of health professional schools that students from our program have attended include
- dental school
- medical school
- pharmacy school
- physical therapy
- veterinary school
For more information on health professions careers, see the UA Pre-Health website.
Other Scientific Disciplines
While many chemistry majors will go on to graduate school in chemistry, some may seek out other fields in order to prepare themselves for careers in fields related to chemistry. A BS in chemistry will prepare you for a wide variety of graduate programs. A few examples:
- chemical engineering
- forensic science
- environmental science
- materials science
- marine science
- nuclear science