Many of us might have grown up listening to hackneyed phrases which constantly put some professions above others, but is that really true? What if you find your heart and soul in something scientific, like chemistry or biosciences while others want you to pick something that makes more money in less time like business or computer sciences for instance? Well, we say follow your heart. Let’s talk about what career paths await you when you choose Chemistry or Chemical sciences as your domain? What can you do with a degree in Chemistry?
What Kinds of Chemistry Degrees are There?
Chemistry like all sciences is majorly divided into 2 sections. The traditional and contemporary fields. Now please don’t be mistaken. Traditional in no way means that those fields are not important anymore in the modern world. In fact, it’s the opposite. Consider the two as the roots and buds of verdure. The traditional fields which include Organic, Inorganic, Physical, Analytical and Biochemistry may be understood as the roots, the very foundations from which the contemporary and ever-increasing number of fields continue to merge. For example, Neurochemistry(the study of chemical reactions that concern the brain and nervous system), Nuclear Chemistry (the study of atomic and nuclear structure and properties), Biophysical, Polymer or even environmental chemistry. Now let’s get into a bit of detail for each of these:
- Organic Chemistry:
As most people understand the word organic translates to being natural. Hence, organic chemistry deals with the study of molecules of life. most of which are made up of only a few different types of atoms (mainly carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen along with minute amounts of other miscellaneous elements like zinc and iron). The structures and behaviors of these molecules are all included as well. Students and experts of the field are typically concerned with synthesizing new molecules while playing around with the said atoms and discover how changing the structure or composition (number of each atom) may change the function or characteristics of the new molecule. They are involved in making new drugs i.e. medicines, polymers such as plastics, fragrances, paints, dyes agricultural chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides and eco-friendly biodegradable items. Organic chemistry enthusiasts and experts are needed in pharmaceutical, food, agricultural and polymer industries. The fields of research and teaching are also open for such people.
- Inorganic Chemistry:
This sub-field of chemistry has a lot of overlapping and not one definition encompasses the entire crux of it. It is usually referred to as the study of molecules which do not contain hydrocarbons but within the field of inorganic chemistry exists an entire arena known as organometallic chemistry. The word inorganic may mislead people to think that it deals with molecules that are not found within living systems but even that is not entirely true as the field of bioinorganic chemistry does study metal-containing compounds (such as hemoglobin (a compound necessarily found in blood and helps in transport of oxygen around the body) which are essential to human development and also to other living systems. Students and experts who enter inorganic chemistry usually face a choice between
- Catalysis (the study and design of catalysts- compounds usually made up of metals. These compounds speed up the rate of any chemical reaction by not being changed themselves)
- Biometallics which as discussed earlier will involve studying metals containing compounds found within the living systems.
- Materials chemistry: An interesting aspect of inorganic chemistry which usually plays a role in advancements of technologies by synthesizing and characterizing materials known as solid-state compounds or inorganic polymers such as silicones.
- Physical Chemistry:
It is the junction of chemistry and physics. In other words, this branch of chemistry deals with the laws of physics that govern the behavior of atoms, molecules and chemical systems. It includes spectroscopy (i.e. the interaction between light and matter), thermodynamics (i.e. the study of stability and reactivity of various chemicals and compounds), Kinetics (such as the rate at which a chemical reaction proceeds.) Students and experts are required in polymer industry, environmental sector, research, teaching and labs.
- Analytical Chemistry:
As the word implies this branch deals with the analysis of chemicals and molecules in a chemical system. It involves the identification and quantification of the components present in a mixture. Analytical chemists are usually required in forensic labs, environmental and pharmaceutical companies or work in quality assurance departments of these companies.
It involves the study of everything that chemically goes on in biological systems. Biochemists are usually concerned with molecules such as proteins, carbohydrates, DNA etc. Experts of this field are the backbone of modern medicine because they provide fundamental knowledge regarding organ and tissue transplantation, regenerative medicine, infectious disease management and clinical diagnosis.
Skills Developed in the Chemistry Major
Like any other field, a chemistry major by the end of his/her degree would have acquired a certain skill set that would enable them to work efficiently in their concerned field. This can be beneficial to realize if you are trying to figure out what can you do with a degree in Chemistry. We will try to list a few key skills that are developed in the chemistry major.
- First and foremost a chemistry major would learn to see and appreciate the world under a whole new light. They would look and things and try to understand the logic or phenomena that governs or affects it.
- They would be a pro at collecting, organizing and interpreting chemical data. Along with presenting it to panels of seasoned experts in their field.
- Lab skills:
- The use and handling of sophisticated laboratory equipment such as Spectrometers and microscopes.
- The art of analyzing and drawing inferences from simple chemical tests.
- Learning how to deal with toxic and highly reactive elements of the periodic table.
- And last but not the least they learn to apply the principles of chemistry in order to carry out qualitative and quantitative analysis of data.
What Can You do With a Chemistry Degree?
The one field which is always open for people of all fields and backgrounds. As a chemistry major, you can put your skills to the test while working on different projects in many diverse settings. For example:
- In Universities: Here you may combine your research and findings with the academic environment and nurture the new and developing minds of students.
- In pharmaceuticals: Almost all pharmaceutical companies around the globe have a Research and Development (R&D) department in which chemists work day and night to synthesize new and more effective products and medicines.
- In the public sector: The chemists working here are usually concerned with studying the environment in which we live. They focus on the sustainability and conservation of the environment and ensuring that the National healthcare provisions are in place with the new and recent discoveries.
These personnel usually work in the industrial sector and help in the manufacturing of new and improved products. The industries include polymer synthesis industries such as plastics manufacturers, paint industries, oil and gas refineries, atomic energy organizations and many others. Chemical engineers are responsible for ensuring that large-scale manufacturing is optimized and functioning properly. They are quality controllers and risk assessors as well.
- Forensic labs: You know all those clues that the cool detective gathers from a crime scene? Yeah well, it’s the chemical scientist who provides those very detectives with useful information such as fingerprint identification, blood samplings, and even analysis of anything ingested or inhaled by the suspect or victim.
- Hospital: In hospitals, it’s usually the toxicology labs which require a skilled lab technician with a major in chemistry to allow all the necessary tests to be conducted on patients. They analyze samples and prepare reports based on which the doctors diagnose or decide the next course of treatment.
- Cosmetic industries: All those cosmetic products that you use are all chemicals. Even if they say ‘natural and organic’ they still contain certain amounts of chemicals. Optimizing the ratios of those chemicals and carrying out confirmatory tests to ensure that the product has the least number of side effects is the job of the chemist.
- Sales and marketing: If a chemistry majors, studied business, sales or marketing as minor during the course of their degree then they would be good fits for the said departments in any pharmaceutical company because these individuals would know the technicalities of all the products which the company is manufacturing and would strategize the marketing plan accordingly.
- Research and Development: The department is responsible for carrying out the latest research which helps the company manufacture new and unique products.
This is a field that combines chemical structures with computer software in order to design and study the interaction between molecules of similar or different structures with the help of computer simulations. Bioinformatics is one of the most highly demanded jobs of modern time.
If you think you are good with speaking and making people understand the complex and confusing chemical phenomena then this job is definitely for you.
If you have your way with words then writing scientific papers and articles either in high impact factor journals or in Sci-fi magazines will serve as a good job for you.
Continuing Education and Certifications
If none of the options above stands out to you, and you are still unsure of what can you do with a chemistry degree, then maybe you should consider continuing your education. One of the most commonly taken paths by chemists is to pursue a PhD or one or more post-doctorates in the field of their particular interest but nowadays there are a number of specialized courses that allow chemistry to become even more exciting and challenging at the same time.
- Green Chemistry & Chemical Stewardship Online Certificate Program: The 3-course program aims to teach students and professions on how to design and manufacture safer chemicals and chemical processes. It promotes sustainability.
- The American Chemical Society (ACS) offers a number of advanced courses and training for chemical scientists.
- Almost all leading universities have online courses and programs that allow students and scientists to be a part of the university by taking part in online discussions and webinars without actually coming to campus daily. This is particularly helpful for international students and professionals who find it hard to juggle between work and academics.