Mar 29 2022

What It Takes to Have a Career in Chemistry


Career advice

What do Marie Curie, George Washington Carver, and John Dalton have in common?

They're three of history's most famous chemists, discovering Radium, agricultural innovations, and atomic theory, the foundation for chemistry itself.

Famous chemists and their stories have inspired generations of science professionals, not just chemists.

Today's chemistry students can choose from several career paths, like lab chemistry, teaching, engineering, and even entertainment, like Bill Nye or the Mythbusters crew.

Do you or someone you know have a passion for chemistry?

Here are several tips for exploring and growing a career in chemistry.

Set a Chemistry Career Goal

With a chemistry background, the world is your oyster.

You don't have to be a traditional chemist in a lab. You could become a chemistry teacher, start a science tutoring business, sell chemistry products, develop science games, or even create a chemistry YouTube channel.

The path to success starts with knowing what you want out of chemistry. This simple philosophy is also known as "goal-setting." Once you set a goal, implement a plan to achieve that goal, like enrolling in a college program.

Now, let's get those brainstorm clouds moving!

Lab Chemistry Schools

Lab chemistry is typically the first career that comes to mind. This career requires a bachelor's of science (B.S.) at a minimum; however, even an associate's degree in chemistry could land you an office or assistant job at a chem lab.

Most 4-year colleges and universities have chemistry bachelor's programs, plus master's of science programs in chemistry.

If you want an executive or senior role at a top chemistry lab, start with a top-rated chemistry program. College is where you network with students and mentors, making career inroads in the process.

Bookmark these top chemistry schools:

    • California Institute of Technology (CalTech)
    • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
    • Harvard University
    • University of Chicago
    • Stanford University
    • Pomona College
    • Johns Hopkins University

California is one of the biggest destinations for ivy league chemistry educations. However, there are less expensive routes toward chem lab jobs.

Many lab professionals start at community colleges. After earning an associate's degree, students can transfer to four-year state schools to complete their chemistry degrees.

San Diego State University and Cal Poly are two notable state schools with top chemistry programs. It's also possible to earn an accredited chemistry degree online.

What to Expect from Chemistry School

If you want to pursue an entry-level chem lab job right out of college, you'll need to go to school for at least four years; however, it's possible to complete a bachelor's of science in three years. It's also not uncommon to complete a degree program in five years or more.

Students who work full time may need more time to complete a chemistry degree. Fortunately, night and weekend classes are available for these students. Students who wish to complete their degrees quicker can load up with winter and summer classes.

Chemistry classes are challenging for a lot of students.

This college major requires a solid foundation in high school math and science. Fortunately, you can take these foundational courses in community college. Junior college is an excellent, low-cost way to "feel out" different fields before committing to a degree program.

Expect to take the following introductory chemistry courses:

    • General chemistry (CHEM 101, 102, etc.)
    • Introduction to biochemistry
    • Chemical engineering
    • Organic chemistry
    • Lab chemistry
    • Principles of chemistry

Undergraduate chemistry courses are quite math-heavy, even Chem 101 courses. If you want to brush up on your math skills, enroll in undergraduate math courses like algebra, trigonometry, and pre-calculus.

Many colleges offer non-math introductory chemistry courses too. You may prefer a less math-based science major like ecology; however, even life science majors have to take statistics courses.

After taking introductory chemistry courses, undergraduate courses become progressively more challenging. John Arnold, a chemistry professor and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs at Berkeley, notes how the university prepares students for chemistry careers through hands-on experience with synthetic inorganic chemistry.

Jobs You Can Do With a Chemistry Degree

A bachelor's of science in chemistry goes a long way.

You're already qualified for entry-level lab jobs. Plus, you can supplement your degree with professional post-graduate certifications.

If you're interested in running a lab, consider a certificate in management or business, as well.

Popular chem lab careers include food technologists, nanotechnologists, and pharmacologists. You could even become a toxicologist, working in a crime lab with real detectives.

Lab careers are only one subset of chemistry jobs.

Suppose you're passionate about food. Take your passion for cooking and chemistry and pursue a job as a food safety consultant for major brands.

You could even become a world-class chef, creating chemistry-inspired dishes with molecular gastronomy!

Here's a closer look at different careers in chemistry:

How to Become a Chemistry College Lecturer

Do you love explaining chemistry principles to anyone who will listen?

You would make an excellent chemistry teacher. Teaching is also a fantastic option for retired chemists and scientists.

You don't need a master's of science to teach chemistry in high school, but you could command a higher teaching salary with a master's degree. A master's degree is the minimum degree required to teach undergraduate chemistry courses; these chemistry positions are known as "lecturers."

The fastest way to become a college chemistry lecturer is to enroll in a chemistry master's program after getting a bachelor's degree. As a graduate chemistry student, you can teach introductory chemistry to undergrads; you may be able to teach general science courses, as well.

Graduate schools work differently than undergraduate universities. In graduate school, students closely with a thesis advisor to develop a career plan; this person is typically a chemistry professor. You may end up teaching that professor's class as a lecturer.

How to Teach K-12

A chemistry degree is also an excellent foundation for aspiring k-12 science teachers. You don't have to get a chemistry master's, but you need a state teaching credential to teach k-12 classes.

Do you plan on teaching in the same state where you went to school? This question is important to ask. Teaching credential requirements vary among states.

Many states have similar requirements, making it easier to teach in different states. However, some states may not recognize your out-of-state credential or require additional credential courses.

Strict credential requirements apply to public school teachers, but private schools don't operate in the same way.

You may be able to score a k-12 science teaching job with just a chem degree and no credential. Most private schools aren't as concerned about out-of-state credentials either.

Online chemistry teaching is a growing area of interest, especially as more k-12 schools adopt online learning. These positions are great for aspiring chem teachers with a passion for technology. Familiarize yourself with virtual teaching tools to get a leg up on the competition!

Work At a Science Museum

One of the best parts about being a chemistry teacher is taking your students on trips to the science museum. Perhaps, your next chemistry dream job is at that same museum.

Most major cities have museums and science centers. Most of these jobs concern research, exhibit development, resource allocation, consulting, quality control, and community teaching.

Museums are an excellent stepping stone for chemistry students too. College students can work at science museum gift shops or get hands-on experience with lab apprenticeships.

Most science museums are publicly funded, making them nonprofit institutions. These institutions also need talented grant writers to secure federal funding, another career option for chemistry majors.

Science Marketing

There are several ways to break into the chemistry industry. Laboratories, academia, museums, and research centers are a few routes, but marketing also opens doors.

Science marketing is ideal for students who doubled majored in chemistry and marketing. You don't even need a marketing degree to break into science marketing, but it does help. You can also earn digital marketing certifications to supplement your chemistry education.

Labs, pharmacies, hospitals, and other science-related businesses have different marketing needs than consumer retail industries. These industries need marketers who understand chemistry industry regulations, analytics, and communicating scientific topics; chemistry graduates are ideal for these positions, especially those interested in sales.

Marketing analytics is a cornerstone of science marketing (and all marketing niches.) Science marketers rigorously test, monitor, and analyze marketing campaigns. Tracking results improve subsequent campaigns while understanding the mistakes of the former.

Science marketers actively promote labs to prospective clients.

For example, if you're a marketer for a cruelty-free cosmetics company, your target market would be vegan makeup entrepreneurs. You would then grow the lab's brand awareness through PPC search campaigns, social media, and informational blogging.

An impressive science marketing career could lead to more lucrative roles as a senior marketing analyst, chief marketing officer (CMO), or marketing director.

Discover a Fulfilling Career in Chemistry

What's most important is that you find a career you love. There isn't one way to enjoy a career in chemistry. Remember these tips and ideas as you craft your career path!

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