Hollywood would have you believe that chemists sit in their labs in their white coats amid a collection of bubbling and fuming beakers, flasks and retorts, producing new compounds. Is this what you should expect of your career as a chemist?
It can be. Many chemists are, by choice, heavily involved in the synthesis of new materials. But even synthetic chemists spend much of their time outside the lab planning their experiments, learning what other chemists have done (and are doing), and even modeling their proposed reactions on the computer. However, the career opportunities for a chemist are far more varied than is commonly perceived.
For instance, many chemists work mostly as molecular detectives. Some environmental chemists work to determine what substances are present in an environmental sample and how they got there. In toxicological studies, chemists work with medical personnel to answer similar questions about samples taken from the human body. Even in more ordinary industries, chemists working in quality control make constant analyses of products to determine whether a batch meets specifications and what went wrong in the plant if that batch failed the tests.
Some chemists never go into the laboratory at all. In the last twenty years, a whole new branch of chemistry call computational chemistry has been developed to analyze potential new products using modeling software. In drug companies especially, such chemists winnow down a large number of possible molecules and synthetic pathways to just a few and predict the properties of a new drug without ever synthesizing it in the laboratory. Only then are synthetic chemists assigned to explore the most promising approaches in the laboratory.
Ambitious employees with a solid chemistry background are highly valued in industry--and not just by chemical companies. Some who start “at the bench” soon move into other areas of the company, like marketing and management. Some will even choose to start their careers closer to the customer. Major chemical and drug companies seek out bachelor chemists for their sales teams. Upper management of all technologically oriented companies are filled with chemists and other scientists who have the proper backgrounds to understand the business at all levels.
The chemistry degree is an excellent starting point for other careers as well. It is one of the preferred majors for admission to medical, dental or similar professional schools. Many chemists (including all your professors) choose to pursue additional training at the graduate level. However, chemistry students have many other options than chemistry at the graduate level. A good chemistry major will be accepted for graduate work in materials science, in toxicology, in molecular biology and in many chemical engineering programs. Chemists often pursue graduate degrees in business as well.
A substantial number of chemistry majors choose to enroll in law school after graduation. Patent law, environmental law and occupational health and safety law all require the background that only a technical degree like chemistry can provide. Attorneys practicing corporate law for technologically sophisticated companies have a distinct advantage if they also have a suitable technological background.
Your degree is chemistry is only the starting point for your career. It opens more windows and provides more opportunities than most people would think. The chemistry programs at Lawrence Tech are designed with the flexibility you need to prepare yourself for any of these and other careers.