So you've graduated from college with your degree in Chemistry -- the study of matter -- which is, well... basically everything.
After all of the hours you've sacrificed finishing lab reports, pouring over tedious texts, knocking out undergraduate research and generally hating your life you emerge from that academic daze.
You're left with one big question: now that you've got a degree in the study of matter, how can you employ it in your career in a way that matters?
Well, that's where we come in. We literally created a map, just for Chemistry Majors such as yourself, to navigate your way through the choppy waters of recent graduation.
Feel free to focus on the map alone -- it's pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves. But for those of you who prefer step by step navigation on your path, keep reading. We'll give you the rundown on:
- What skills you'll need
- How to begin
- What jobs you can expect to find
- Some quick tips for the job search
- Options for furthering your education
- External resources
First thing's first: what skills you'll need to get started.
1. Skills for Chemistry Majors
While the education gained in the classroom is without a doubt beneficial, you've learned more from your chemistry degree than balancing chemical equations.
A chemistry degree is well-rounded and cultivates a number of different skills and traits that can be applied to environments outside the laboratory and classroom -- beyond personal development and simply learning how to learn, employers will want to see how you can reflect, realize, and grow.
Applying these skills to real world learning opportunities yields a more robust and balanced career. Here are some of the common skills that you should talk up when trying to get a job with your Chemistry degree.
Effective communication. Written communication skills is increasingly essential to functioning effectively as chemists, or in any field. Whether you want to make a go of it in a lab or elsewhere, you'll need to be able to present proposals and findings to colleagues -- and potential funding sources.
Observational skills and attention to detail. Your research experience taught you to keep a complete, accurate record of your work, including the conditions under which the experiment was carried out, the procedures you followed, and the results you obtained.
Critical thinking and analysis. You've learned to draw conclusions from experimental results through sound reasoning and judgment.
You've had to test research findings and theories even though they were trusted, looking for consistencies and inconsistencies in logic. You scoured data for alternative interpretations and subtle biases that may have led to erroneous conclusions.
2. Where to Begin Your Career After Getting a Chemistry Degree
Chemistry is a broad subject with equally diverse specifications -- physical, analytical, biochemical, organic and inorganic. And then the branches that include materials chemistry, theoretical chemistry, macromolecular (polymer) chemistry, nuclear chemistry, metallurgy, forensic chemistry, medicinal chemistry and more.
And what's more, you can choose to carry out research at universities, private laboratories, or for the government.
That's a lot to figure out even if you already know you want to work as a chemist, but we've got some ideas for narrowing it all down -- even if you want to branch out.
Land yourself a Chemistry internship
An internship will provide you with an understanding of the skills that a career in chemistry requires, not just what your university demanded -- and with all of the options you have available, the opportunity to learn what it is that you don't want to do in your career is invaluable.
Here are some common types of internships for Chemistry Majors to help you make an informed decision about your career path:
Skillfully completing an internship with a governmental agency, research company, or university is a strong pathway to securing employment with them upon graduation -- but also, you'll be able to discern the areas where you need to build your skillset.
And wouldn't it be simply magical to land an internship with Disney? But maybe a more real-world application would be an industrial chemistry internship.
Use an internship as an opportunity to take the lead on your competition
Your professors mean well, but academia is drastically different from real world applications.
For example, with the rise of genomics and proteomics, chemistry is evolving from a mainly experimental science performed at the bench to one in which large databases of information and computer models play a significant role.
Before you settle on an internship, though, you'll want to make sure it's the right fit for you as far as your career trajectory. But also, ask yourself these practical questions:
- Will this internship grow me as a person or is it just checking off a box?
- Where (in the state/the country/the world) do you want to work?
- What type of organization do you want to work for -- government, university, private?
- Would you take an unpaid internship in exchange for experience, references, networking, and further education?
- Is relocation an option?
An easy place to start is within your university -- just reach out to your department head or search the website. Another option is through the government's STEM internship program.
3. Available Jobs
And now, the step you've probably been waiting for: getting a job.
The first step is deciding whether or not you want to stick to chemistry at all -- it's a tough job market out there, as chemistry is considered a knowledge-based degree and not skill-based.
The next step is deciding whether you're interested in a research setting or not. You've got options.
Chemistry is applicable to careers in healthcare, environmental management and conservation, or education. These types of professions include veterinarians, doctors, teachers, or even park rangers.
With our map, you can click the Job Titles and learn more specific information for each position (what their responsibilities are, how much they get paid, etc.) But here, we wanted to call out some of the most common jobs for recent chemistry major grads.
Just like you.
Here are some common entry-level jobs for recent grads like you:
Why are there so many Laboratory Technicians?
A lot of chemistry students choose the major because it coincides with healthcare professional school requirements.
And since it typically takes more than one round of applications to get accepted, this is a popular job for building up their applications. As a medical lab tech, you'll collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.
Both technicians and technologists perform tests and procedures that physicians and surgeons or other healthcare personnel order. However, technologists -- which require more education -- perform more complex tests and laboratory procedures than technicians do.
For example, technologists may prepare specimens and perform detailed manual tests, whereas technicians perform routine tests that may be more automated. Medical laboratory technicians usually work under the general supervision of medical laboratory technologists or laboratory managers.
What about that cold hard cash, though?
Pharma jobs are on a relative boom, with the expiration of a lot of name-brand drugs expiring. You can get an entry-level job with just a BS, typically as research assistants or research technicians.
Scientists, as well as medical professionals, can also focus on related administrative roles, including data entry, survey interviews and as research associates. Decide what your key motivators are. It your focus salary, stability or personal fulfillment?
4. Some Quick Job Search Tips for Chemistry Majors
Get some serious lab experience. The most important thing a chemistry major can do is gain exposure in the lab. Showing a potential employer that you've worked in, and are familiar with lab equipment -- which will be your chief tool -- can greatly increase your chances of landing a job.
An internship will help you here, but any type of experience you can get with lab procedures, LIMS, and report writing is critical.
Check out the NSF REU Sites search tool for research experience opportunities.
Familiarize yourself with computers... beyond Office
We're moving beyond the bench in chemistry, and having some familiarity with UNIX, SQL, and enough programming to understand your standard LIMS is going to be essential.
Bioinformatics, biotechnology and other data-based fields are booming with career opportunities. People working in these field must have a solid background in chemistry, math and computer science with an emphasis on quantitative reasoning -- so go get some.
Two of the biggest umbrellas being agriculture and the environment, which gives you the opportunity to do "wet bench" research, meaning researchers do much of the at-the-lab-bench research work. Those jobs are generally available to scientists with an undergraduate degree, with many companies providing career ladders to help with advancement.
Get someone with experience to read your resume
Even if you don't have any direct work experience, you need to be able to communicate your capabilities and general knowledge of chemical principles.
Because many entry level job applicants only have internships, retail jobs, or summer gigs, they haven't had any "big achievements" to mention.
You will stand out tremendously if you take initiative at these jobs in small ways and add it to your resume.
Did you lead any other student researchers? Did you publish any of your research? Make your work work for you.
Someone with experience will help think of ways to make it look like you got a lot out of the experiences. At the very least, they can make sure you format your resume appropriately.
5. Continuing Education and Certifications
You'll want to ensure that you stand out, particularly if you're just entering the job market. Some letters after your name go a long way.
And they're practically mandatory if you want to do research.
Pursuing an advanced degree
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you need a Ph.D. to participate in those ultra competitive independent research projects.
For those seeking a clinical or scientific research position, an advanced degree is crucial -- but many employers of these top-notch positions also want prior experience, whether through an internship, summer research position or volunteer work.
A master's degree is usually enough for some jobs in applied research and product development. In their words, a bachelor's degree is "adequate for some non-research jobs." The basic story here is to not stop working and hustling, even if you're pursuing an advanced degree.
Medical Technologist certification
If lab jobs aren't falling into your lap and you're interested in healthcare -- as many of you bio majors are would-be doctors -- consider becoming a medical technologist.
The certification can take another year if you don't have the prerequisites -- which are similar to pre-med's -- but it places you in a medical lab setting, typically in a hospital. The BLS predicts double-digit job growth for technologists, so this is a safe bet for your career.
6. External Resources
If you're still not sure what to do with your degree or could use some help making yourself even more competitive, here are some external sites to help you with your decision:
American Chemical Society
Their mission statement is "to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people"... they also serve as a solid place to look for ways to advance your studies and career.
NSF REU Sites
If your school wasn't helpful in placing you with some research opportunities, try the government's site.
Enter "chemistry" into the search bar and you can get a sense of what kind of government jobs are available to chemistry majors. Find a job title you like and come back here to learn more about it.
Bureau Of Labor Statistics
The BLS offers detailed data on pay, location, and availability of different kinds of jobs across the country.
In fact, we draw a lot of our research on the best places for jobs from the information provided on the site.
And if this all seems like a lot - don't worry - the hard part (getting your degree!) is already over.