Two students mixing chemicals, one blue and one clear, in wide beakers

Why a Chemistry Degree?

In general, chemistry is a very practical field which paves the way for entry in many professions. Students who graduate in chemistry can expect to be employed in the field of chemistry if they choose to do so; unemployment rates in chemistry have typically been below 2% for many years.

Salaries depend on degree earned and level of experience. Within two to four years after graduating with a BS or BA degree, the median chemist's salary is $42,000, with the lowest and highest 10% earning $31,000 and $53,000 respectively. At the other extreme, within 25-30 years of obtaining a PhD, the median chemist's salary is $104,000, with the lowest and highest 10% earning $67,000 and $170,000 respectively. While chemists with different degrees may work on the same projects together, a higher degree (PhD vs. MS vs. BA) allows greater autonomy & responsibility.

Employment Examples

Below are descriptions of several different academic focus areas of chemistry taught within our department and some employment scenario examples.

  • Emphasis is on determining chemical composition of samples. Examples:

    • Environmental monitoring (e.g. air and water quality; could be with private companies or state and federal agencies such as EPA)
    • Forensic analysis for law enforcement, archeology, art restoration
    • Remote analysis using spectroscopy (e.g. astronomy, NASA)
    • Sample analysis for food industry, agribusiness and manufacturing firms (e.g. textiles, cosmetics and fragrances, paints, pharmaceuticals, packaging, plastics, glass, electronics and machinery)
    • Process monitoring in raw materials industries (e.g. mining, petroleum, pulp and paper)
    • Research and development focuses on developing new methods and new instrumentation to solve difficult analytical problems (e.g. how can you better detect the presence of a specific metal ion in a solution? How can you efficiently separate pieces of DNA and analyze them?)
  • Emphasis is on synthesis, reactivity and analysis of carbon-based molecules. Examples:

    • Organic synthesis for manufacturing firms (e.g most commonly pharmaceutical companies, but also dyes, additives and chemical feedstocks for other manufacturing industries)
    • Synthetic polymer chemistry (for plastics, textiles, and businesses that need these materials)
    • Developing new uses for raw materials industries and useful applications for organic molecules (e.g. agribusiness, petroleum, coal, pulp and paper, biotechnology)
    • Research and development focuses on identifying and synthesizing new compounds; developing new reactions and determining how they occur (e.g. can you make a single enantiomer of a chiral drug? Can you develop new macromolecules that change the wavelength of light?)
  • Emphasis is on major biomolecules (e.g. proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates) and how their biological function is determined and regulated. Examples:

    • Using knowledge of the molecular basis of life to develop new biotechnologies (such as drugs, catalysts or other chemicals useful in medicine, agriculture, etc)
    • Using analytical skills in forensic work (law enforcement agencies)
    • Research and development focuses on understanding organisms at a cellular or molecular level - the regulation and mechanism of biological processes (e.g. what are the molecular bases for memory, learning, catalysis and regulation of cell growth? How does the body repair DNA when it is damaged?)
  • Emphasis is on synthesis, reactivity and analysis of materials in which elements other than carbon play the key roles. Examples:

    • Synthesis and testing of solid state materials and ceramics (e.g semiconductors and superconductors for electronics industries; photovoltaics for solar energy; new materials for manufacturers of engines, pottery, cookingware, space shuttles)
    • Developing new catalysts for use in other industries (e.g. petroleum, coal, pharmaceuticals, polymers, agribusiness, fine chemicals)
    • Research & development focuses on understanding the role of metal atoms in different contexts (e.g. how does the copper atom in a human enzyme help transform precursor molecules into hormones? what is it about lanthanum copper oxides that makes them superconductors?)
  • Emphasis is on the mathematical modeling required to understand the underlying physical reasons for chemical phenomena. Examples:

    • Determining properties of materials (for plastics, textiles, other businesses that need these materials)
    • Computational modeling of molecules and phases (e.g.pharmaceuticals, petroleum companies, environmental agencies)
    • Studying the dynamics of chemical processes - how reactants are converted into products (atmospheric chemistry, industrial chemistry, and catalysis)
    • Surface characterization of materials (e.g. manufacturing, metallurgy: investigating the difference at the molecular level between superglue and Post-it adhesive, or between the surface of one metal sample and another)
    • Research and development focuses on developing new methods and applications for the calculation or measurement of physical properties and phenomena (e.g. how can a laser be used to follow the movement of atoms during the course of a reaction? What is happening on the surface of a metal catalyst during a reaction?)

Fields pursued by our graduates

  • Because of the underlying molecular basis of disease, chemistry and biochemistry provide excellent preparation for medicine; these majors have a high rate of acceptance to medical schools.

  • Many chemists go on to law school where they are sought after for patent law, or for their ability to understand occupational health and safety requirements.

  • A strong undergraduate education in chemistry is invaluable to pursuing a bachelor's or higher degree in engineering.

  • A chemistry degree followed by an MBA, provides excellent training for management-level positions in a wide array of industries.

  • Due to their training in analytical and synthetic chemistry many graduates enter the pharmaceutical industry.

  • College-level chemistry teaching usually requires a Ph.D. in some specialization of chemistry; high school-level chemistry or science teaching requires a bachelor's degree with a MS in education.

  • Technical writers are often needed by industries and law firms, partly to deal with patents. There are also smaller numbers of positions in the news media.

  • Chemists form an important component of interdisciplinary teams aimed at advancing our understanding of the natural sciences. Chemists impact almost every aspect of modern life, playing a variety of roles from developing better materials for automobiles to designing new drugs to cure life-threatening diseases.