Studying chemistry is a great career choice. Many industries, especially in the manufacturing and energy sectors, are looking for Chemistry graduates and the current climate change crisis has only reinforced the demand for qualified chemist in all fields.
The minimum prerequisite to starting a career in the chemistry industry will be a Bachelor of Science degree which takes three years to complete in the UK. Most major universities offer such a qualification.
As for most subjects, Oxford and Cambridge have been ranking at the top of the list of Universities degree programs but the department of chemistry of the University of Durham, the Imperial College of London and St. Andrews have been ranking very closely behind according to The Complete University Guide website.
So let's take a look at a few possible professions you can access with a chemistry degree.
What do you learn in a chemistry course?
The admission process can be somehow daunting for students but if you made it through it means that all the exam preparation and the extra tuition paid.
During your general chemistry education, your curriculum will likely start by studying the core modules setting out basics, such as the difference between organic and inorganic chemistry, the physical forces and bonds that rules all existing matter, and how scientists can prognosticate an element’s response based on its atomic constitution.
As a chemistry undergraduate, you will have to grasp concepts such as quantum mechanics which explains the behaviour of molecules across the universe. Some coursework will also include background information on the history and philosophy of science.
Chemistry is a highly practical degree, with a significant amount of time spent in laboratories, carrying out meticulously planned experiments using complicated techniques.
The more your progress through your chemistry studies the more likely you will be to perform open-ended experiment whereby you will have to use different laboratory methods and techniques to solve chemistry problems your teachers will have asked you.
To do this, students will have to master a wide range of analytical techniques ranging from spectroscopy (which consists of analysing the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation, most often light) to chromatography (which consists of separating chemical compounds depending on their physical proprieties).
As you move forward in your studies, you might have to choose in more specialised options such as chemical engineering, pharmacology, nanotechnology or electrochemistry.
Depending on your interests and the prospective career you're looking for, you may also apply to follow elective coursework or focus on a more specialised discipline such as molecular biochemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, biomedical engineering or environmental chemistry.
Any undergraduate degree will require the completion of an internship which may include a research project lasting for a semester or more.
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Protect The Planet And Become An Environmentalist
As an environmental chemist, your main job will be to watch what is in the air, water, and soil to study how chemicals end up in our environment, what effect this contamination may have and how human activities affect the planet.
You will have to monitor the source and scope of air, soil or water pollution and contamination especially chemical compounds that may pose a risk for human health. Your role will also include to encourage and improve sustainability, conservation and protection by creating or following environmental friendly initiative.
As most chemist job, environmentalists are very hands-on and your role will most likely involve on the ground sample taking and analytical testings especially in case of a pollution crisis such as an oil spill or aquifer contamination.
However, you will also have to study and keep up to date with health and safety regulations and local or national government laws. More importantly, environmental chemists have to work at the intersections between many different sciences including biology, geology, ecology, sedimentology, mineralogy, genetics, soil and water chemistry, hydrology, toxicology, mathematics and engineering.
Most environmental chemist and technicians work for national or local governments or in private consulting firms. While working in the public sector, ecological chemists earn an average of £27,000, but this can quickly go over £40,000 when considering the private sector.
What if sure is that the global warming crisis has created a massive demand for chemist specialising in environmental matters which will undoubtedly reflect on their salary in the years to come.
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Solve Crimes And Save Lives, Become A Toxicologist
The line between forensic chemistry and toxicology is very thin, and the qualifications required for either position are very similar.
As a forensic chemist, you will analyse physical evidence and samples provided by law enforcement agencies to solve crimes. This profession has been glamorised by series such as CSI, Dexter or Bones, making forensics a trendy field to study, thus increasing the competition to get in specific courses or to find a job once you graduated.
On the other hand, toxicologists will not be running out of work anytime soon. As a toxicologist, your main job will be to study the safety and biological effects of drugs, chemicals, agents, and other substances on living organisms. Once again, this field is interdisciplinary and will require that you are comfortable with other science such as biology, biochemistry or organic chemistry.
It is not as glamorous as criminal forensics, but it helps save lives. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is the main governmental body that regulates the use of new chemicals in the UK and as a toxicologist, you will have to make sure to be up to date with their latest regulation.
Having a cool job is only one of the reason to study chemistry.
Once again, the public sector offers less attractive salaries than private industries and the wage of toxicologists working in analytical toxicology for the NHS start at £28,050. Upon graduation, starting salaries for toxicologists range from around £20,000 to £30,000 depending on the chemical industry you work in but the salary for highly qualified toxicologists can rise to £75,000 and beyond.
At The Crossroads Between Chemistry and Biology: Biotechnology
If you are interested in both biology and chemistry you will not have to compromise, just specialise in Biotechnology.
This field comprises the study and use of living organisms or cells to make useful products. Even though the term biotech may sound fancy and futuristic humankind has been using biotech processes for thousands of years. Traces of beer making were found to date more than 10,000 years ago. Wine and cheese making were also precursors of today's biotech industry.
It is only relatively recently that we realised what was at play behind some of the favourite food and drinks around the world and over time, as alchemy became chemistry, biotechnology emerged as a field of its own.
Today the biotech industry allows the design and synthesis of new drugs, improve nutrition, advance agriculture and protect the environment. One of the earliest breakthroughs of biotechnology was the industrial production of insulin, necessary to treat millions of diabetic people.
Right after you graduate, you can expect an average salary falling between £16,000 and £24,000. After a few years of experience, a qualified biotechnologist can expect to earn between £25,000 to £50,000 a year. With more than a decade of experience, you will see your salary rise as high as £60,000 a year but this usually come with extra managerial responsibilities.
Become A Chemical Engineer
The role of a chemical engineer is to find ways to translate chemical reactions naturally occurring in nature or developed in labs, into practical applications for the productions of chemicals or compounds in large-scale industries.
Chemical engineer regularly works in improving these processes, either by making them more cost or energy efficient or by making them less damaging to the environment. In recent years, biology and especially biotechnologies have played a growing role in chemical engineering, but the main foundations of the field remain chemistry, maths and physics.
Many different sectors work with chemical engineers, from the aerospace and automotive to environmental and medical companies. With the rising cost of fossil fuels and the global warming that has been observed in the last decades, chemical engineers have had a growing role in improving the sustainability of very polluting industries such as the fashion or automobile manufacturers.
Some challenges facing chemical engineers in the coming years include reducing the amount of atmospheric CO2 to temper the effects of human activities and their role in warming up the planet. It will also involve finding new, non-polluting and renewable fuels.
Another major problem that we are facing is the accumulation of decades of non-recycled plastics, polluting our oceans, making its way into our food and ultimately harming us. Chemical engineers, who have been the source of the plastic boom in following WWII, will have to find new ways to recycle and reuse plastics, transforming those into fabrics, construction materials or creating plastic-eating bacteria are some of the innovations that could save our planet.
Chemical engineers come from different backgrounds, usually having a biochemistry degree.
With an average salary for a UK chemical engineer of £55,000 rising to £72,000 for a Chartered Chemical Engineer, this profession is amongst the best-paid chemistry job you can land once you've successfully graduated.
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What To Do After A Bachelor Degree In Chemistry?
If you got your Bachelor degree, it does not necessarily mean that your studies are over. On the contrary, many chemistry graduates decide to pursue further studies and start a master degree often followed by a doctorate science degree, it all depends on your career goals.
Choosing to increase their knowledge in one of the branches studied during their degree (organic, inorganic, physical or analytical chemistry) often means that they will dedicate their career to research or academia.
But chemistry includes many more fields especially in applied chemistry areas such as physical chemistry, computational biochemistry, nanotechnology, forensic examination or biomolecular chemistry. Some employers may also value such specialised qualification and align your remuneration accordingly.
Whatever chemistry science courses you pick for your undergraduate majors and postgraduate program of study, once you degree achieved, you will be able to choose whatever career path you wish, from advising multination chemical companies on how to protect the environment to pursuing independent research or heading a university department.