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A Future with Chemistry

  1. Feb 6, 2012 #1
    Hello. I've been reading this forum for a couple of days and noticed that it is alot of people with Ph.D degree in different areas so I thought this was the perfect place to ask for such a thing.

    I am a 17 year old student and I find chemistry (Especially theoretical) very interesting. I have planned for a future where either I focus on a chemistry degree (Master's degree or Ph.D) or something that involves chemistry of some sort.

    So my question to you well educated is: When/if I take a Ph.D in chemistry, what line of work can I end up with? Is it freelancing where I come up with theoretical work or a hypothesis and then make an application and hope to get money for my research and then base my life incoming on research? Or is it any special areas like in industry, labs and such where they hire people for this such of work? (If so which types)

    Also: If I take a Ph.D in chemistry. What lines within' can I pick? (Such as Biochemistry, Lab chemistry etc.)

    Thank you for your replies in advance :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 7, 2012 #2
    Many chemists are having an awful time these days finding employment. The profession is in dire straights. If you aren't going to do academia, then you will be very, very hard pressed to find a job doing theoretical chemistry. Hardly any companies hire theoretical chemists, and when they do, it is to do computational work. There are many, many PhDs out there with chemistry degrees that are having awful careers because, quite simply, there's too much saturation. There simply aren't enough academic positions to go around for how many PhDs we've pumped out. Couple that with the contraction and off shoring of a lot of work chemists do, and this is where we are today. Some fields of chemistry tend to do better than others, such as analytical, but you're probably much, much better off doing chemical engineering related to something like petroleum, polymers, or bioengineering sources of green energy.

    No one is going to pay for your ideas without data, and you are going to find it very difficult to produce data unless you have the proper resources like what is contained in a university or company. Some instruments can cost over $1 million dollars.
  4. Feb 7, 2012 #3
    Ah, ok thank you very much! :) I've been looking into very many different fields, but not yet sure which one to enter on. Seeing this I might look more into how the situation is around in the world for a chemitry degrees or use it as a tool in other things (Such as energy and envirorment).
  5. Feb 7, 2012 #4
    Sorry eagerengineer, I can't answer your question but I'm a chem major too and all this talk about the horrible job market is making me question if I should change majors.

    If people who have a Ph.D in chem are having a hard time finding jobs, does that mean that there is no hope for the people who only have a bachelors? I'm a chem student too and I'm scared, I was only planning on getting my bachelors degree but if people won't hire Ph.Ds then why would they hire a someone with a BSc?

    Is biochemistry a better option job-market wise? I know it is important to major in a field you like instead of a field that pays well, but what it comes down to is making MONEY, at least enough to afford the necessities of survival.
    I would rather work in a field that I wasn't quite as interested in that pays DECENT money, than to be an unemployed worker in a field that I am highly interested in and making NO money.
  6. Feb 7, 2012 #5
    As far as I know I've heard that the reason it is hard for a Ph.D graduate to get a job is because those jobs who require education such as Bachlor degree will be too easy. Those who are hireing then will think that it is a too easy job compared to what he/she planned for so they will most likely be bored. And if a person is bored with his job it is hard to be good at work. This is basicly being overqulified for a job and could reduce the chances of getting hired.
  7. Feb 7, 2012 #6

    Biochemistry and organic are two areas of chemistry you really want to stay away from. There's simply too many scientists in those fields compared to the positions available. Many people hate doing analytical chemistry, but maybe that's why analytical chemists seem to fare a bit better.

    People do hire BS chemists, but many times the jobs are temp work with low pay, no retirement benefits, and little or no health care. Go ahead and look all over for chemistry jobs for BS holders and see how many of those jobs are contract positions. Companies these days realize that they can save tons of money by not having to pay for health care and retirement benefits of their workers so they hire swaths of perma-temps to do the same jobs. Also, many of the jobs for BS chemistry degree holders that you will find involve QC work, which really just means you'll be doing the most mundane and boring work imaginable, such as making standard solutions and prep samples, making buffers, and running hplc all day. Do yourself a favor, try to hold out as long as possible to find a real job, which may not even be related at all to chemistry. Don't get sucked into the never ending cycle of temp job after temp job, after temp job. The next thing you know you'll be almost 30 years old without health care and still be making less than $45k dollars after 8 years experience.
  8. Apr 19, 2012 #7
    If someone was doing materials science in a physical chemistry setting, would it be a crippling ball and chains on their career if their degree said "PhD Chemistry" instead of "PhD Materials Science" or "PhD Physics"? I'm personally already in a MS Physics program, just curious.
  9. Apr 19, 2012 #8


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    gravenewworld, besides chemical engineering, what other fields would you suggest for those in high school today with an aptitude for or interest in science and technology?
  10. Apr 19, 2012 #9
    Some of this has been answered in other threads if you search, but here's my opinion as someone who graduated with a BS in Chem.

    If you only have a BS it is very likely that your job will involve being the "hands" in the lab. You will run instruments but not design experiments. You generally won't be involved in any significant decision making and it can be difficult to advance your career beyond the lab. If you plan on stopping at a BS I would avoid Chemistry. Even with a PhD, you could be stuck in a lab running an instrument all day every day.

    The benefit of a Chemistry degree is that it provides a good base to build on. If you are interested in advanced or professional degrees (PhD, MD, JD, etc) it can be a plus. If you are interested in working in allied fields related to public health or the environment it can be useful too.

    However, I'd encourage you to look into engineering fields that have a significant chemistry component instead. If you want a PhD, you are really choosing a lifestyle more than a job or career. Make sure it leads to the kind of life you want.
  11. Apr 19, 2012 #10


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    Thanks for your reply on this thread. However, I want to clarify that the question I posed was not for myself (I'm already gainfully employed as a statistician), but really a general question aimed for high school students with an aptitude for and interest in science (specifically chemistry, as per this thread).
  12. Apr 19, 2012 #11


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    I'd take a look at chemical engineering, if I were you. The prospects in that field are much better than straight chemistry.
  13. Apr 19, 2012 #12


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    Good advice :smile:.
  14. Apr 19, 2012 #13
    With Chemical engineering you get to play with very large quantities of less than ideal reagents. It is a different challenge than theoretical chemistry. It is more of a challenge to see how much performance you can get refining this or making that.

    The task can often be somewhat mundane. Mixing gasoline blends isn't exactly the flashy kind of things that people think of when they go to school, but it is actually quite fun, and it is meaningful work that pays well.

    While you're at it, consider control systems engineering courses as well. Designing big stuff like this is no laughing matter. People's lives and livelihoods depend on the safe and productive operation of the process. Like piloting ships and aircraft, it is often excruciatingly dull work, punctuated by moments of sheer adrenaline. Some people like it...
  15. Apr 19, 2012 #14
  16. Apr 20, 2012 #15
    Related to the earlier posts, you may also want to look into what's known (usually) as process development chemistry. It's basically a meeting ground for chemists and chemical engineers. So, the people in the basic discovery lab have managed to make something potentially profitable at the milligram/gram scale - you need to make enough for more extensive studies at the kilogram scale, and then - if it works and you can sell it - at the metric tonne scale. In addition to actually synthesizing it, you will need to adapt and modify the protocols for purifying it on time, to specifications, and ideally automating as much of it as possible. While it might not be as glamorous, it's perhaps even more critical. No good having a great idea languish since it takes forever to prepare a tiny amount that never lasts.
  17. Apr 21, 2012 #16
    that seems more of the "organic synthesis" type chemist. however from what i've read, organic chemistry is not only dangerous to one's health but also a dead-end career due to the demise of the pharmaceutical industry.

    i also don't see too many people talk about physical chemistry (things like molecular modeling, materials characterization, interfaces and colloids, polymer science, ultrafast laser spectroscopy, NMR). is that because it overlaps too much with physics and thus is covered in "physics" rather than "chemistry"?
  18. Apr 22, 2012 #17
    As I noted, process development is one of the places where chemistry and chemical engineering shake hands - one can come to the field via the "safer" route of ChemE. This type of position exists also in the agricultural chemicals and fine chemicals industries, or any place where there is a need to go from small-scale lab chemistry to test-reactor/pilot plant production, not just pharmaceuticals/biotech.

    My impression is that computational chemistry is really only supported by a few places outside academia (national labs, scientific software companies) in any significant numbers, with small niches elsewhere. A lot of p.chem. in general can be folded into analytical chemistry. Did your Ph.D. focusing on NMR? Go run an NMR facility somewhere, for instance.
  19. Apr 22, 2012 #18
    Don't believe the first opinion you read --even mine. Organic chemistry as a field is not necessarily dangerous to one's health. Furthermore, it has great depth besides just pharma. It has utility in foods, agriculture, waste-water processing, adhesives, plastics, paper, and so many more fields. There are many potential possibilities.

    The future is actually quite bright for most Chem Engineering graduates...
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