Directions to go after a Master's in Chemistry

  1. Jul 19, 2012 #1
    Hi everyone,

    I am currently having a dilemma in regards to the next step of my education. I am into my second year of my MSc in inorganic chemistry and would like some advice in regards to different paths I could go after finishing. I've seen a lot of great advice given on this forum so I thought I would take my chances.

    First of all, I am being strongly advised from both my family and my supervisors to pursue a PhD (I have been invited already by profs from different schools to go and do a PhD). My only problem is that working in the lab has become tiring and I have made the decision that I don't want to work in a lab for my career. I did my BSc honors in Chemistry and am on the verge of finishing my MSc. Currently I just don't enjoy the environment anymore and doing research isn't something I find myself looking forward to each day. My supervisor still strongly suggests that going the PhD route is still the best way as there is way to get good non-research related jobs. But I have my doubts about this and not sure if it's worth the risk. I am 100% confident I could do a PhD, but I don't think my passion is there to do research for another 4-5 years.

    I have been looking into different programs as a result which I would hope to start in September 2013. My first option is pursue a Law degree and go into patent law because I have always been interested in the field of Law, but I through my research I've found that jobs for lawyers are scarce these days (even in Canada). My second options is to pursue a degree in the business field such as a Master in Management and Professional Accounting program that is offered at U of T and potentially work in the business field in accounting or finance. I realize it is changing the course of my career, but I'm still 22 years old and I feel like I can still change my direction because I am not enjoying what I am doing right now.

    Right now I am trying to get myself organized but my head is scrambled from juggling with all these options. I was wondering if anyone has been in a similar situation or has gone the potential alternative routes I am considering. Any help would be appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2012 #2
    What classes did you take during the MS? Just curious. If you had enough classes in physical chemistry or biochemistry, you could switch to an engineering field like BME.
  4. Jul 21, 2012 #3
    Hi blu. It sounds like you should stay clear of the PhD. Doing a doctorate solely to improve your career prospects is not a sensible idea if you already know you don't want to be doing research work.

    Several people I know have been in the same position as you. Most of the people I know ended up doing finance work or some kind of consulting. A few have moved into fields like patent law or publishing (if you like writing, this could be a good option). You need to ask yourself what kind of things you are interested in? you don't want to do research, but do you want to stay in science? Have you looked at the oil or polymers sector, or companies like P&G who may have management type roles that don't require any direct research. A few years ago, we used to have careers presentations from people like this. Alternatively, you could consider something like pharmaceutical/healthcare consultancy. Patent law is an option but it can be tough to get into this career path.

    If you're happy to leave science all together then you have wider options. Do you have any programming experience/interest? I know some chemists who work for technology consultancies who seem to enjoy what they do. Finance is also a solid option. I'm not sure how it works in Canada (is this where you are), but over here in the UK, you can get a job with the big accounting companies straight out of the undergrad (this applies to all of the above that I have mentioned). You don't need to have done any special courses and if you can demonstrate your interest/intelligence, they will hire you on a training program where you would take the professional exams. Another similar option would be actuarial work...its a lot more technical than accounting and if you like mathematics it could be a good option. Here in the UK, banks are still big employers of graduate chemists.

    Getting some work experience can invaluable for breaking into these fields. Have you considered work experience opportunities or internships? These would be a good chance to get a flavour of these other fields. You need to think about what kind work you want to do. Start or non-science? Technical (programming, mathematical) or non-technical (management, consulting, sales etc)? I myself did an undergrad and PhD in chemistry and am now working in finance. It is more than possible to market your skills and break into other career fields if you are willing to put the work in. The majority of chemists in my year are no longer directly in science but have successful careers.
  5. Jul 21, 2012 #4
    Wouldn't this apply more to physical chemists? There's alot of PHD chemists (the 2/3 that didn't do physical or analytical chemistry at the graduate level) that simply don't know enough math or programming. There's a big difference in physical and mathematical skills between designing and wiring up a mass spec by yourself (physical/analytical), and using a commercial HPLC to see how many organic products you got (organic synthesis).
  6. Jul 21, 2012 #5
    For programming you would generally need a physical background and it is not usually taught to any significant level for undergraduates. However, maths skills are less clear cut and depend a lot on the structure of the course. Everyone has to do a certain amount of physical chemistry at the undergraduate stage - how much depends a lot on what courses are on a particular syllabus. There are some chemistry courses that have a very mathematical content. The average chem course would certainly have enough maths background for most financial careers (other than quant finance) or any of the other career options I suggested above. Generally, the mathematically inclined tend to stick with physical chemistry, but this is not always true. Certain areas of inorganic overlap quite a lot with physical or even solid state physics and can be mathematical. It all depends on the OP's interests.
  7. Jul 22, 2012 #6


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    To the OP,

    I concur with the others here that pursuing a PhD solely for career prospects is not a good idea, especially if you do not have a passion or interest in research, because you will then be spending 4-6 years pursuing something which you do not enjoy even at a basic level, and that can be grueling.

    That being said, combining a science and a business background (e.g. by pursuing a professional accounting degree) is a very good idea, as there is a considerable demand for graduates with the analytical skills acquired in science programs with an understanding of business. There are numerous opportunities especially in health care or pharma consulting opening for you in this regard (one of my friends has a background in biochemistry and in business, and is now currently working as a health-care consultant for Deloitte).

    Given your chemistry background, have you also thought about applying to the pharmacy program at U of T or elsewhere? I have read in various places that there is a growing demand for pharmacists in Canada, and pharmacy involves a strong understanding of chemistry, so this sounds like a good fit for you. Similarly, have you thought about applying to medical school? I'm certain that a background in inorganic chemistry will put you in good stead for a background in medicine.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2012
  8. Jul 22, 2012 #7
    whats the point of going for pharmacy/medicine after MS, instead of after BS?

    just go for engineering or switch to a highly employable field of chemistry - they're always looking for QC directors who know analytical and physical chemistry.
  9. Jul 22, 2012 #8


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    Your post above leads to me ask how easily someone with a MS in chemistry can switch to chemical engineering (or for that matter into biomedical engineering, as you suggested earlier).

    On your second point, I could be wrong about this, but I would note that at least in Canada (where both the OP and I live), there aren't that many positions for QC directors for analytical and physical chemistry; the situation may be different in the US.
  10. Jul 22, 2012 #9
    its not THAT highly employable, but its better than inorganic. BME is OK too. US schools are easier on the prereq requirements than Canadian schools in this aspect. I just think, sure you can do medicine or pharmacy but that's another 4-7 years of schooling, wasted 2 years of opportunity and you're paying 40,000 per year.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2012
  11. Jul 22, 2012 #10
    Thanks everyone for the replies fo far!

    I have taken advanced inorganic reaction mechanisms as well as polymer chemistry. In my honours I have taken quantum chemistry, physical organic chemistry and a higher level inorganic chemistry course. My MSc project is actually very biomedical based, I research polymeric drug delivery systems. I've considered BME as a possible option, but I would have to do another undergraduate degree in engineering most likely.

    I am located in Canada.

    I love science and it has always been my focus of study through my education so I really don't have a problem staying in the field, but not as a bench top chemist. I have heard in the UK that many chemists go into accounting/finance fields, but I don't see it here much in Canada (at least with people I know), but it's certainly something I am considering.

    I feel like I have narrowed down my options to a either a accounting/finance route or law school, so a more non-technical approach. My only scare with becoming a lawyer is the field of law is supersaturated at the moment and finding a job is difficult. Not sure if it is the same with patent law.

    If you don't mind me asking, why did you decide to take a job in finance after obtaining your PhD? Was it something you planned or decided to move away from research after doing a PhD?

    Pharmacy is something I was considering after my undergraduate degree, but the actual job of being a pharmacist doesn't appeal to me much. A lot of people in my graduating class applied to pharmacy, and are currently attending pharmacy school. Medical school is something I've also considered but I don't know if I would get in with certainty. And as mentioned it would be another 7 years of school or so.
  12. Jul 24, 2012 #11
    BME is highly interdisciplinary. I know that my alma mater actively recruits non-BMEs for the BME graduate program, even from straight biochemistry. If Canadian schools don't let you, you could think about US schools.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2012
  13. Jul 25, 2012 #12
    Its definitely not something I had planned. If 10 years ago someone had told me I would end up working in finance, "no way" would probably have been my response. I always saw myself working in science. I never wanted to be in academia, so I was more inclined to go for an industry position. However I had an interest in finance and the idea of understanding stock prices etc. With 2008, this kind of stuff was prominent in the news and my interest grew.

    I had seen some of my friends go and work for banks and in the finance sector (some with completely irrelevant degrees), so I knew it was an option. In the UK, there are not many science jobs going. (And I don't mean just in Chemistry - it can be just as tough for engineers and physicists.) In the last couple of years, many big pharma labs have closed down so traditional jobs for chemists have just vanished.

    You can still get employment as a researcher (a few of my friends who chose this path are currently employed so its not all bad news), but salary and prospects for career advancement are less good. My prospects in finance seemed a lot better - higher salaries, better job stability, and faster career progression. I would get paid more to be a complete novice in finance than I would for being an expert in science. The work I do now is also pretty interesting and ultimately that is why I moved fields. And I think that's very important when you consider your options - you should have an interest in the career that you pick otherwise the whole thing will end up a fruitless exercise.
  14. Aug 10, 2012 #13
    Please could you tell me before moving in finance sector, what additional degree you have acquired.

    Guys please help me too as I am too confused to make decision - :confused:

    Here is my professional profile -

    I Have M.Sc. Chemistry degree, Have 3 yrs R&D exp. from IIT Roorkee & IIP Dehradun, both are premium, A class institutes of India. And 6 yr. industrial exp. in thermal power plant as Govt' officer (Chemist)

    Now the question is, as you could see from my profile I have a good professional carrier, but I am not satisfied it at all, Actually now I really don't like my field & want to move in Non science or technical field too (Finance seems me a good option).
    But the problem is, there is already too many MBA degree holder in my country "India", many of them are " BE + MBA ". So to make a place among them, is only MBA will be sufficient for me?

    And if MBA is good option then plz tell me in which stream it would be beneficial for my carrier's growth looking to my past working experience - MBA in IT/ Health care / Finance / General management or in any other field.

    I would like to join some big companies as a consultant.

    Please guys help me as I am very confused but sure about two things -

    1. I want to change my field from Science to Non science or technical &
    2. I want to get benefit of all of mine professional experience in my future job whatever it would be.

    waiting for positive & constructive reply :smile:
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2012
  15. Aug 11, 2012 #14
    I don't have any finance specific degree. Just an undergraduate and PhD. But this is in the UK. It is common here for students to study science/maths/engineering degrees and then switch into finance. In fact, some of the biggest employers in the UK for STEM graduates are consultancies, banks and financial services. Outside of the UK and US (not sure about Canada), it is actually quite unusual for this kind of switch to happen. Europeans in my research group were very surprised to see how easy it was in the UK to leave science. The UK's economy is very service based and we have hardly any manufacturing so all the jobs are for accountants/bankers/consultants etc. This is not so true in India and it may be harder to get a job.

    What makes you think you will enjoy finance?

    Yes...this will be your biggest problem. Also, all your experience in industry will be essentially useless (at least in the direct sense for "usefulness"). Science is very different to finance and the fact that you are an experienced chemist is of no use to, say, a financial consultancy. If you do manage to get a job, it will likely be as an entry level so don't expect the moving process to be easy. For me, the move to finance took a big adjustment.

    The most beneficial for you would be the one you are most interested in. I don't have a sense for what the demands for these different positions are in India. But I do know that you can't just go into the biggest expanding area and expect this will be enough to boost you career. India's service sector is relatively small and there are many many MBA-types coming out of university so it is a very competitive sector.
  16. Aug 31, 2012 #15
    Wow this is like looking into the past at my self. I've got a MS in inorganic and a bit over three years of work after finished grad school. I was pretty much asking the same questions.
    Bottom line is I'd stay far away from chemistry. I'm working on saving money right now so that I can quit my job and go back to grad school for engineering.
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