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Thinking of quitting chemistry to go to school for engineering

  1. Sep 14, 2011 #1
    I'm looking for a bit of career guidance from you guys. I'm thinking about quitting my job and going back to school for some type of engineering.

    I finished a BS in chem in 2007 with a minor in math (through linear algebra and few upper electives) and a 3.1 gpa. After that I immediately started MS in chem program. I finished that up in 2009. I had a good gpa (~3.9) and a few papers (one 1st author and 2 coauthor papers). I got a job as in organic chemist at a small pharmaceutical company where I've been working ever since.

    I'm pretty bored with chemistry and I've always been interested in engineering. My girlfriend is finishing up her degree in vet med and applying for residency programs at a few hospitals and clinics. None of these are in the state and I've already said I'd go with her (as long as it's a state I like). The job outlook for chem is pretty bad right now and I'm planning on being unemployed or at the very least underemployed where ever I end up. I'm thinking that going back to school might be a better option. Even better if I can get a stipend in an MS program.

    I'm interested in what my options might be. I've looked into it a bit and it looks like I have a lot of the per-requisites to be accepted to an MS in materials program. I'm worried that my be a bit too much like chemistry though and also leave me with pretty much the same job prospects (very few...).

    Another option I've though of is to just start over and get a BS in mechanical. I don't think I'd have a shot as being accepted to an MS program. I actually really like this idea but it's going to be expensive with out a tuition waver and stipend and probably take a year or so longer.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 14, 2011 #2
    It's what I did, although I went from chemistry--->BME since BME was the only graduate engineering program I could do without starting all over again. Prospects in chemistry are absolutely atrocious, and you are doing the right thing by trying to leave. Get out while you can before you find yourself in your 40s and underemployed in your 200th temp job with no healthcare benefits. It may be painful, but maybe starting all over again and going after a BS in engineering may be better. The only downside is that you'll have to pay tuition all over again. Thus far, I'm not very excited about going into BME, I believe it's been overhyped beyond belief and I pray to god that I didn't make another mistake. Biotech is simply a notoriously unstable field for employment.

    The other option is to leave science and engineering all together and move towards anything financial related (use that math minor) or related to insurance. You may have to do work for the rest of your life that will have nothing to do with science, but at least you'll earn a living and can raise a family.

    Chemistry is terrible,terrible, terrible, especially for organic chemists. Leave while you are still young. Many engineers have perfectly fulfilling careers with just BS degrees that eventually work their way up to management. Getting a BS may not be so bad. I would have gone back for a BS in engineering, but simply had way too much undergrad student loan debt to go back and do it all over again and pay for another BS degree.
  4. Sep 15, 2011 #3
    That is exactly what I needed/wanted to hear.

    I have a very stable job right now. The company has never fired anyone in 25 years but the pay is absolutely terrible. I never though I'd get rich doing chemistry but I'm making less now than I though I'd be making with a BS. I've tried to find a better job but all I find are temp QC jobs. I want more money but I'm not willing to take a brainless QC job to get it. I already have a few friends jumping around between temp jobs. The pay is a bit better but you're out of the job every 6 months or so. Not really a good way to live.

    I've got just under a year before I would start school. Any advice on how to prepare? My current plan is to study for the gre and try to get a better score. I guess I'll apply to both the MS and BS programs at the schools I'm looking at and decide what to do from there. Then I was also thinking using a place like khanacademy.org to go over all the math and physics that I've forgotten.
  5. Sep 15, 2011 #4
    Also in response to your comment about going into the financial area. I did follow along with a financial modeling grad course last year. The professor recorded and posted his lectures online. It was neat and I learned to do some things I didn't know matlab was capable of doing. Aside from making boat loads of money I don't think it would make for a very rewarding career.
  6. Sep 15, 2011 #5

    Yup that's the state of chemistry. The few positions out there that are posted that are decent jobs literally have hundreds of applicants, all with ridiculous resumes vying for it. Most of the positions out there will be very low paying and will be for QC work. There's a reason why there are so many QC positions available--people hate doing it and leave after a short period of time. Companies have to always find new blood to fill in the positions. Any other positions out there for actual synthetic work are likely to only be temp positions as well that are still low paying and hardly offer health care benefits. You'll find onslaught after onslaught of temp jobs in chemistry. Don't get sucked into the trap of being a never ending temp. It makes it impossible to get ahead in life and to do things you really wanted to do, ya know like own a house, start a family, and finally pay off your student loan debt.

    There's simply too many people with college degrees, too few quality jobs for scientists, and a bloodbath of off shoring a lot of work. Working in 'finance' is a huge field, not just doing theoretical modeling. In fact, I bet finding a modeling job would be extremely difficult. Who knows, work as a consultant, a trader, loan officer, etc. etc. It isn't fulfilling, but it pays the bills. With chemistry, sure some of the work you may do may be interesting, but if you have to constantly scramble for a new job every 2 years and uproot your life all the time, have no health insurance, or constantly underpaid/underemployed, how rewarding of a life is that?

    If you can afford it, maybe you really would be better off starting all over again and gaining a BS in engineering. Just be aware, engineering is also not immune to off shoring and the terrible economy. Just don't go into a huge amount of debt to do it. Dig deep and look at a lot of schools and look for other scholarships/financial aid that are geared towards individuals looking to retrain for another career. For example, if you are a Michigan resident, I believe the University of Michigan has a program where they give you considerable financial aid if you lost your job and are looking to retrain in another field.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2011
  7. Sep 16, 2011 #6
    I don't know if it fits your bill but consider looking into Boston University's LEAP program. And I'm sure your background in organic chem would could get a mat sci program somewhere...
  8. Sep 19, 2011 #7
    I agree with gravenewworld. Chemistry and biology as well are careers unfit for people smart enough to study them. Companies like to use temp agencies to deny them benefits, pay them $15 per hour then whine to congress that they need more h1-b's because Americans aren't smart enough to study science. Well the truth is Americans are not too stupid for science they are too smart for it and companies simply don't deserve to have bright Americans working for them if that is the way they will treat them.

    I hold a MS in chemistry and am looking to go back for an MS in accounting. I sure as heck won't ever let anyone I know study it ever again.
  9. Sep 24, 2011 #8
    Exactly! I'm glad others are noticing this too.
  10. Sep 24, 2011 #9
    I'm trying to decide between ME and materials now. I think that getting a MSME is probably my best choice. The MS in chem might overlap a bit too much with materials. I'm thinking that the combination of MS in chem and ME would make it easy for me to get a job in either areas.

    I've also read that I may need to get a BS in order to take the PE exam. Is there any truth to that and how big of a deal is this exam? Going back for a second BS will be very expensive. I'd likely have to pay full out of state tuition without any financial aid. It's doable but that would use up all of my savings.
  11. Sep 24, 2011 #10
    The PE exam is mostly if you want to work for government agencies.
  12. Sep 24, 2011 #11
    With a few undergrad courses, you could probably get into an MS chemical engineering program. Or at least be able to complete a BS chemE in 2-3 years. ChemE definitely has better job security, and all the chemistry/math knowledge you have will be useful.
  13. Sep 25, 2011 #12
    IMO, an engineer with no PE in their future is the equivalent of a BS chemist. Your prospects will be very limited.
  14. Sep 25, 2011 #13
    Any chance of Chem E PhD or Applied Math PhD? Building on what you've done could be better than backtracking 4 or 5 years.

    I finished a BS in Chem in 2006 and am now working on a Masters in Public Health (~50% complete). My goal has been to use it to transition out of the lab and that has worked a bit. I now have several options that I didn't have before...I can still use my knowledge of chemistry but I get to work on more interesting projects.

    I too wouldn't recommend chemistry to anyone unless they plan on additional schooling beyond BS such as law, med, PhD. Good luck with your decision.
  15. Sep 25, 2011 #14
    Think it depends on the degree. Civil? Sure. Aerospace? Probably. Mechanical? God no.
  16. Sep 25, 2011 #15


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