What Can You Do With a Chemistry Degree?

20/09/202319 minute read
What Can You Do With a Chemistry Degree?

Chemistry is an important STEM subject, and chemistry and other science majors graduating from college should find their skills are in high demand!

But, incoming college students also find that studying chemistry means choosing from a range of academic paths and specializations. And, recent graduates with a chemistry degree will have many occupational paths to consider. If you're an aspiring chemistry major or recent chemistry graduate, come discover the many career options and kinds of salaries a science degree can unlock for you.


Overview of Chemistry and Career Prospects

A Foundational Science

Chemistry is a foundational discipline that connects and intersects with many other STEM subjects, so it follows that chemistry is referred to as a “central science.”

Chemistry concepts further our understanding of the building blocks and natural processes that make up the physical and living universe.

Chemistry is also a body of knowledge that can be applied to create useful materials, products, and medicines, or to take advantage of and harness physical materials or processes.

Because chemistry is at the center of so much research and so many kinds of practical applications, a chemistry degree should certainly boost your job prospects.

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Chemistry — Bright Prospects for Men and Women

In today’s science-and-technology-driven world, chemistry lovers of all stripes should be able to capitalize on their education investments and enjoy rewarding careers. And, while it’s true that chemistry and other STEM fields have historically been dominated by one gender, women can absolutely have a bright future in chemistry too, making important contributions side-by-side with diverse peers and in diverse work settings and teams…

If you’re an aspiring woman chemist don’t overlook the shining examples of pioneering women in STEM fields. And consider that more and more institutions are also offering unique programs and resources to support the recruitment and success of women in science and engineering endeavors.

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Chemistry & Related STEM Pathways

As a “central science,” chemistry principles and applications are part and parcel of many different STEM endeavors…

To start, let’s consider environmental chemistry, a branch of chemistry that plays a critical role in the fields of environmental science and policy.

Environmental chemistry provides insights into chemical processes occurring in the environment, such as climate change and pollution, informing policymakers and guiding advocacy and action related to environmental protection.

Another science closely intertwined with chemistry is physics. Both chemistry and physics help scientists explain, model, and advance understanding related to natural materials and processes.

For example, chemistry and physics are foundational to the study of matter and energy.

Scientists also apply concepts from both disciplines to advance the study of quantum mechanics, electromagnetic theory, and thermodynamics.

When it comes to more complex living organisms, scientists rely on the concepts and principles of both chemistry and biology. This means that education, training, and expertise in chemistry and biology are often essential for advancing knowledge across many sectors, including public health, environmental life sciences, and medicine.

Finally, because chemistry requires lots of training, involves complex technical concepts, and is essential for a vast number of commercial applications and uses, getting a chemistry degree should give you lots of challenging and well-paying jobs to choose from.

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A Bright Future Ahead…

Because chemistry is so central to both the natural and physical sciences, it offers a future with many career pathways.

So, it’s prudent to consider what sectors and roles you most want to work in before you start your undergraduate or graduate degree program. With early goal setting you can better chart your college journey while you’re still in high school and consider which academic paths, courses, programs, or extracurriculars best align with those goals…

Whatever path you choose, with the right qualifications in chemistry and the right degree, you’ll be in demand for meaningful jobs in both the public and private sectors.

You’ll also have an avenue to working in a wide range of fields, such as  agriculture, medicine, environmental and biological research, engineering, and more, depending on your academic and work specializations.

With the understanding that chemistry serves as a bridge between different sciences, let’s delve into what career opportunities a chemistry degree can open up, while exploring specific job roles, sectors that are interesting to work in, and the salary prospects for different kinds of chemistry degrees!

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Traditional Career Paths in Chemistry

Research Scientist

Research scientists play an indispensable role in scientific discovery. A graduate with a chemistry degree can advance to research science positions in academic, government, and corporate research labs, with corresponding research areas.

In academic research labs — often in colleges and research institutions — research scientists with advanced degrees take part in or lead groundbreaking research. More experienced research scientists may also work in teaching roles at universities or as research mentors for less experienced lab assistants or research associates.

Government research labs employ research scientists to address critical national interest issues, such as environmental conservation and national security.

Corporate research labs are the driving forces behind innovation, with a focus on the development of new products and technologies in their respective industries.

Analytical Chemist

In the pharmaceutical industry and environmental agencies, many analytical chemists play a crucial role.

In business settings or pharmaceutical labs, for example, chemists ensure product quality and safety, and they oversee compliance with rigorous regulatory standards. Indeed, much in the world of life-saving medicines depends on chemists who work in various roles, including pharmaceutical research, testing, and safety.

As for environmental agencies, analytical chemists often monitor air and water quality, safeguarding resources, the people who use them, and the planet.

Chemical Engineer

Because chemistry plays a crucial role in many research and development efforts, students with a passion for chemistry may want to major in chemical engineering.

A degree in chemical engineering can open doors to a range of well-paid opportunities in vast sectors such as product manufacturing or energy production.

In manufacturing, a chemical engineer can apply their expertise to the design and optimization of production processes for chemicals and foods.

In the energy sector, chemical engineers often analyze fuels, help research and develop synthetic fuels, or contribute to advancing the availability of renewable or alternative fuel technologies.

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Pharmacist

Even for those seeking to combine chemistry with patient care and medicine, there are popular degree tracks available.

Using a chemistry degree as a step towards a career in pharmaceutical sciences, including becoming a licensed pharmacist, is one of these paths.

Chemistry graduates with at least a BA or BS degree in the field are generally well-prepared to enter pharmacy school.

Salary Data for Chemists & Material Scientists
OCCUPATIONENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2022 MEDIAN ANNUAL PAY
Chemical TechniciansAssociate's Degree$50,840
Chemical EngineersBachelor's Degree$106,260
Environmental Scientists and SpecialistsBachelor's Degree$76,480
Biochemists and BiophysicistsDoctoral Degree$103,810
Forensic Science TechniciansBachelor's Degree$63,740
Natural Sciences ManagersBachelor's Degree$144,440
Materials EngineersBachelor's Degree$100,140
PharmacistsDoctoral Degree$132,750

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Non-traditional Career Paths for Chemistry Graduates

There are also a number of non-traditional career paths open to chemistry graduates — a testament to the versatility of a chemistry degree.

Forensic Scientist

Chemistry graduates who watched CSI as a child have the potential to fulfill their childhood aspirations or fantasies. That’s right… As a forensic scientist you can pursue jobs working alongside police investigators or even FBI agents!

Chemistry has many critical applications in the area of forensics: the analysis of blood, drugs, and other evidence require real chemistry knowledge. Thus, a career in forensic science may be a significant career choice for the purpose-driven chemistry graduate.

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Writer/Journalist

If you have a penchant and flair for writing, being a science writer, technical writer, or journalist can be a rewarding career for chemistry graduates. 

Chemists with writing talents can play an important role in making scientific concepts and discoveries more accessible to the public. 

Technical writers are in constant demand for both internal communications and marketing communications.

“What Does a Technical Writer Do?... Simply put, technical writers explain things. We take complicated concepts and break them down into easy-to-understand pieces. We’re also skilled at organizing information so it flows logically. With these skills, a technical writer is often responsible for many kinds of writing: manuals, online Help systems, or even video tutorials.”

- Kate Scheider, Senior Technical Writer and Northeastern University Alumna

Science writers can also work in the media or publishing sectors.

By distilling complex scientific concepts into simpler language and explanations, a science writer or technical writer fills an important need in today’s information-driven society and economy.

Regulatory or Quality Control Manager

Often, trained chemists are needed in areas such as quality control, product safety, food safety, and environmental safety and regulation.

With a degree in chemistry and the appropriate specialized training and experience, you may be able to find a rewarding job as a safety, quality control, or regulatory manager. Chemists in these positions can play a crucial role in protecting public health and safety, as well as protecting the environment.

These kinds of roles abound in the private sector, in medicine and pharmaceutical production, and in many government regulatory bodies — from the EPA to the Food and Drug Administration — among many others.

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Environmental Consultant

Chemists who have a passion for the environment can make significant contributions to environmental conservation by assessing pressing issues, formulating solutions, and ensuring compliance with statutory regulations.

“Environmental chemists study the effects that various chemicals have on ecosystems. To illustrate, they may study how acids affect plants, animals, and people. Some areas in which they work include waste management and the remediation of contaminated soils, water, and air.”

- "Environmental Scientists & Specialists," Bureau of Labor Statistics

With a degree and the right expertise, you might analyze issues related to chemicals, toxins, and other pollutants in air, food, water, and soil. 

Providing objective research, working in testing and verification roles, or taking an active role in solution-focused or enforcement-oriented consulting and advocacy work are all options.

Interdisciplinary Opportunities

Chemistry graduates have a bright future then in terms of careers within their area of chemistry expertise, but there are also various interdisciplinary opportunities that chemists can explore.

Biochemistry and Biotechnology

The interplay between biology and chemistry is instantiated in the realm of medical research, where chemistry underpins the development of drugs and genetic engineering — spearheading and transforming the future of healthcare.

Material Science

In the field of material science, chemists can create sustainable packaging, advanced electronics, and cutting-edge materials with their knowledge of the properties of different materials.

Cosmetic Science

To achieve the desired properties and effectiveness, chemists carefully select and mix ingredients in cosmetic formulations for beauty and skincare products. Moreover, they guarantee the safety and quality of these products, ensuring the welfare of every day consumers.

Food Science

In the area of food, chemists can transform — and are transforming! — our daily eating habits.

Whether it’s enhancing taste or texture, contributing to food science research or nutritional research, or helping spearhead advances in the growing field of lab-based food production, chemists are busy revolutionizing the food industry.

Skills Acquired and Their Broad Applications

The skills that are in high demand today are not only the book knowledge acquired during a chemistry degree course, but also many other skills.

Students with degrees in chemistry are trained in advanced forms of testing and analysis. Employers value these advanced problem-solving skills — making chemistry majors highly valued in many complex work settings.

During the process of earning their degrees, chemistry students also learn and apply technical proficiencies and methodologies that help them work in a range of laboratory and research settings.

In today's data-driven world, chemistry graduates' ability to analyze data will be of utmost importance in a wide range of research and development roles.

Last but certainly not least, the collaborative nature of chemistry inquiry will equip chemistry students to build the kind of leadership, teamwork, and project coordination skills crucial in today’s collaborative, information-driven workplaces.

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Final Thoughts

Now you can see that not only is chemistry a “central science,” but having a degree in chemistry will put you at the center of many diverse academic and career pathways leading to a promising future.

As you continue on your educational and career journey, think about where your passion for chemistry overlaps with other personal interests and aptitudes. Soon, you’ll be on your way to charting your course — whether it’s choosing a major, homing in on the exact areas of academic or technical specialization to pursue, or applying to specific jobs or graduate degree programs!

And, you don't have to walk this journey alone. Share this post with your peers or mentors for more discussion. If you’ve made it this far, you may gain even greater insights from a discussion of ideas!

You can also book a consultation with an experienced Crimson Advisor for personalized advice and planning help.

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