15 February 2011

A Background in Chemistry Opens Many Doors

As the economy is only beginning to recover, many college students are seeking ways to distinguish themselves in one of the most difficult job markets ever.  To look more attractive to employees, college students may want to consider a degree in chemistry.  And while many may think a chemistry degree is a one-way ticket to laboratory work, the comprehensive scope of a chemistry degree can help you land a job in a number of fields.  According to Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris, whose interest in chemistry started in grade school, “95 percent of the things that touch our lives — such as food, water, shelter, transportation, and medicine — are made possible through chemistry.”  It’s no surprise then that so many industries look approvingly on students that graduate with a chemistry degree.  Further, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, those who graduate with a chemistry degree earn 12% more than those that graduate with degrees in psychology, biological sciences, linguistics, or history and 30% more than those without a degree at all.  Here is a more complete look at some of the opportunities: 

1. Environmental control: Governmental enterprises like the EPA and environmental groups like the Sierra Club or the NRDC all rely on scientists to provide them with the most appropriate environmental data.  Chemistry is extremely important, especially when measuring air, soil, and water quality for possible contaminants.

2. Forensics: From your local police force to the CIA or FBI, chemistry plays a huge role in the field of forensics, performing tests to help solve crime.

3. Pharmaceuticals: Whether you choose to work at a local pharmacy or help design new life saving drugs, some of the most beneficial careers for those with a chemistry degree can come in this field.

4. Graduate Study: Having a background in chemistry also builds a solid foundation for those looking to enter medical school or law school, and also provides a concrete knowledge base for those interested in teaching at the high school or college level.

One other interesting and emerging concept is that of “green chemistry” which, as defined by the EPA, is the design of chemical products that eliminate the use of hazardous substances.  When envisioning a chemical plant, it can sometimes bring to mind pipes with green ooze trickling out into the local water supply.  Historically in chemistry, this type of hazardous waste came from solvents and resources needed for the chemical reaction to create the end product.  But through green chemistry, scientists are developing ways to remove these hazardous materials from the process altogether, creating a safer way to produce items we need daily without contaminating the environment.

Overall, the list above is just a small sample of the possibilities that are presented to those with a background in chemistry.  With the food, water, and energy problems facing the world today, Liveris, along with the UN and other international institutions, deemed 2011 the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) to help inspire students to consider chemistry and to encourage people from around the world to apply chemistry as a catalyst for change.  Clearly chemists are desired now more than ever, and hopefully students appreciate the potential of a chemistry degree, and use it to distinguish themselves in an increasingly competitive job market.

Alan Parker is a blogger based out of New York, NY who writes about alternative energy, green business, sustainability, and climate change.
Follow on Twitter @AGreenParker