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Getting Started with Chemistry

Career Paths
Chemistry
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Introduction

As a postgraduate in chemistry, you likely have a strong bench skills and experience in chemical research. Let’s check the pulse of today’s economy and look at careers in chemistry.  Fortunately, there are a wide variety of fields you can look into. The more carefully you match your skills to the market, the happier you will be in your new career. 

Career Paths

The seven major career paths you can take are academia, government, chemical industry, energy corporations, fast moving consumer goods, industrial biotech and the pharmaceutical industry.  Let’s take a look at the various career paths and what you can expect out of them. 

Academic Fields

You can certainly stay in the academic world as a researcher and instructor at a small or large college or university.  Large universities often provide you with a research lab, staffed with research assistants, and you can study just about any area of chemistry you can get funding for.  Your work would include getting funding and managing a laboratory as well as teaching responsibilities.  Smaller colleges generally just offer teaching positions to undergraduate students studying chemistry as part of their training.

Big Chemical Corporations

  • Dow Chemical. The Dow Chemical Company is headquartered in Midland Michigan.  It is the second biggest chemical manufacturer in the world, selling primarily to manufacturers who need chemical products.  It primarily makes chemicals, plastics and agricultural products with a worldwide employee population of more than 46,000.
  • DuPont Industries. DuPont dates back to 1802 when it manufactured gunpowder.  It is one of the top chemical manufacturers in the world.  They have made and designed numerous products, including Corian, nylon, neoprene and Lycra.  They also function in the refrigerant industry as well as in pigments and paints.

Government

The government has spots for those with advanced chemistries within the US FDA.  The FDA is one of the major regulatory agencies when it comes to food and drugs and employs chemists in the review of products designed for human contact.

Fast Moving Consumer Goods      

This includes the creation and manufacture of cleaning products, detergents, cosmetics, soaps, lotions and other products that touch the skin.  It involves working on things like detergent enzymes, cosmetics, and perfumes.  It involves the area of industrial biotechnology, which is chemistry-oriented.  A major manufacturer to consider is Proctor and Gamble.  This is a multinational corporation, the fourth largest corporation in the United States by market capitalization.  It has three Global Business Units, including Beauty Care (grooming and beauty), Household Care (Baby care and Fabric Care), and Health and Wellbeing (Healthcare, Pet Care, Snacks and Coffee).

Energy Corporations

Chemistry skills are needed in the energy sector, particularly in corporations like Exxon/Mobil. ExxonMobil was formed in 1999 by the merger of two companies and markets energy-related products under the brands Mobil, Exxon and Esso.  It has multiple operating divisions, including Upstream, Downstream and a chemical division based in Houston, TX.

Pharmaceutical Companies

Chemical skills are needed in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.  There are numerous small and large corporations specializing in biopharmacology and biotechnology including Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Bristol-Meyers-Squibb.  There are pharmaceutical companies located in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe, where you could work as a chemist specializing in pharmaceuticals or biotechnology.  (see “Getting Started with Biopharma Research”)

Industrial Biotechnology

Corporations invested in industrial biotechnology include Genencor International and Novozymes.  Companies invested in biotechnology work in areas such as large-scale refineries that make bioenergy, genetically modified crops and large scale fermentation and bioprocessing.

Miscellaneous Areas of Chemistry Jobs

All areas of biotechnology hire postgraduate employees in chemistry as well as firms that develop dyes and perfumes.  You can work for a contract research organization which hires out chemistry-trained consultants to companies for short term or medium term work. 

Typical Job Titles

There is a wide variety of job titles available to you if you work in the “real world” of chemistry in science, government or industry.  In the academic world, you would be considered a professor or instructor.  In industry, you might be labeled a division manager of a specific area of the plant.  You can work your way up to become assistant plant manager or plant manager, although this would take some time. 

You could also be a bench researcher, working in the ranks of those actually doing industrial research.  In a governmental role, you could carry the title of Reviewer, analyzing products that come through the offices of the FDA.   

 How do I find a job in Chemistry?

You should have a professionally-prepared resume with a list of the research areas and papers you have written.  You can send these resumes to any of the corporations discussed above or to smaller companies in need of those with chemical expertise.  There is a lot of overlap between pure chemistry and fields in biology and biotechnology, giving you a broad base of companies to choose from.  You can research jobs worldwide at www.chemistryguide.org., which provides you with job listings from all over the world. 

Skills Necessary in the Chemistry Field

You need great bench skills if working in most chemistry-related companies, although if you are hired in a managerial position, you’ll also need skills in handling people, writing and communication.  If you are a project manager, you will need to strategize and create new ideas for your corporation, especially if you work in the “new products” divisions of the corporation.  Your knowledge of chemistry should be impeccable, and your creativity in helping your organization grow should be strong as well.  Travel is possible if you work for a large company that has several plants.  The field is minimally competitive because there is a lot of work going on in the field of applied chemistry. Salaries can be as high as six figures within a few years of working for a major corporation.  This is a field for those who like to focus on one area of technology and chemistry at a time. 

Hot Topics in the Field

Hot topics in the field of applied chemistry include synthetically developed compounds, enzyme research, Pharmacopeanetics, and pharmacogenomics.

Christine Traxler, MD practiced medicine for fifteen years in rural Minnesota before turning her love of writing into a career. As a medical writer, she has worked on projects designed to make medicine simplified for the popular audience. She has two daughters and resides in Minneapolis.
Copyright Christine Traxler, MD
Published with permission

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