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Chemistry Overview - Preparation - Specialty Areas - Co-ops and Internships - Employment - Earnings - Profiles of Chemists - Career Path Forecast -Professional Organizations 

Chemists hold about 84,300 jobs in the United States. In addition, many chemists hold faculty positions in colleges and universities but are not included in these numbers.

About 42 percent of all chemists are employed in manufacturing firms -- mostly in the chemical manufacturing industry. Firms in this industry produce plastics and synthetic materials, drugs, soaps and cleaners, pesticides and fertilizers, paint, industrial organic chemicals, and other chemical products.

About 18 percent of chemists and material scientists work in scientific research and development services; ; 9 percent worked in testing labs.  Others work in architectural, engineering, and related services. And, thousands of people with a background in chemistry hold teaching positions in high schools and in colleges and universities. Chemists are employed in all parts of the country, but they are mainly concentrated in large industrial areas, unless they are employed in education.

Private industry employs about two -thirds of all chemists. Private industry offers excellent salaries and benefits and many different career paths for chemists. Most industrial chemists work in research and development (R&D), R&D management, sales, or marketing. Entry-level bachelor's degree chemists may work in research or plant labs analyzing and testing products. They may also work with senior researchers in R&D laboratories. As they gain experience, they work more independently and can advance to supervisory positions or change career tracks to work in chemical sales or other business functions. Continuing education greatly aids changing career tracks. Taking a minor in business or marketing can aid bachelor degree chemists in beginning their careers with a sales or marketing job.

Federal, state, and local government units employ many chemists. About 10% of all chemists are employed by the government. Government salaries often are lower than in private industry, particularly starting salaries. However, the gap has narrowed in recent years. Despite government cutbacks, jobs remain more secure in government than in private industry.

Chemists are the largest group of scientists working for the federal government. Many work for large research laboratories such as the National Institutes of Health and the Naval Research Laboratory. Others work for Federal government departments such as Energy, Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Justice. There they may do basic or applied research. Much of this work is aimed at developing the scientific basis for government regulations. Chemists also perform testing work needed to enforce government regulations and monitor their effectiveness. Chemists are also responsible for administering government funding to universities and research institutes. Other chemists work as program administrators within government. Chemists also work writing and editing government regulations and other documents.

Academia includes primary and secondary schools, community colleges, four -year colleges, and universities. Teaching in academia often involves teaching other sciences besides chemistry. Teaching in primary and junior high school often involves teaching young people the scientific method and the role of science in health and the environment.

Thinking back on your own pre-college education, you'll realize that, in addition to teaching a subject such as science, teachers also counsel and discipline students. They prepare examinations, meet with and advise parents, and work with other teachers and administrators to keep the school running smoothly. It is to fulfill these responsibilities that states require teacher certification.

Due to a shortage of science teachers, many school districts are hiring B.S. or B.A. chemists to teach provided they take the necessary courses required to obtain a teaching certificate. These courses usually can be taken in the evening, weekends, or the summers. Each department of education in each state specifies the courses needed for certification. These are uniform for all the school districts in a given state. However, the courses required vary from state to state. Contact your local school district to find out what courses you would need to complete to be certified as a teacher in your state. Remember, requirements vary from state to state. So if you plan to move after graduation, determine the certification requirements in your new state.

Secondary School Teaching
Chemistry teachers in secondary (high) schools often teach other science courses such as general science, physics, math, and biology. These teachers often enjoy the satisfaction of having students choose careers in science and engineering as a result of their experiences in secondary school science courses. To teach in public school, one must take the necessary education courses to obtain a teaching certificate in addition to courses in your major discipline. Many private/parochial schools do not require a teaching certificate; however, they frequently pay less than public schools. After you begin your teaching career, you will find that additional courses, often culminating in a master's degree, will improve your promotion prospects, job security, marketability. This is particularly true for secondary school teachers. Depending on your career goals, the courses you take may be primarily chemistry courses or education courses. You may also find it advantageous to broaden your skills beyond that of science taking the courses necessary to become certified in other field.

College and University Teaching
Chemistry faculty members teach chemistry courses, prepare and grade exams, counsel students (often providing career advice), and participate in chemistry department and college governance. At four-year institutions and universities with graduate schools (research universities), research plays a major role. In addition to the responsibilities listed previously, chemistry faculty members must design and execute a creative research program. To do this, they must obtain research funding by writing grant proposals, persuade students to work with them as bench researchers, and supervise and guide these students in their research while allowing them sufficient independence to develop as creative chemists in their own right. Writing successful grant proposals is critical to career success for faculty members at research universities and some four-year institutions. Successful graduate school and post-doctoral research is helpful. So is one's previous success in independent research. This success is usually measured by both the number and quality of one's publications in chemistry journals. However, the ability to organize your thoughts and write clearly and well is also critical in preparing successful grant proposals. The ability to present oral research papers at conferences and seminars at other universities is also important in developing a good professional reputation that may influence grant proposal reviewers in your favor.

Community College Teaching
At two-year colleges, the primary emphasis is on teaching, not research. Faculty members may hold either Ph.D. or MS degrees. The fraction of faculty members holding Ph.D. degrees is increasing as the academic job market becomes ever more competitive. Tenure is offered at most, but not all, two -year colleges. Normally it is awarded after two to five years of probationary employment. While any research the faculty member accomplishes will be a positive factor in tenure evaluations, the primary emphasis is on teaching. Usually the facilities for doing research are very limited in four- year colleges. However, summer National Science Foundation programs and other opportunities exist give community college faculty members access to first-rate research facilities. Many two-year colleges offer part-time positions teaching courses during the day as well as the evening. Although the pay is often low and part-time employees do not receive fringe benefit, these adjunct positions are very useful in gaining the experience needed for obtaining full-time, tenure track positions in 2-year and 4-year colleges and provide opportunities for chemists to combine teaching with another job, education, or personal commitments such as raising a family.

Success in research, measured by research funding obtained for creative projects and publication of interesting results in chemistry journals, is necessary for career success at research universities. This is the major factor in deciding whether to award an assistant professor tenure. Without tenure, chemistry department faculty members are employed under a series of one- to six-year contracts. At one or more times during an assistant professor's first six years at a research university, he or she will be considered for tenure. If the assistant professor does not obtain tenure, a seventh year allows him or her time to obtain another position. Some people in this position, particularly those who are outstanding teachers, obtain positions in four-year institutions or community colleges where research is not emphasized. Others enter industry or obtain non-faculty research staff positions. Research opportunities for chemistry faculty members at community colleges and some four year institutions are more limited. Many who prefer teaching to supervising research find teaching at community colleges more rewarding. These faculty members often teach more courses than their counterparts at research universities.

Nontraditional Careers
Chemistry is the springboard for many careers in areas other than the more traditional research laboratory or academic positions. A growing number of chemical scientists at all degree levels are pursuing careers at chemistry interfaces. Professionals use their training in chemistry to launch careers in, for example, law, business management, journalism, and computer science. They make broad use of scientific knowledge in these career areas.

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the American Chemical Society.

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