The Associate in
Applied Science (AAS) is offered to those wishing to complete programs
in chemical technology. Many chemical technicians begin their career by
earning this degree. After earning this degree, some graduates continue
their studies to earn a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related
Associate of Science
(AS) degrees are two-year degrees that can serve as the first step
towards bachelor's degrees in chemistry. To facilitate transfer of
credits, students pursuing AS degrees should know the requirements of the
institution to which they intend to transfer.
BA / BS
The designation of Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS)
degrees in chemistry, both four-year degrees, varies from one
institution to another. BS degrees typically includes more chemistry,
other science, and math courses, while BA degrees typically include more
courses outside of science, engineering, and math.
Master of Science
(MS) and the Master of Arts (MA) degrees in chemistry and related
fields are typically earned after two years of study after the
bachelor's degree. Earning a bachelor's degree in chemistry and a
master's degree in a related field (or vice versa) can be very
useful to students planning an interdisciplinary career. A master's
degree is essential in order to teach in a community college. It is
also helpful to have a master's for a high school teaching career. A
master's degree can also serve to deepen or broaden your chemistry
knowledge and better prepare you for industrial careers. Some
students use the master's degree to help them determine their career
interests and aptitudes before making the longer commitment to a
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) chemistry program. This approach can be
particularly useful to students who were not able to participate in
an undergraduate research program.
Professional Science Master's
programs consist of two years of academic training in an emerging or
interdisciplinary area, along with a professional component that may
include internships and "cross-training" in workplace skills, such
as business, communications, and regulatory affairs.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees in chemistry is preferred for many
research positions in industry and government. Colleges and universities
usually require Ph.D. degrees when they hire new faculty members.
Earning a Ph.D. degree demonstrates a long –term commitment to chemistry
as a career. It provides the chemist with a depth of chemical
information and the knowledge of how to do productive research.
Most research universities and some colleges prefer that employment
candidates also complete some postdoctoral research in addition to
earning their Ph.D. In postdoctoral research, Ph.D. chemists work with a
professor or chemical professional in industry on a research project but
do so more independently than they did as graduate students. Usually,
they leave the institution where they earned their Ph.D. to work in
another university, industrial, or government laboratory. Industrial
post-docs are becoming more common as are post-docs before beginning a
research career in industry, particularly the pharmaceutical industry.
Post-doctoral positions typically last two years. They offer chemists
two types of opportunities. The first is to work in the same field as
they did when earning their Ph.D. This provides a depth of knowledge and
specialization that can be very useful if there are plentiful job
opportunities in their field of specialization. The second is to work in
a different field than the one in which they earned their Ph.D. This
will allow them broaden their knowledge and experience, thus qualifying
them for a broader range of job opportunities and demonstrating their
versatility to employers.
Before deciding whether to apply to graduate school, determine the kind of
career you want. Consider both your interests and abilities when making
this determination. One of the reasons so many chemists enjoy their
careers is that they are a good match for their interests and abilities.
Graduate school is intended to develop independent researchers and is
usually the best option for those who want to spend a major portion of
their career doing research and development work. However, be prepared
to revise your plans as your interests change. For example, after
working in research, some industrial chemists develop an interest in
guiding research and determining what research areas are explored at
A major component of many Master's degree and nearly all Ph.D. programs
is research and writing a thesis. This is an intense experience. Working
on an undergraduate research project will help you decide if you find
research rewarding and thus would enjoy graduate school. So will working
in an industrial research lab after graduation or as part of a co-op
program. Of course, you'll also learn if your abilities will enable you
to be a good researcher.
In deciding whether to continue your education past the bachelor's
degree, assess your abilities as objectively as possible. Consult your
faculty advisor and other faculty members who know you well. Consult
graduate students. If you know some chemists who have completed graduate
school and know you, consult them as well. If they do not know you well,
they can still advise you on what they think are the most important
qualities you need to do well in graduate school.
Success in your undergraduate studies is not a definite predictor of
graduate school success. Graduate school is unique, far more than an
extension of your undergraduate study. In short, graduate school
requires more work, a stronger commitment, and concentrated effort as
well as creativity in research and analysis. The course work is more
intense. You will have to be self-motivated and work independently to
succeed at your research. This requires maturity and motivation. Writing
your thesis is a major effort that both demonstrates your research
accomplishments and indicates whether you can organize and effectively
communicate complicated technical information to others.
Your decision to attend graduate school is not final; it does not have
to be made prior to receiving your undergraduate degree. Some students
receive their undergraduate degree and work as chemists or in other
fields before deciding to attend graduate school. A break of a year or
more can offer you a chance to gain practical experience before choosing
Some are concerned that delaying graduate school to gain work experience
or earn an income may ultimately lead to not returning to school to do
graduate work as they get used to developing their careers and earning a
salary. However, many employers encourage their employees to attend
graduate school while continuing to work and often offer financial
assistance to do so.
Once you've decided you have the abilities and commitment to succeed in
graduate school, you will have to decide on which schools to apply,
complete application materials, gain admission, and decide how to
finance your graduate education.