Gaining experience and skills Recruiters for employers of chemists are looking for people with diverse skills including: communication skills, interpersonal skills, problem solving ability, leadership skills, technical mastery, and practical experience. They advise students majoring in chemistry to take electives in courses such as computer science, business, public speaking, and writing.
Chemists find employment in a wide variety of environments which can be divided into four areas:
Industrial laboratories in the private sector employ approximately two-thirds of the chemists in the United States. The majority of these positions are in research and development, and sales and marketing but can also include safety, environmental protection and quality control. There are opportunities for B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. chemists in industry. Some students elect to work in industry following graduation, before going back to school to pursue a graduate degree.
The government employs approximately 10% of the chemists in the United States. Positions in research and development are available in such governmental agencies as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy. Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration employ chemists for the development and implementation of regulatory programs. There are opportunities for B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. chemists in government institutions.
Chemists are employed as teachers in secondary schools, two-year colleges and four-year colleges and universities. Public school teachers must have taken the appropriate required courses to obtain a teaching certificate. A position at a two-year college requires at least a masters degree while positions in four-year institutions require a Ph.D. degree.
Many chemists pursue alternative career paths to those described above. Some of these nontraditional choices include positions in scientific publishing, technical libraries, patent law, personnel recruiting, consulting, computer science and banking.
Information about Graduate School
Of the wide variety of post graduation choices that are available to students who major in chemistry or biochemistry, one option that many find attractive is that of continuing to study chemistry in graduate school. Unlike the undergraduate program, where an emphasis is placed on completing coursework, the focus in graduate school is on performing and completing an independent research project in collaboration with a thesis advisor.
Masters or Ph.D.?
The first thing you must decide when contemplating a move to graduate work is whether a masters or Ph.D. degree is the desired goal. While the length of time required to obtain a Ph.D. (5-6 years) is considerably longer than that for a masters (2-3 years), a Ph.D. is the preferred degree for research positions in industry, academia or the government and generally commands a higher salary. For an academic position as a faculty member at a four-year college or university, a Ph.D. is a must. In addition, many schools prefer to admit students who are willing to commit several years to a Ph.D. program over those students who apply for a masters degree. Discuss your choice of which degree to pursue with your faculty advisor.
Where to Apply
A "Planning for Graduate Work in Chemistry" guide produced by the ACS Committee on Professional Training is available at this link. This guide provides both domestic and international undergraduate students with advice on how to prepare for successful work in graduate school, how and when to apply for admission, and to some extent, what to expect once enrolled in graduate school. The online "ACS Directory of Graduate Research (DGRweb)" is available at this link. With DGRweb students can explore research programs available in graduate departments by finding the biographical information for faculty members, their areas of specialization, titles of papers published within the last two years as well as statistical summaries on departments, including numbers of faculty, post-doctoral appointments, graduate students, and master's and doctoral degrees granted. A few reference books are available in the main office of Merkert (room 125) which list universities offering graduate programs in chemistry. These include The ACS Chemical Sciences Graduate School Finder, Peterson's Graduate Programs in Physical Sciences and Mathematics, and The ACS Directory of Graduate Research (hard copy). A number of flyers are posted on the bulletin boards in the lower level hallway of Merkert that advertise a variety of programs as well. However, chemistry professors are your best resource when seeking advice about where to apply for graduate school. Talk to one of your professors about your area(s) of interest, and he or she will be happy to recommend which schools would be most appropriate.
When should you apply?
Begin to request application forms from the desired schools in September and October of your senior year. Application deadlines are typically in January or February, but most graduate schools use a rolling admission policy and send out acceptance letters as early as February. The earlier your applications are received, the better.
Should you take the Graduate Record Exam?
All students planning to attend graduate school are encouraged to take the GRE and the chemistry or biochemistry advanced test. Although the results of these exams are not required for admission to all graduate programs, they are usually required for national fellowship applications and are often used in determining fellowship awards at individual institutions. The exams are usually taken in the fall semester of the senior year.
Standards for admission Graduate schools will look at four main areas:
- GRE scores
- Letters of recommendation
- Research experience
The importance of letters of recommendation cannot be over emphasized. Strong reference letters from chemistry professors can bolster an application which might be weak in the areas of grades and test results. Thus, it is imperative that you introduce yourself to some of the faculty members in the department and get to know them. Evidence in your application that you have had some research experience will also make a highly favorable impression upon an admission committee. See the section on Undergraduate Research for ways to go about obtaining this experience.
Cost of graduate school
Graduate work in chemistry is almost always fully funded for the student by the university through teaching assistantships and/or research assistantships. These assistantships provide full tuition remission as well as a modest, but livable, monthly stipend. In addition, a number of fellowships are available for graduate students. The prestige associated with a fellowship benefits the recipient throughout her or his career in chemistry. See the section entitled "Scholarships and Awards" for information about graduate fellowships.
More information on graduate schools
A "Graduate School Information Session" is held by the Chemistry department in the fall semester. A chemistry professor will present information about the graduate school experience and application procedures, and a number of faculty members will be present to answer questions. Look for posters in the spring. The BC Career Center also has graduate school directories and test booklet applications. "Graduate School, Now or Later?," a workshop held in October, previews the application process, criteria for selection, and financial aid sources.
Conducting a job search
A number of resources are available which can provide assistance in obtaining employment upon graduation. These include:
The Boston College Career Center
The BC Career Center has a number of valuable resources and services for BC students which include the following:
- Internship listings for paid and volunteer part-time positions during the academic year and summer, an on-campus recruiting program, current job listings and an annual job fair.
- A resource library that includes books and periodicals describing a variety of career fields. A free publication entitled "Job Choices in Science and Engineering" is available which lists the occupational needs anticipated by corporate and governmental employers who normally recruit college graduates. It includes a geographical index of employers, as well as a special index with includes summer internships, co-op programs, foreign employment and opportunities for graduate and bilingual students.
- The Alumni Career Network includes more than 2,000 alumni nationwide who have volunteered to give career advice regarding their career paths and includes a roster of chemistry majors who can be contacted at their work place.
- Of interest to environmental career seekers is The Job Seeker, a monthly listing of current vacancies and registers open for applications in the environmental professions and Krupin's Toll-Free Environmental Directory, a comprehensive nationwide 800 phone listing of over 4500 environmental firms, organizations, government agencies and private institutions that every career seeker can call long distance for free.
- Individual appointments with career advisors are encouraged to design an individualized job search strategy, and students are encouraged to pick up a copy of the center's monthly calendar of events, as well as to consult the Career Center's home page.
The BC Career Center also ;provides assistance in resume and cover letter writing, individual resume and cover letter critiques, as well as interview preparation workshops and videotaped practice interviews.
Check local newspapers as well as scientific periodicals such as Chemical and Engineering News (weekly publication of the ACS), The Chemist (monthly publication of the American Institute of Chemists) and Science (weekly publication of AAAS).
American Chemical Society services
The ACS Employment Aids Office maintains a pool of resumes to which potential employers can refer called the Employment Clearing House. The ACS incorporates the resumes of members and student affiliates into this pool free of charge. At national ACS meetings, career consultants are available to review resumes, conduct mock interviews, provide literature and arrange for on-the-spot interviews with prospective employers. Publications that contain career information can be obtained from the ACS by sending a request via e-mail to:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ask faculty members, family, and friends to refer you to professionals in your chemical field of interest. Many companies recruit in the chemistry department during the fall semester. Visit our Industrial Recruiting link and speak to the Programs Administrator (Merkert 125) to set up an interview.
Resumes and interviews
Your resume should outline your experience, education, and interests. It should be attractive, organized, grammatically correct, free of typos and confined to one page. Include a cover letter whenever you write to a prospective employer that specifies the position you are seeking and your qualifications for the position. It should not restate facts from your resume. Be prepared to provide names, addresses, and phone numbers of references for the prospective employer. You must inform these individuals that you have given their name as a reference. Before the interview, research the prospective employer in terms of company structure and goals. Be prompt, enthusiastic, and honest during the interview. Be ready to tell what interested you in the company and be prepared to ask questions about the company.
Other opportunities after graduation
The knowledge and skills of scientists are eagerly sought by various agencies that are committed to the service of others. These include:
Teach For America
This is a national corps of individuals from all academic backgrounds who commit to teach for at least two years in urban and rural public schools. Corps members are hired at regular beginning teacher salaries by school districts who cannot find certified teachers to fill their needs. Currently, Teach For America is actively recruiting math and science majors since the demand for math and science teachers is especially great. The selection process involves a written application, personal interview, group discussion, and references. See the Boston College Career Center for more information about this program as well as Teaching Opportunities, a monthly listing of nationwide public school teaching positions, including chemistry.
The Peace Corps
The Peace Corps has assignments in 60 skill areas in many different countries around the world. A bachelor's degree and/or three to five years substantive work experience are required. Assignments are for two years following a three month training period. For most assignments, instruction in the language of the host country is provided. A recruiter can tell you about the possibilities available and selection procedures. Consult the BC Career Center.
Jesuit Volunteer Program
Contact Fr. Ted Dziak in the B.C. Chaplain's Office for more information.