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What is a Chemistry Degree?
Chemistry is the science that deals with identifying the substances that make up matter. Degree programs in chemistry focus on investigating these substances: their properties; how they interact, combine, and change; and how scientists can use chemical processes to form new substances.
At the undergraduate degree level, classroom studies and lab work include:
- General Chemistry
- Organic Chemistry – studies living things and all of the chemical reactions related to life
- Inorganic Chemistry – studies non-organic compounds; mainly the chemistry of metals
- Analytical Chemistry – tests samples of materials and identifies their components
- Physical Chemistry – studies how matter behaves on a molecular and atomic levels
- General Physics – studies matter, its motion through space and time, energy, and force
Graduate programs in the field cover these subject areas at a more advanced level and also contain coursework in:
- Biochemistry – studies the chemical concepts of biology; it is used in diagnosis and treatment of disease
- Environmental Chemistry – studies how chemicals move through the environment and the effects of contaminants on the environment
- Statistical Methods – mathematical formulas and techniques used to analyze data
Associate Degree in Chemistry
Two-year associate level programs introduce students to organic chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular chemistry; and generally include some coursework in the related subject of physics. Holders of this degree typically qualify for entry level positions as a lab technician or as a chemistry research assistant. Some earn the degree to prepare them for studies at the bachelor’s level.
Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry
Four-year bachelor’s degree programs in chemistry also teach the fundamentals of physics, biology, and cell biology. Also part of the curriculum are advanced algebra and calculus classes. At this level, lab work is extensive, exposing students to research and experimentation methods. Holders of a Bachelor of Chemistry degree may find employment in the research sector or in forensics or toxicology.
Master’s Degree in Chemistry
To work as a professional chemist – someone who creates useful compounds for use in a wide variety of practical applications – you must have a master’s degree in the field. A master’s curriculum covers advanced organic chemistry, advanced inorganic chemistry, and advanced physical chemistry. This level of degree generally qualifies you for chemist positions with pharmaceutical firms, manufacturing companies, and environmental agencies. It also lays the foundation for doctoral studies.
Doctoral Degree in Chemistry
A Ph.D. in Chemistry is mandatory in high-level research roles with health institutes, environmental agencies, and pharmaceutical companies, as well as in university teaching positions.
Degrees Similar to Chemistry
This degree field is focused on how the chemical, biochemical, and physical properties of substances can be changed to turn them into something else. Examples of this work are making plastic from oil, developing synthetic fibers for clothing, identifying ways to mass-produce drugs, and finding ways to solve environmental problems.
Biology / Biochemical Sciences
A biology degree is closely related to a chemistry degree. The fields of biochemistry and biotechnology apply principles of both biology and chemistry to issues in many different sectors, including the environment, medicine and health, industry and manufacturing, agriculture, biofuels, and marine science.
Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system. How is it connected to chemistry? Chemistry studies interacting atoms, known as molecules. Biology studies complex collections of molecules, known as cells. Neuroscience studies the complex collection of interacting cells, known as the brain.
The fields of pharmacology and chemistry are very much connected to each other. Pharmacologists study how drugs and medicines work so they can be used in the right way. The work naturally involves an understanding of chemical and biological interactions.
Like chemistry, physics is a physical science. Chemistry is in fact based on the principles of physics and both sciences are needed to better understand the world and its physical properties.
The connection between chemistry and toxicology is undeniable. Toxicology is dedicated to investigating and monitoring how toxic materials and chemicals impact the environment and the health of both humans and animals.
Forensic science is an interdisciplinary field which combines the biological and chemical sciences and criminal justice. Majors in the field learn how to collect and analyze evidence – blood, DNA, and other kinds of evidence – and how to effectively use it in a court of law.
Skills You'll Learn
Graduates of chemistry programs typically gain these transferrable skills through their course of study:
- Communication and Presentation
- Research and Data Analysis
- Attention to Detail
- Problem Solving and Persistence
- Mathematical proficiency
What Can You Do with a Chemistry Degree?
The following sectors require individuals educated in the areas of chemicals, chemical interactions, and consumer safety.
Chemical companies produce industrial chemicals and convert raw materials, such as oil, natural gas, air, water, metals, and minerals, into different products
Environmental services are dedicated to maintaining the quality of land, water, and air
Pharmacology and Pharmaceuticals
Pharmacology is the study of drugs and chemical interactions; pharmaceutical companies are licensed to research, develop, and market healthcare drugs
Energy and High Tech
The objective of this sector is to improve efficiency, develop renewable energy sources, and reduce waste
Resource Extraction and Processing
Activities that involve withdrawing materials from the natural environment, such as logging, mining, and oil recovery
Agriculture and Food Science
This field is dedicated to conducting research and experiments to improve the productivity and sustainability of food crops and farm animals
Research and Government Policy
Government agencies are established to study issues and set policies in various areas; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is one such agency
Teaching opportunities in the field exist at the high school, college, and university levels
Involves researching, writing, and editing scientific news, articles, and features
Legal investigations and courts of law consistently need experts in this field to explain evidence
In addition to the full- and part- time employment opportunities that exist in each of these sectors, it should be noted that it is not uncommon for holders of chemistry degrees to work as independent consultants on a contractual basis.
It may come as a surprise, but because it provides a broad scientific background, a degree in chemistry can satisfy the credit requirement for entry into medical or dental school.
Law firms with a significant pharmaceutical or energy sector clientele will sometimes pay chemistry graduates to attend law school and apply their scientific knowledge in a legal career.
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