If you are just finishing your A levels, or are someone who enjoys planning their future, you may be ready to start thinking about what it is you would like to study at university. Picking which degree you are going to go for is one of the biggest decisions you have probably had to make to date.
Finding something that combines some of your interests, your skills, and offers plenty of job opportunities can be tricky. If you were considering studying chemistry, you are in the right place.
This article contains all the information you could need about during and after your course. By the end of this article, you will have a clear idea about what a career in chemistry involves, and whether a Chemistry Degree might be the right degree for you.
What is Chemistry?
Chemistry is the study of matter. Its changes, its properties and its structure.
Chemistry is one of the major branches of physical science and can open the door to many possibilities. Chemists use the knowledge they have gained to go on and do all sorts of interesting things. They could go on to create their own makeup company, they could go into the medical field, they could even go on to be a forensic investigator for the police.
Whilst at first chemistry might seem like a job that would confine you to a lab, and in part it does, it also offers you so much opportunity to explore the world. Chemistry is not an easy course, the degree will require a lot of hard work. But the rewards are huge, both financially and opportunistically.
What are the benefits of having a Chemistry Degree?
If you are someone curious by nature, chemistry is potentially the best course for you.
Chemistry focuses so much on the how and why.
Why do glowsticks work the way they do?
Why does soap make our hands clean?
How does photosynthesis work?
These are all common questions that chemistry can answer, you may have answered them in high school for example. The difference is chemistry at university asks the bigger questions.
How does an atom work?
Why is there life on earth?
How did it get here?
Can we create a synthetic process more affective than photosynthesis?
Chemistry asks the big questions, often the questions that no one can answer. If you want to be the person, the first person, to answer those questions then chemistry might be the degree for you.
Because chemistry is a science it can get your foot in the door for many different industries. The number of students choosing chemistry in the UK is declining, so much so that it is starting to become a real problem.
This means two things.
First, your chances of getting into a good university to study chemistry are high. Second, there are more jobs than chemists available so finding well-paying jobs won’t be too hard.
What’s it like to work as a Chemistry Graduate?
Chemists do spend a lot of their time working in the lab, after all, that is the only environment a lot of their work can take place.
But that is not always the case.
Depending on which career you choose to pursue using your degree can decide how much time you spend out of the lab. After all, forensic investigators must spend time in the field before taking their findings to a sterile lab. You could find yourself travelling all over the country.
Maybe you are looking for a job that can open doors for you worldwide, not just locally.
Chemistry is not a science that has been limited to just the United Kingdom. You could find work almost anywhere in the world. Australia and New Zealand are always on the lookout for highly educated individuals looking to immigrate. Perhaps you would like to try living in the United States, having a degree in chemistry can make this far easier for you.
A chemistry degree will always be valuable, choosing to obtain one could allow you to see parts of the world you never thought you would.
Which are the best universities for a Chemistry Degree?
If you do find that chemistry is something you would enjoy studying, great! The next step is finding the best university for you.
Whilst most universities in the United Kingdom will offer chemistry as a subject, some are better than others. It is not just the teachers, accommodation, and learning opportunities that will be better; it is the opportunities after your degree.
The best universities can almost guarantee you work when you are finished with your course. Finding which university is best can be hard. They all claim to be great, of course.
Finding the best one for you, and the best one overall is made easier using sites such as this one. This site compares entry requirements, student reviews, student opportunities post-degree and the quality of the research the university perform to create a ranking. At the time of this article, the rankings look like this:
#1 – Oxford
#2 – Cambridge
#3 – Durham
#4 – York
#5 – St Andrews
The rankings change often, but those 5 universities are almost always at the top. They may be harder to get into than some of the universities lower on the list, but they are by far worth it. Whichever university you do choose, you will be getting a great education. A chemistry degree is still a chemistry degree.
What do you study during a Chemistry Degree?
During your three or four-year degree you will split your time between the lab and the lecture hall. You will get the opportunity to have practical hands-on experience working in a laboratory setting that you might not get in other courses.
Depending on which university you attend, you may lean towards more or less time in the lab. It is a good idea to ask about this when you view the university, it can give you a good idea of what it will be like on your course.
There will be time allotted for independent work and study, but just as much time in group tutorials and group projects. You will be taught how to work in a group or solo as a chemist, making it easier for you to transition into the real world. Your exact curriculum will vary from university to university, but it will typically look like this.
- Introductory chemistry
- Energy and change
- Reactivity and mechanism
- Practical chemistry
- Fundamentals of biochemistry
- Core physical chemistry
- Group theory
- Inorganic chemistry
- Organic synthesis
- Structure and reactivity of organic molecules
- Advanced practical training
- Several elective optional subjects
What career options are available after university?
So much of whether or not you think a chemistry degree will be right for you depends on the jobs you would be able to get post-degree. This is very normal and is something that everyone must think about in detail. Whilst it is perfectly fine to go into chemistry and figure it out on the way, it is a good idea to have a general idea of the work that will be available to you.
You will have three or four years during your course to decide on an exact career path. But until then, here is a general idea of the kind of work many new graduates end up going in to.
A forensic scientist is a very exciting job. Your job will be to analyse and report on crime scenes to help the prosecutor convict criminals.
You will be responsible for testing hair, blood, markings, fibres of clothing and more. Chances are you have seen at least one television show about forensic scientists, whilst you won’t be getting into shoot outs every week, the work you see them doing is what it is really like. Recording data about a crime scene, taking samples to a lab and then reporting your findings.
Starting salary: £20k
Once experienced: £25k-£35k
Senior-level salary: £45k
A toxicologist is someone who will identify, study, and evaluate toxic and hazardous material. They can work both in a lab and the field, they also often consult for the police and hospitals. This can be a potentially dangerous job, but it is very interesting and the compensation is very high.
You may help stop the spread of diseases in a crisis or study the repercussion of genetically modifying plants and animals. Toxicology is a wide field of study, offering plenty of work opportunities.
Starting salary: £20k-£30k
Once experienced: £75k or more
Senior-level salary: £85k and above.
A chemical engineer is responsible for designing and engineering various products. Commonly, this means creating foods and drinks, makeups and perfumes, or some kind of healthcare product. If you are interested in this field you can make HUGE amounts of money if you secure work with a big company such as Boots. Here is just the average wages, they can be far more depending on which company you work for.
Starting salary: £28k
Once experienced: £30k-£54k
Senior-level salary: £78k
If you are someone who loved the research aspect of time spent in the lab, this is the job for you. Academic researchers work with universities to study chemical compounds and reactions. They can then use their findings for civilian or private uses. If they make a big discovery and patent it, they can make themselves very rich.
They also have the opportunity to do a lot of good for the community, looking into new medicines and forms of treatment for illnesses; perhaps even going into cancer research. This job can splinter off into many avenues so an average salary is hard to come by, here is what you might expect from a standard academic researchers salary.
Starting salary: £11k-£20k
Once experienced: £27k-£58k
Senior-level salary: £100k or more
Hopefully, this article has given you a good idea of what it is like being a chemist, and all the work that must go into it. Chemistry isn’t for everyone, but if you think it is for you then you should go for it. It can open so many doors for you that even if you wish to transition away from chemistry later in life, you will be able to do so.