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Ten Great Careers in Chemistry

All college chemistry majors must sooner or later ask the question: What can I do with a degree in chemistry? It's a good question. Here are some typical jobs that chemists might hold, in case you're thinking about your options.

Patent attorney

If you combine a degree in chemistry with a law degree, you could become a successful patent attorney. Patent attorneys perform patent searches, advise their clients on whether or not their formulation/invention is patentable, provide advice on such topics as product liability and intellectual property, and may even take cases to court for product infringement. A patent attorney with a background in chemistry is valuable to a company that deals with chemicals or chemical processes.

Pharmaceutical/chemical sales

If you like chemistry but don't enjoy being in the lab, then sales may be the job for you. Somebody has to sell all those chemicals and medicines, and buyers like to deal with somebody who knows their science. Salespeople have to answer customers' questions about the product, toxicity, side effects, and so on. The chemical or pharmaceutical salesperson has to be willing to travel a lot, servicing existing accounts and finding new customers.

Forensic chemist

You might imagine forensic chemists investigating crime scenes, chasing killers, and all that dramatic stuff you see on TV, but most forensic chemists spend at least their first year or so exclusively in the lab, analyzing evidence for drug residues. Some, after years of hard work, do get to work crime scenes.

Forensic chemists also operate and maintain laboratory instruments, analyze biological fluids for DNA matches, analyze gunshot residues, examine hair or other fibers, and so on. Keeping detailed, meticulous records and reports is critical to this profession because forensic chemists may be called upon to testify in court about their findings.

Biochemistry/biotechnology

Do you like biology about as much as you like chemistry? If so, you might want to consider a career in biochemistry or biotechnology. Biochemists and biotechnologists work in research developing new genetic tests, work in the genetic engineering (cloning) area, and are involved in the development of new drugs.

Others work as plant breeders, trying to develop more disease-resistant strains of crops. Still others work as biochemical development engineers, taking a biochemical process developed in the lab and scaling it through the plan stage to full plant production.

Agricultural chemist

Agricultural chemists, also called agrochemists, collect and analyze samples for nutrient levels as well as levels of pesticides, heavy metals, and toxins. They operate and maintain a wide range of instruments. Some agrochemists specialize in animal feeds; others specialize in the testing of pesticides. They may do presentations to such diverse groups as corporation CEOs and farmers as well as preparing reports showing data, conclusions, and recommendations.

Material science

Material scientists study the composition and structure of various materials with the goal of developing new products or improving existing ones. One goal is to lighten and strengthen existing products, such as golf clubs and tennis racquets. Some analyze failed products to determine the reason for the failure. Some are involved in quality control, both of raw materials and finished products, and some experiment on new ways to combine different materials.

Food and flavor chemist

Food and flavor chemists work in the research and development of new foods as well as ways of keeping foods fresher on the shelves. These chemists have to work within the regulations of the FDA, testing food additives and preservatives, developing new flavors, and analyzing food for nutrient levels or the presence of contaminants. The FDA and other governmental agencies hire food and flavor chemists as inspectors to ensure that regulations are followed in food processing and shipping.

Water quality chemist

Water quality chemists hold a wide variety of jobs, but all, in one way or another, help ensure that the public's drinking water is safe. Some are involved in designing water or wastewater treatment plants and water runoff systems for industries or agriculture. They may analyze water samples, looking for contaminants and making recommendations for appropriate treatment methods, or conduct environmental impact studies for industries of government agencies.

They may also collect water usage data and use it to predict future water needs. Others use sophisticated computer programs to predict the movement of water and pollutants in the water supply or perform mathematical modeling of underground water resources.

Cosmetic chemists

Nearly everyone uses some type of cosmetic product, from lip balm to shaving cream. Each of these products has to be developed and tested, and that's what the cosmetic chemist does. The cosmetics formulator creates the cosmetic, and then another chemist tests it to be sure that it meets government regulations. When full production begins, another chemist ensures that both the raw materials and the finished product meet specifications by using analytical instrumentation. Cosmetic chemists are always in high demand.

Chemistry teaching

Teaching jobs in chemistry can range from teaching in public middle and high schools (bachelor's degree required) to junior or community college (master's degree required) to the university level (doctorate required). At the university level, you get to do research along with your teaching responsibilities. In fact, having your students do research with you is a great form of teaching that is rewarding and enjoyable.

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