Explore Chemistry

We often call chemistry the "central science" because it is the study of matter and the changes it undergoes. That’s a broad statement! It turns out, chemistry plays an important role in connecting the physical sciences, which include chemistry, with the life sciences and applied sciences (such as oceanography and human biology) and with engineering (such as chemical engineering and materials science).

Chemistry majors go on to have successful careers in many areas, including politics, industry, publishing, research and development (R&D), and environmental protection.

Chemists work with matter at a fundamental, molecular level—its composition, properties, and transformation into new substances. They are interested in molecular structure, the properties of materials, and in reactions that convert one material into another.

Chemistry is a central science because it significantly impacts many other fields including medicine, materials science, genetics, biology, pharmacy, food science, and environmental science. A bachelor’s degree in chemistry is a minimum educational requirement (research assistant, analyst), while many research jobs require a master’s degree or Ph.D.

*Salary and Career Outcomes gathered from the 2018-2019 CSE Graduation Survey. Post-graduation outcomes reflect the percentage of students who were employed full-time in their field or were enrolled in a graduate program at 6 months post-graduation.

Chem Career Prospects. Average Starting Salary: $55,159; Post-Graduation Outcomes: Employed 56.3%, Graduate School 31%, Other 12.7%

Expand all

What can I do with a major in Chemistry?

INDUSTRIES

  • K-12 Education
  • Biotechnology
  • Consulting
  • Federal government
  • Food production
  • Healthcare
  • Higher education
  • Industrial products
  • Manufacturing
  • Packaging
  • Petroleum
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Pollution Control
  • Water treatment

EMPLOYERS

  • 3M
  • Apex International
  • Appvion, Inc.
  • Aveda
  • Beckman Coulter
  • Brady Corporation
  • Bostik, Inc.
  • Cargill
  • Ecolab
  • H.B. Fuller
  • Hawkins, Inc.
  • Land O’ Lakes
  • Lube-Tech
  • Mayo Clinic
  • Memorial Blood Centers
  • NatureWorks LLC
  • Pace Analytical
  • SC Johnson
  • Sherwin Williams
  • Vascular Solutions
  • Xcel Energy

TECHNICAL SKILLS

  • Advanced and Basic Chemistry Laboratory Techniques
  • Biology Laboratory Techniques
  • ChemDraw
  • Excel
  • LoggerPro
  • Mathematica
  • MATLAB

POSSIBLE POSITIONS

  • Analytical chemist: Analyze and troubleshoot the exact composition of substances and the purity of raw materials and finished projects. They may monitor air and water pollution as well as food and drug purity.
  • Environmental chemist: Collect samples of water, soil and air to test. Record findings and construct reports to share with team members, employers or clients. Set up and maintain the equipment used to gather and measure data.
  • Formulation chemist: Work mainly in a laboratory setting, adjusting chemical compounds and recording information to test and develop pharmaceuticals, health products, foods, cosmetics and cleaning products.
  • Lab technician/analyst: Conduct analytical or lab-based tests for quality assurance, safety inspection, regulatory adherence, environmental impact or sample testing.
  • Pharmacologist: Develop and test drugs for medicinal use.
  • Polymer chemist: Deals with the nature and structure of polymers. A typical application of polymer chemistry might be the synthesis of materials for industrial or commercial applications.
  • Process engineer: Develop new industrial processes and design new process plants and equipment or modifying existing ones. Equipment may be used to change raw materials into products such as petrol, paper, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, food, plastics, synthetic fibers and paint.
  • Quality control engineer: Monitors the manufacturing of products to ensure quality standards are maintained.
  • Research & Development chemist: Work in laboratories conducting tests and notating the reactions of different chemical compounds. Utilize chemicals, chemical compounds and chemical processes to create new products and technologies.
  • Research assistant: Uses chemistry and research techniques to discover new knowledge or develop new technologies.

**Some of these positions may require an advanced degree.

GET INVOLVED

  • Alpha Chi Sigma
  • American Chemical Society
  • CSE Ambassadors
  • CSE International Ambassadors
  • Engineers Without Borders
  • National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers
  • National Society of Black Engineers
  • Science and Engineering Student Board
  • Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers
  • Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
  • Society of Women Engineers

Q&A with Rajvi Mehta, Technical Sales Manager, Activated Research Company

What do you do?

I work at a small company leading sales and marketing efforts for products, which are used in chemical analysis. This includes working with potential and current customers, attending tradeshows, giving presentations, and working with research and development (R&D) to ensure the products are aligned with customer needs.

What's a typical work day?

Every day is different, which is great! I spend most of my day working with customers, either through phone, email, or in person. I also coordinate marketing activities—this could include preparing for tradeshows, working on additions to the website, or marketing our products via email to our customer list.

What qualities are important for this position?

It’s important not only to have the technical background to be able to talk about a technical product, but to have good communication skills—this is paramount. Time management, organization, and prioritization are also very important.

What about technical skills?

I think having a technical background in general—in science, engineering, and/or math—is helpful. In technical sales, often times as long as you have some sort of technical background, you’re able to pick up on the specifics of a product more quickly and explain them to other folks with technical backgrounds.

What training were you offered for your position?

We had in-house training for the technical side of our product and then a few different sales trainings based on popular books on selling.

What part of your job is most satisfying?

I love working with people. So working with my customers is the most satisfying! It’s nice to know that, through our products, I’m helping them achieve their work goals more quickly than they would before.

Most challenging?

At first, learning the sales side of things was definitely challenging to me. This wasn’t something I had ever had formal training in, but it got easier.

What are your possible career paths now?

Leading sales and marketing is definitely an opportunity for promotion. Another opportunity is for me to work more as a product manager. This role is not as involved with sales but more involved with marketing activities of the product and also working with R&D for associated products or accessories.

Advice for current students?

Think outside of the box! I think sales is a great route for people who love science and also love working with people.

Any other advice you'd like to share?

Network as much as you can while in school to learn about all of the opportunities that are out there — there are more than you might think!

Q&A with Andrew Jones, CEO and Co-founder, Activated Research Company

What do you do?

Operations, research and development, sales, support

What’s a typical work day? 

Every day is truly different. From meeting with customers to designing a new catalyst or reactor. 

What qualities are important for this position?

Perseverance, tenacity, passion, people skills, empathy, multi-disciplined skillset

What about technical skills? 

Transport, catalysis, heat and mass transfer, coding, modeling, project planning, experimental design, teamwork

What part of your job is most satisfying?

Learning from customers about how your innovations have changed their lives 

Most challenging? 

Marketing and sales

What are your possible career paths now?

Company growth

Advice for current students?

Chemical engineering is an excellent degree because of the diversity of skills and knowledge that students are exposed to. It provides an excellent foundation for learning.

Any other advice you'd like to share?

There are lots of great startups looking for passionate people. Search them out and get a job with one, it will be a great experience regardless of whether it succeeds or fails.

Q&A with Dustin Sprouse, Formulation Scientist, Sherwin Williams

What do you do?

Develop and synthesize resins and make paint formulas for specific customers

What’s a typical work day? 

70% lab work, 15% desk and emails, and 15% meetings

What qualities are important for this position?

Attention to details and knowledge of science. Sales and people skills

What about technical skills? 

Polymer synthesis

What training were you offered for your position? 

Prior experience was necessary

What part of your job is most satisfying?

Landing a big account and making formulas that make it to the market

Most challenging? 

Pleasing the customer

What are your possible career paths now?

Sales, senior scientist, or manager path

Advice for current students?

Work hard now, the reward comes later. 

Any other advice you'd like to share?

Network, network, network