Chemical Information Sources/Careers in Chemistry
Most of the material below was provided by Bob Buntrock from a manuscript "Careers in Chemistry: A Wealth of Opportunities"
- 1 Introduction of careers in chemistry
- 2 Careers
- 3 Laboratory Research
- 4 Teaching
- 5 Graduate/Professional School
- 6 Business
- 7 Computer Science Technology, Software, Systems
- 8 Information/Library
- 9 Intellectual Property (patents, trademarks, copyright)
- 10 Entrepreneurship
- 11 Resources for Career Development
- 12 Implications for Instruction
- 13 Conclusion
- 14 References
- 15 Appendix 1: Personal Career Path
- 16 Appendix 2: Science Careers for High School Students
- 17 Supplement
Introduction of careers in chemistry
In addition to learning chemistry, undergraduate chemistry majors begin to be concerned about career aspects for their chosen course of study. Some become concerned that they do not wish to pursue a career in laboratory research. Due to personal experience, professors and mentors in chemistry are more likely to provide information on teaching and research, especially those positions in higher education and/or large pharmaceutical or chemical companies. However, there are a number of other career paths available to graduate chemists. Some of these are described briefly and references made to additional resources. If not provided within the curriculum, extracurricular career guidance and mentoring should be provided for a complete education. Information on chemical careers is also of interest to chemistry graduate students and post graduate chemists interested in a career change.
Careers or jobs? Among the better definitions of the two concepts are those that treat careers as a lifelong experience whereas jobs are positions at which one is employed at any given time. A person will most likely have several to many jobs in a lifetime and possibly even more than one career. Jobs may or may not involve one’s career, but of course tend to be far more rewarding if they are part of one’s chosen career. Many career counselors have given this advice to young people: don’t just seek a job; instead, plan a career.
Career choices start fairly early in one’s life, and may undergo a number of changes, even in mid-career. Childlike choices like firefighter and astronaut may persist well into adulthood but may not be practical to pursue. More serious thought on one’s future usually starts in junior high or high school and intensifies in college, especially in the year before graduation. Often the jobs available have a further influence on one's choice of career along with mentoring from faculty or career guidance staff.
For those seeking up-to-date summary information on career options, it is well worth consulting the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. Fine summaries of specific occupations include average salary, job outlook, educational requirements, duties, important qualities, and the benefits and drawbacks of jobs. See for example the entry on Biochemists and Biophysicists.
Everyone’s career path is unique but educators have a chance to mentor students on the wide variety of careers available to chemistry graduates. Often, the mentoring is concentrated on laboratory research and teaching, largely because those careers are most familiar to the mentors. As graduation approaches, a significant number of chemistry undergraduates, both men and women, begin to question career paths leading to laboratory research or collegiate teaching. The reasons vary, but based on their educational experience a fair number of BS chemists (and some graduate students) decide to pursue a career in something other than teaching or laboratory research. There are a wide range of “alternative” careers open to chemistry graduates, some of which are described in this chapter.
Another invaluable source of career information are the resources and job clearinghouses maintained by professional societies such as the American Chemical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry. Some specific resources maintained by these societies are cited later in this chapter, especially the appendices and supplement section at the end of the chapter. Note that there are many more specialized societies such as the American Association for Clinical Chemistry that maintain career sites. Some of these societies offer one-on-one career advice and an opportunity to contact people working in the field.
The list in the table below was first prepared in the mid 1990s for presentations on careers to ACS Student Affiliate Groups. (The original document is no longer available online.) It has been used several times since for other student groups, Career Days, chemistry classes and even high school chemistry classes. One example is authored by Bob Buntrock  and posted on the Resources on Careers in Chemical Information page at American Chemical Society (ACS) Division of Chemical Information (CINF) site. The current table below is prepared based on the original list and books by Borchardt  and Balbes  . Laboratory research and college level teaching are described briefly, but intentionally not stressed in order to leave room for discussion of other careers. Additional careers and professions other than those listed here may also be open to chemists. Many books are published to help chemists with career planning    . The American Chemical Society maintains an online resource What Chemists Do.
|Career Direction||Career Category||Notes|
|Laboratory Research*||In most organizations, MS/PhD required for research as a professional; anything less, including BS, will usually result in a technician-level position.|
|Graduate School/Professional School*||
|Business (esp. chemical engineering, petroleum, pharmaceutical, medical)||
||MBA required sometimes|
|Computer/Software*||All of the above functions, plus programming and other IT functions|
||MLS required sometimes|
|Intellectual Property (patents, trademarks, copyright)*||
|Entrepreneurship||Not usually an opportunity without experience in other organizations|
|Regulation Affair and Public policy*||
(* may often require Grad School or other education/training)
The careers in chemistry usually discussed are those in teaching, primarily college/university, and research, both academic and industrial, especially the former. However, a BS in chemistry can lead–-and often leads–-to other careers as shown on the outline. Below is expanded information on these terse outline items. Although all items will be discussed, more emphasis will be placed on the less “traditional” or “alternative” careers. Note that several (if not all) items may require graduate school or other education and training.
Whether in academia, government, or industry, being a research scientist–working as a professional–almost always requires an MS or PhD. With an entry level BS, the chemist usually will be hired as a technician. This is not necessarily a bad thing and depends on the organization, the organizational philosophy of research, and the supervision. Although the work may initially be more routine, many laboratory technicians with seniority and experience achieve senior status with an appropriate increase in perks, including pay, publishing, meeting attendance, and other aspects of increased independence.
In the 1960s a good source of chemical technicians was BS biologists. Prime reasons included the lack of a biological research industry and a shortage of BS chemists not going to graduate school (Viet Nam was an incentive for some to continue their education in order to receive a student deferment). The increase in non-academic biological research and the demise of the Draft have changed the laboratory technician employment demographics considerably.
In addition to a PhD in Chemistry, post-doctoral experience is often necessary for a career in research. Long a requirement for securing prime academic positions, post-doctoral research experience is often a requirement for industrial research positions. Usually found at research universities and occasionally at top-tier colleges, post-doctoral positions are also available in industry.
Career guidance for teaching, at least at the college level, is also readily available because the mentoring professors are familiar with the process . However, opportunities exist for teaching at other levels and venues. In addition to four year colleges, teaching opportunities exist at the two-year/community college level. Colleges of all kinds are increasing the number of courses offered to part time students, especially on evenings and weekends, increasing the possibility of teaching part time while holding down a day job. Advanced degrees are usually required, but teaching credentials usually are not.
Opportunities also exist for teaching at the high school, junior high/middle school, and even elementary level. Advanced degrees are usually not required, but continuing education is often strongly recommended or even required. For public schools at least, further training in education methods and/or teaching certification is usually required. The situation varies from district to district, but in general there seems to be a long-term shortage of pre-college science and math teachers trained in the subject matter that they teach.
Teaching and training opportunities often exist in venues other than academia. Those with specialized training or experience are often relied upon to teach or train others in the use of or acquisition of those skills, both within and outside the place of employment. Many organizations provide in-house training and education. In addition, many scientists and chemists teach part time in public or private schools.
As discussed in the section on Teaching (above), typical collegiate mentors are well equipped to advise on the choice of graduate education, at least in chemistry. The task possibly becomes somewhat more difficult for graduate education or professional schools in other disciplines, including Medical School, the biosciences, forensics, and chemical engineering. Mentoring may be even more difficult for non-technical professional schools such as Law and Business. (For the latter option, many MBA candidates enter Business School after being in the workplace for a period of time. Many organizations will even assist with this graduate education). As with any of these career options, the campus career counseling office and relevant professional societies can be of invaluable assistance.
The American Chemical Society's (ACS) Directory of Graduate Education is freely available online. The listings for each school provide faculty biographical information, titles of recent published papers, and statistical summaries for 675 departments in chemistry, chemical engineering, polymers and materials science, marine science, toxicology, and environmental science.
Along with the biological sciences and biotechnology, a chemistry major is chosen by many pre-med undergraduates. Regardless of major, entrance requirements of medical schools require good performance in chemistry courses, especially organic. As a result, the chemistry faculty is often required to mentor pre-meds for their chosen career path.
Even for chemistry graduate school admission, the mentoring must be personalized to fit the student's future plans. Even if the student wants to pursue – and seems to be suited for – an academic career, the choice of graduate school (and of course graduate school mentor) is important. Informal discussions with chemistry faculty and students over the years indicate that about half of chemistry graduate school admissions are BS chemists from four year colleges. Informal discussions also indicate that chemistry graduates of “small schools” who valued their undergraduate experience may tend to wish to pursue an academic career in small colleges after receiving the PhD. However, the large research universities may offer good research opportunities and training (and the “tickets” for good positions of any stripe) but may offer a lesser experience in teaching skills and philosophy, skills that should be required for any academic position, but are definitely paramount for a professorship at a four year college. Those students showing any tendency toward teaching should be mentored toward receiving the necessary exposure to good teaching methods and not just mentored toward research opportunities.
Especially with the growth of interdisciplinary education in the sciences, “transfer” to another subject in graduate school has become more common. With the increase in numbers of positions available for biologists in industry, chemists and biochemists can become good candidates for graduate programs in biology. Selection of a graduate program in chemical engineering is another option available to chemistry graduates.
Admission to either Law School or an MBA program can be made directly after earning a BS but is also often done after an intervening period of employment. Many of those in Law School or MBA programs are part-time students, holding down a part-time or full-time job in addition to working on their advanced degrees. Law School studies leading to a specialty in patent law will be described in the Intellectual Property section below.
A position of Forensic Chemist could be especially attractive to analytical chemists. Such positions are usually exclusively laboratory based but some government enforcement agents are chemists and also do field work. Education in chemistry, instrumental analysis, and criminalistics, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, is recommended, For further information, see the profile page, Forensic Chemists  , published by the ACS.
Chemical and Engineering News has been publishing a series of articles on careers titled “Employment: Opportunities for 2004 and Beyond.” A recent example was “Chemists who unravel crimes.”  Key points include that the drama of the job hardly if ever approaches the glamor of the CSI TV dramas. Forensics scientists usually specialize in laboratory functions, of which analytical chemistry is particularly important. Job functions of all forensic scientists include analysis, interpretation, and testimony. In addition to a BS in chemistry, degrees or further training in forensic science is also recommended.
Businesses hiring chemists range over a wide gamut of product and service lines but are usually those based on some aspect of science or technology. Chemical, chemical engineering, petroleum, pharmaceutical, or medical companies have traditionally been employers of large numbers of chemists. As mentioned previously, if the company conducts research, it will usually require advanced degrees of its professional researchers. However, these companies also need chemists in such positions as sales, marketing (the two functions are complementary and cooperative, yet distinct), production, and management. Usually, the basic requirement is for a BS in chemistry. Of course, chemists of all levels of academic achievement often move into such positions from other positions within the company.
Computer Science Technology, Software, Systems
Especially for those organizations that deal with chemistry-oriented systems or software, opportunities exist for chemists. Included are all of the functions described in the above section on Business, plus programming, software/systems design, and other IT (information technology) functions. The chemical software industry has been thriving for years and a large proportion of their staffs have chemistry degrees. Opportunities exist for BS chemists as well as those with higher degrees.
Opportunities exist for chemists with strengths in computer science and technology for all of the careers discussed here in addition to programming and other IT (information technology) functions. Many of chemistry software organizations not only employ chemists but were often founded by chemists.
Chemical information is unique. Although many aspects of chemical information are shared with information on all other topics, especially other categories of technical information, no other category of information involves either chemical structures or chemical reactions. Capabilities of searching and retrieving chemical information (especially chemical structures) were among the last to appear on the scene in the recent rapid evolution of computerized information services.
For over a century, beginning with Gmelin's Handbuch der theoretischen Chemie in 1817 covering inorganic chemicals and Beilstein’s Handbuch der organischen Chemie in 1881 and progressing through Chemical Abstracts and other reference sources, a truly vast body of information and data of importance to chemists has been made accessible by outstanding abstracting and indexing services. However, until recently many chemists, both students and professionals, have not been sufficiently aware of the availability of these resources. Because of its complexity and sheer mass, for the last half century retrieval of chemical information was progressively more often done by–- or with the assistance of–- intermediaries. These intermediaries were not only trained in searching and retrieval methods, but were often also trained as chemists. “End-user” searching declined throughout the 60’s and 70’s but in the 80’s it began to undergo a renaissance.
The 1990s yielded a number of searching programs aimed at the end user, including CROSSFIRE (Beilstein/Gmelin, acquired by Elservier and accessible through the web interface Reaxys since 2010), Web of Science (that includes Science Citation Index originally from ISI, now owned by Thomson Reuters), and various interfaces from Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) and STN International, a partnership between CAS and Fiz Karlsruhe, e.g. STNEasy, STN Express, and SciFinder. Within those organizations with subscriptions, scientists and other end-users in both industry and academia can now perform much or often even all of their information retrieval by using these services. However, there is still a need for intermediaries, not only to manage these services but to supply information and analysis services for information not available from these sources or to serve users who cannot access these sources for whatever reason. Further background on careers in chemical information and special librarianship (see below) can be found in the Career Description on the ACS Career website, Chemical Information Specialists  and the Web site for Resources on Careers in Chemical Information by the ACS Chemical Information Division Careers Committee  .
Job postings for chemical/technical information positions indicate that education in a science related to the business of the organization is required. In addition, the majority require either an MLS degree (Master of Library Science, see below) or searching experience. As a result, technical information positions are often not an entry level position. Many gravitate into such positions within their organization, with or without further education. Positions available in the chemical information and special librarian fields are often listed on the Chemical Information list serve, CHMINF-L.
Another emerging area in this career sector is chemical informatics. Chemical informatics, a.k.a. chemoinformatics or cheminformatics, has been described as, “The application to chemistry of computer technology in all of its manifestations,” (9) and therefore a “merger” of traditional chemical information and computer-based activities. Key tools of the field include pattern recognition and data visualization. Dmitry Mendeleev could be considered one of the first chemical informaticists. Other methods and tools include Structure/Activity or Structure/Property Relationships (QSAR, QSPR), Genetic Algorithms, statistical and data analysis tools, and visualization techniques. Textbooks on the topic have been published and graduate training in this specialty exist in both Europe and the US. (9)
To those whom they serve, Special Librarians are indeed “special” but are also specialized. Librarians in public libraries for example tend to be generalists, managing a broad-based collection and serving a public audience. Special Librarians concentrate on narrower fields of knowledge – business, social sciences, science and technology, including chemistry. Their clientele has similar needs for such specialized knowledge. Special Librarians build on a general education including library and collection management, but also learn about subject specialized collections and references. Although not necessarily required, knowledge of one of the sciences facilitates both learning and job performance by Special Librarians. For libraries specializing in chemistry and allied sciences and technology, a common career path for Special Librarians involves earning a BS in chemistry (or other science major with course work in chemistry) and obtaining an MLS, either in direct sequence or after working for a while. For further information, consult the website of the Special Libraries Association (SLA).
Although automatic indexing (i.e., computer-generated indexing) has been used to prepare some databases for years (and text extraction and data mining programs like Google don’t require indexing at all), many databases are still prepared by human abstractors and indexers. For example, Chemical Abstracts, the world’s largest scientific database, is still prepared by a trained staff of abstractors and indexers, with extensive computer and systems support. Although most have a background in science, chemistry and chemical engineering degrees predominate. As described above, chemical information is unique and chemists will probably remain essential participants in preparation of the resources.
Technical writing is a well established field and writing on topics in chemistry is no different. A good example of chemical journalism is Chemical and Engineering News, the flagship membership publication of the American Chemical Society (ACS). In addition to being the primary source of ACS membership news, this weekly is also an excellent publication covering chemical science, business, and technology. Most of the writers are chemists.
Many organizations employ technical writers and if the organization’s business includes chemical sciences or technology, at least some of the technical writers will be chemists. Other chemical/technical writers are freelance and independently employed. Because of the breadth of chemistry (Chemistry is the Central Science), chemist technical writers are well positioned to write on a host of additional scientific topics.
Publishers of books on chemistry also employ chemists in many aspects of their business. Chemists are well positioned to communicate with other chemists, the authors of the organization’s publications.
Intellectual Property (patents, trademarks, copyright)
Patents are a unique form of information. They are legal documents, often describing technology. More than one document can belong to a “patent family” and be considered an “equivalent” document. Knowledge of patent law and practice, not only of the United States, but of the other patent granting agencies worldwide is essential at any level of involvement.
Working with patents is done at 3 levels: patent information specialists, patent agents, and patent attorneys. The work done and the qualifications for each category differ.
Patent information specialists who deal with chemical patents are usually chemists. Once again, the broad coverage of chemistry makes chemists well positioned to deal with patent information in a number of areas of technology. As with chemical information, advanced degrees as well as relevant experience is recommended (in some cases, employers also require a MLS or related experience). Positions available in the patent information field are often listed on the Patent Information Users Group list serve, PIUG-L.
Patent Agents perform and are employed at an intermediate level between patent information specialists and patent attorneys. The Patent Agency exam must be passed and patent agents are qualified to practice before the US Patent and Trademark Office in performing all patent tasks including preparation and prosecution. However, they cannot perform tasks that involve the practice of law. For further information, United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides a detailed description . Online reviews such as Patent Agents-An Overview from PatentEducation.com and The Role of the Patent Agent in the Patent Process from IP Frontline, IP&Technology Magazine are also helpful. A considerable number of patent information specialists have taken the extra steps needed to become patent agents.
Due to the need for additional training or testing requirements, both patent information specialists and patent agents are rarely entry level positions. Related experience, often within the same organization, is the usual route taken to achieve these positions.
Because of their broad background in the sciences as well as the large number of chemical patent applications, chemists make good candidates to practice patent law. A chemistry degree will facilitate admission to patent law school and work/study arrangements are often available. One example is working as a patent examiner by day and working on a degree in patent law in the off hours. To be a patent attorney, passing the Patent Bar Exam after acquiring a degree in Patent Law is required.
These areas of Intellectual Property Law are usually handled by appropriate specialists in those areas. Once again, chemist/lawyers are well suited for such positions.
A significant number of chemists become entrepreneurs. The ACS Division of Small Chemical Business represents many (but not all) of the chemical entrepreneurs in ACS. Entrepreneurship is usually not an entry level position. However, at least one chemical software specialist started his business directly after receipt of his chemistry BS. The number of chemists who are “consultants” is a large but poorly determined figure, primarily because many work part time or are retired from full time employment. Many apply skills acquired in full time employment in a variety of organizations to their own business. Chemical engineering, environmental science and technology, analytical methods, computer science, systems, software, technical writing, and information retrieval are among the many types of expertise offered by chemist consultants.
Resources for Career Development
Most college campuses have a career services office. Rather than just listing positions available and arranging for on campus interviews, these offices provide training and advice in writing resumes, staging mock interviews, and other essentials in acquiring a job and choosing a career path. University Chemistry Departments usually offer specialized career services to their students.
The American Chemical Society (ACS) provides and maintains a number of career and employment services including are the Career Services Web site page and “Chemjobs” . The latter is a classified Web site for job seekers and is an extension of the classified ads in Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN). In addition, ACS operates the National Employment Clearing House (NECH) and the Career Resource Center (CRC) at ACS National meetings. Several ACS local sections also provide employment listings, Job Clubs, and other job and career services.
There are thousands of national, regional, and specialized societies that can be an invaluable source of career information, job listings, and even personal advice. A person interested in a particular career should identify the important societies in his geographic area and discipline of interest. Of particular note is the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK.
Implications for Instruction
As described above, college and university professors are usually better equipped to mentor their students toward careers more parallel to their own, i.e., collegiate teaching and laboratory research, the latter especially in academia. However there are many other careers open to graduate chemists. The challenge for mentors of chemistry students is to incorporate these possibilities and vistas into the undergraduate experience. Of course, such information can be valuable at all stages of one’s career, from graduate school onward. After all, education should be a life-long experience. Although some high school chemistry teachers consider that their primary educational mission is to teach chemistry to eventual non-scientists, career information should be available to high school students because many of us first started planning our careers in our pre-college education.
Careers and career paths are an obvious to concern of all of us, not exclusive to, but especially to students. Lifelong career experiences with a single focus are decreasing in all fields. As described above, there are a number of career paths to discuss for degreed chemists and there exists a wealth of available resources including activities within the classroom and extracurricular venues. Career mentoring is an essential part of the education of students of chemistry.
- Buntrock, Bob. "Careers in Chemistry (or is that Chem Diploma Worth Anything?)". American Chemical Society, Division of Chemical Information. http://acscinf.org/PDF/caroutre.rtf. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
- Borchardt, John K. (2000). Career management for scientists and engineers. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780841235250. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/635961463.
- Balbes, Lisa M. (2007). Nontraditional careers for chemists : new formulas in chemistry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195183672. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/65201291.
- Fred Owens; Roger Uhler, Corinne A. Marasco (1997). Careers for chemists : a world outside the lab. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society. ISBN 9780841234796. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/35637226.
- "Forensic Chemists". American Chemical Society, Career Description. http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=1188&content_id=CTP_003390&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=d881c76b-d6a9-4094-bdb1-7de09b8d07ad. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
- Dalton, Louisa Wray (1). "Forensic scientists analyze, interpret, and testify about trace pieces of evidence". Chemical & Engineering News 82 (9): 51-53. doi:10.1021/cen-v082n009.p051. http://pubs.acs.org/cen/employment/8209/8209employment.html. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
- "Chemical Information Specialist". American Chemical Society, Career Descriptions. http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=1188&content_id=CTP_003382&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=207c7fca-ef99-45f4-9d8e-aa4812211c31. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
- "Resources on Careers in Chemical Information". American Chemical Society, Division of Chemical Information. http://www.acscinf.org/content/resources-careers-chemical-information. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
- "General Information Concerning Patents". The United State Patent and Tradmark Office (USPTO). http://www.uspto.gov/patents/resources/general_info_concerning_patents.jsp#heading-9. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
9. Wiggins, G. What is chemical informatics. SLA Chemistry Division E-Newsletter, Winter 2004, 18, no. 3. (Not accessible online anymore. Needs to find alternative)
Appendix 1: Personal Career Path
In Lisa Balbes’ book on nontraditional careers in chemistry, almost 50 chemists including the author give presentations on what they do and how they got to that point. In that spirit, my own path through chemical careers follows.
Career choices start fairly early in one’s life, and may undergo a number of changes, even in mid-career. In my own case, I had thought of a career in science since elementary school. Unlike many of my chemist colleagues, I was not inspired to go into a career in chemistry by my high school chemistry teacher. Instead, my plans became more definite when my 9th grade Civics class was assigned to research a career we’d like to pursue and make a brief presentation on it. I was faced with a tough choice: chemistry or geology, my two primary potential career loves. Even though I had a basement laboratory, I decided that it would be easier to be a professional chemist and an amateur geologist (i.e., continue being a rockhound) rather than the opposite. The one nagging doubt was that I predicted it would be more likely that a geologist would go to the moon than it would be for a chemist (aviation and rocketry were also my avid interests).
Sputnik was launched at the beginning of my senior year but I persevered in my decision to pursue an education in chemistry. I was assisted in a choice of specialty within chemistry by my classes and professors as well as by my mentor–and employer–as a college junior and senior, doing graduate level organic synthesis. After my PhD, working on a number of organic synthesis projects, I continued in that vein in industry. All of my previous mentors–undergraduate, summer lab job, graduate–were very information conscious. I loved lab work, but I loved information research almost as much. So when it came time to shift gears, I jumped at the chance to do chemical information research and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Several years ago while still living in Suburban Chicago, I was asked by a local chemistry professor to make a presentation on careers in chemistry to her college’s ACS Student Affiliate Group. I prepared the above outline, and I’ve used it several times since for other student groups, Career Days, college chemistry classes, and even high school chemistry classes. I hope that it is used by others for career mentoring for students and for professionals.
Robert E. Buntrock, Buntrock Associates, Inc., 16 Willow Drive, Orono, ME 04473
Appendix 2: Science Careers for High School Students
High school is not too early to begin thinking about a career in science. Opportunities and class assignments in choosing a career usually begin appearing in the freshman year. Of course, career plans will evolve as your experience develops, both in science and non-science courses.
The simplistic approach is to take as many science and math courses as possible. In addition, develop a good reading program for additional material beyond the textbook and classroom, including newspapers and magazines, popularized science material, and of course, technical material of interest. Read with a critical eye. Is the material presented clearly? Accurately? If not, try to provide solutions to the problems encountered.
The Internet has greatly expanded the resources available to the public at large and students in particular. One good source, including scientific topics, is Wikipedia.
Used judiciously, Wikipedia is an excellent “first reference” including leads and links to other related material.
The associated outline, Careers in Chemistry, is obviously focused on chemistry but many of the career paths outlined apply to other scientific careers, especially the so-called “alternative careers”. Chemistry has been described as The Central Science and a good grounding in chemistry will facilitate further training and experience in any scientific endeavor, especially the biological and medical sciences.
To get the most out of science courses, try to learn how scientists think rather than just concentrate on what they do. Good critical thinking is essential to any career in science as well as becoming and educated an productive citizen whatever your career.
In picking a college, probe deeply into what you would experience as a student at that school. Not only check out the strength and appeal of their science curricula and faculty, but investigate the opportunities for undergraduate research. Regardless of the size of the school, doing research is the best way to be associated with a small group, even at the larger schools. These opportunities are available at both the large universities and the smaller colleges. One career path that is often better to pursue at a research university is engineering, although several smaller liberal arts colleges, are developing joint programs with universities to alleviate this lack of opportunity.
Remember, a career is a life-path, a job is one component of your work experience, hopefully as part of a career path of your choice. You will undoubtedly have several jobs in your lifetime; you may even change careers. Good planning along the way will make the rest of your life a life-long learning experience.
Around the third week of October each year, Chemical & Engineering News publishes its "Career Planning Resources" section. There you will find a range of sources, some published by ACS, on topics such as salaries, professional societies, sources of information about employers, etc. Among them are many Internet resources (including the web page ACS Careers where you will find tips on interviewing and resume preparation). and free brochures, such as "Tips on Writing a Curriculum Vitae" or its "What a Chemist Should Consider" series of publications, including hints such as "What a BS/BA Chemist Should Consider Before Accepting an Industrial Position."
The ACS operates a National Employment Clearing House at each of the ACS regional and national meetings. Career assistance is provided in a variety of other ways, such as resume review, mock interview sessions, and career-related literature and videos. The ACS book Employment Guide for Foreign-Born Chemists in the United States is available free from the Department of Career Services, and the ACS Committee on Professional Training has published Planning for a Career in Industry. Other books that can assist in career planning, resume writing, and preparing for interviews include:
- Alternative Careers in Science: Leaving the Ivory Tower (2006)
- Best Resumes for Scientists and Engineers (1988)
- Career Management for Scientists and Engineers (2000)
- Guide to the Chemical Industry: Technology, R & D, Marketing, and Employment. (Ch. 18. "Getting a Job")
- Job$ in the Drug Industry: A Career Guide for Chemists (2000)
- Sweaty Palms-The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed (1993)
- Nontraditional Careers for Chemists (2007)
The weekly news journal Science has a career service called Science Career Magazine. It provides global news, profiles of emerging careers, and advice from experts and role models drawn from an international scientific community. Some of the resources there are available without charge.