Chemistry is the “central science"; it is fundamental to many fields and chemistry majors have a background that prepares them to master many technical areas. Typically, about half of the Chemistry graduates from Rensselaer go directly to graduate school for an M.S. or Ph.D. degree in Chemistry or a related science; almost all of these students receive financial support in graduate school as teaching or research assistants, with stipends in the $20-30,000 range and full tuition coverage. Our graduates go to the most prestigious schools in the nation and abroad. A significant number of our graduates continue their professional education in medical school or law school and a few take advanced degrees in management. Most of the remainder go directly into industrial or other positions. A typical B.S. chemist in industry may work initially as part of a research group under the leadership of a Ph.D. chemist, or in quality control, analysis, product testing, customer service, or may go into sales and marketing.
Chemical Research and Development
This is one of the classical career options for chemistry majors. About half of our graduates take this path. It involves acquiring and/or applying scientific knowledge for such purposes as developing new or improved methods for the synthesis of substances, and understanding the behavior of materials and how to control it. This typically is done in industry; examples include chemical companies such as DuPont and Monsanto, but also many that are not popularly connected to chemistry, such as IBM, Xerox, United Technologies, General Electric, that are concerned with materials or processes. Most chemists in this area require a graduate degree, although there is opportunity for B.S. chemists in some of the more routine synthetic and analytical aspects of this work, and with small companies.
This is another popular classical career option for chemists. Work involves analysis and testing to ensure that materials meet specifications, often using advanced instrumental techniques. A wide variety of companies large and small have requirements for professionals in this area, with many positions involving B.S. graduates.
Technical Sales and Service
Manufacturers of chemicals, scientific instruments and equipment and products based on chemicals require technically trained people for direct sales and to provide problem-solving assistance to their sales division. This usually requires a B.S. rather than an advanced degree.
A B.S. in chemistry is a suitable program for entrance to medical school; many of our graduates have gone on to obtain the M.D. degree. Others have chosen dentistry and veterinary medicine. Some with advanced degrees work in biomedical or pharmacological research. Others are involved in research, testing, or regulatory functions in state or federal health agencies, either with or without an advanced degree.
Many of the techniques of modern biotechnology have been adapted from chemistry, and chemists with a biochemistry background work in this field at the B.S. and Ph.D. levels.
Pharmacy, Pharmacology and Medicinal Chemistry.
A licensed pharmacist requires a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree. This is a professional degree program that in some schools can be entered directly but in others is entered after a minimum of two years of a regular college science program. A degree in chemistry can lead into programs at this level, or can be a preparation for more advanced Ph.D. level programs in the pharmaceutical sciences involving research. A chemistry B.S. also is preparation for careers in the analytical and manufacturing parts of the pharmaceutical industry. Development of new drugs and study of drug action and metabolism are activities that chemists with graduate degrees in organic or biochemistry can undertake. A B.S. in chemistry followed by a graduate degree in pharmacology is a good career path in this area.
State and federal law enforcement organizations use chemists in their forensic laboratories. Chemists with either B.S. or advanced degrees work in this field. Forensic science includes many distinct disciplines that may be used in a legal investigation. While forensic science is multidisciplinary, most practitioners work in a particular field, and often a particular specialty in that field. A laboratory science is a valuable background. In a recent survey of qualifications that they preferred, crime lab directors gave a B.S.degree in chemistry as their first preference, followed by biology and then by forensic science degrees with significant chemistry components. B.S. chemists can become laboratory analysts or crime scene investigators (contrary to popular TV impressions, the same person generally does not do both) and can use the chemistry B.S. as an entry to a graduate program in forensic science to further their careers. The degree is also a good basis for further study leading to an M.D. degree, which is necessary for work as a pathologist or medical examiner. Elective courses in biology, microscopy and statistics are additionally helpful technical courses for a career in this field, and remain useful for jobs in other areas as well.
Chemists play a wide and growing role in areas related to the environment. Careers include work in environmental analysis firms, in industry dealing with emission control and abatement, and in state and federal government testing and regulatory agencies. All levels of training are involved.
Several of our graduates have used their chemistry degrees as a background for patent law, for which technical knowledge is essential and which includes contact with cutting edge technologies and working closely with scientists. Two basic types of legal activity exist, and one can specialize in either one; litigation, which involves defending or challenging existing patents in legal proceedings, and patent development – preparation and filing of new patent applications. Patent law may be pursued at several levels.
- Technical Advisor. Provides technical advice and information in regard to patent applications or litigation. Typically an interim position while you gain legal knowledge.
- Patent Agent. Represents the client in filing a patent and can represent a client in dealings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. No additional degree beyond the B.S. is necessary, but a registration exam (patent bar exam) must be passed. Typically, one enters this path as a technical advisor for an established firm while learning the material for this examination.
- Patent Attorney. In addition to having the qualifications of a patent agent, a patent attorney can represent a client in court. A law degree and passing the bar exam are required.
At any level, practitioners may work for a corporation or for an independent law firm; or might also become a patent examiner or attorney for the USPTO. Environmental law is a growing field that deals with a wide range of matters relating to environmental concerns such as pollution, waste management, land use, resource extraction and many others. Activities involve interpretation and development of regulations as well as litigation, and may be practiced through private practice, public interest groups, government or as in-house counsel for a corporation.
Chemists are involved in developing modern sources of energy, such as battery systems to be used for large-scale energy storage and electric vehicles, conversion of coal to liquid or gaseous fuels, and solar energy conversion. Chemists also play a vital role in the nuclear power industry.
Technical and Science Writing
Careers in this field include writing of technical material for industrial companies, science writer for magazines or newspapers, and editor of scientific publications.
A B.S. in chemistry makes an excellent background for those who want a management career in a technologically based industry. A second B.S. or a master's degree in management or business administration are options. Many chemists enter management after beginning their careers in a technical position; many companies will provide the necessary management training.
In addition to positions in government research labs or regulatory agencies, some chemists serve as technical staff for a variety of government departments and offices.
A small but interesting field for chemists is in the conservation and authentication of art and artifacts. This is particularly attractive to those with an interest and courses in art history, archaeology or related fields.
Secondary school teaching is a career that has interested some of our graduates. Many others enter teaching in two or four year colleges and universities; almost all chemistry faculty positions at these schools require an advanced degree.
Some chemists act as independent consultants, or work for consulting firms. Independent consulting usually requires considerable background and experience in a specific area.
Some of our graduates use their technical training, often supported by a few years practical experience, to start their own companies.