Careers in Chemistry
The majority of chemists are employed in one of four main areas: academia, industry, government,and non-traditional. Some may even branch off into areas such as health and medicine, the environmental sciences, energy, forensics, agriculture, and materials science. Let’s examine some of these career paths in more detail.
An academic career focuses on teaching chemistry (and possibly other sciences) to an audience, and may also involve an independent research program. The four major types of academic positions include: secondary school science teachers, laboratory coordinators, college professor (generally in a department which does not grant post-graduate degrees, such as Ph.D.), and professor at a major research university.
Industrial careers in chemistry may focus on
- the research and development of a new product
- the manufacturing of the product
- marketing and sales of a product
- quality assurance, or
- technical service, among many others.
The product may be a potential block buster drug, a novel flavour for the food industry, petrochemicals, scientific instrumentation, or may also be a service. The workflow is also different in each one of these diverse activities:
- In research and development, the product starts as an idea, it is created, and may need to go through many tests to ensure it is safe before ever going into the market.
- In production, the manufacturing process that generates the product is optimized, followed by scale-up of and stringent quality control.
- Marketing and sales are necessary to provide the customer with the product, and involves predicting future trends and sales, determining market needs, and developing advertising strategies, as well as having the interpersonal skills to work one-on-one with the customer.
- Often when scientific instrumentation is involved, chemists are involved in technical services which will require both laboratory work and customer relations.
There are also government research centres throughout Canada which include:
- National Research Council Canada
- Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada
- Environment Canada
- CANMET Energy Technology Centre
- National Water Research Institute
- Defence Research and Development Canada
At these research institutes, career opportunities range from basic research to applied research which are directed to supporting government projects and initiatives.
Using the scientific approach, critical thinking ability and problem solving skills learnt in chemistry, a multitude of non-traditional careers in chemistry are also attainable. Some of these include careers such as:
- a chemist at an art museum involved in restoring, preserving and authenticating works of art
- an information specialist involved in locating information, processing and cataloguing materials for a library
- an independent consultant which possesses specialized knowledge and experience that makes their perspective on a problem valuable
- a clinical chemist which may be employed at a hospital, research facility or independent testing labs to perform routine diagnostic procedures
- a patent agent or patent attorney (the latter requires additional educational background in law and, generally, graduate level science) and is responsible for determining whether new products are sufficiently novel to be patentable and then draft and/or file the patent.
The common thread between these career opportunities, is that they use many of the skills that are taught in chemistry, both in lab and lecture. Some of these include the scientific approach to tackling problems, critical thinking and analysis of data, the writing of scientific reports, team work, ability to communicate with colleagues, and the ability to get the job done within the prescribed deadline. All of these qualities are essential for success in today’s workforce.