Every year in the spring, I talk to journalism undergraduates about possible career paths they might take, and one piece of advice I always impart is that they should major in anything but journalism. As you can imagine, that nugget doesn’t go over well with the faculty that teaches these journalism students, but it’s something I believe fervently.
Invariably, the students then ask me what my major was. Chemistry and biochemistry, I tell them, with minors in physics and math. The next question is then, “What does that have to do with being a writer?” That’s when I tell them that chemistry is an ideal major for a budding writer because the coursework and lab work builds strong thinking, analytical and organizational skills, which is something that most journalism programs, by and large, don’t emphasize.
Becoming a writer was not something that crossed my mind when I decided to major in chemistry in college, but knowing what I know today about my chosen profession, I would take the same path again if I had it to do all over again. Chemistry isn’t called “the central science” for no good reason – a good education in chemistry can prepare you for a job in a wide range of fields.
Careers in chemical research span the widely known – synthetic chemist, medicinal chemist, polymer chemist, materials scientist, analytical chemist, geochemist, and the like – and the more obscure. In a cursory search on the Web, I found job posting for cement chemists, packing technologists, ethnobotanists, paleoclimatologists, astrobiologist, forensic scientists, and fragrance formulator, all requiring a minimum of a B.S. in chemistry.
Then there are the “non-traditional” jobs open to chemists. I found job postings for science writers, environmental and patent attorneys, technical writers, software designers, restaurant test kitchen researchers, information specialists, government policy analysts, and of course, science teachers that all requested applicants to have a chemistry degree.
I even found a job posting for a special effects coordinator that required applicants to have completed a minimum of two years of graduate school in chemistry. Maybe MacGyver is making a comeback! Or perhaps the CSI franchise intends to be more realistic when it comes to staging lab scenes.
I’m sure that there are many more unusual professions open to those of us with training I chemistry. In fact, I’d like to hear from you if you are using your chemistry degree for something out of the ordinary. Leave a comment by clicking on the “Comments” link at the end of this blog entry. Let’s see just how creative chemists can be when it comes to career development. I’m sure the results will be surprising.
This article was written by Joe Alper, a freelance science writer and technology analyst in Louisville, CO.