There are many types of jobs to pursue after completing a degree in chemistry: laboratory work, scientific writing, project management, and teaching in a variety of areas of chemistry like medicinal chemistry, materials science, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, or forensic chemistry. A few years or even decades later, you may realize you want to jump onto another career path. Before deciding, ask yourself a few questions.
What do you want to do instead? This can be tough. If you do not have a career in mind, explore what aspects of your job you enjoy and what aspects you would be happy to leave behind. A pharmaceutical chemist may enjoy the theory behind the lab work but not actually like being in the lab. Looking into a data analysis role could be great idea for this chemist.
What are you qualified to do? Education can play an important role here. Scientific careers often require a certain level of education in the subject area; however, a science degree may be used in non-scientific careers. Teaching college chemistry tends to require a master’s degree in chemistry if not a doctorate. Grant writing may require a college degree but it doesn’t have to be in English or writing, a degree in chemistry may work here.
Will you need to go back to school or get further training? If you are not qualified for the career you want, figure out what you need to get there. If you are trying to change departments, perhaps all you need is on-the-job training that your company will provide. Discovering a love of patent law and deciding to practice law, however, will require you to go back to law school.
Is it feasible for you to go back to school? Paying for school is a consideration. Your current employer may pay for part or all of your education if you will be able to use it working for them. You may be comfortable taking out loans to pay for school yourself, but that can be a tough decision later in your working years. You may have to consider other career options, rather than becoming a patent lawyer perhaps being a scientific consultant on patents would be a better choice.
If you are going back to school, will you continue to work or quit and go to school full time? It may make sense to quit and finish school quickly, depending on your circumstances. Often, people will have commitments that they have to meet, and will only be able to go to school part-time. Keep in mind you may be more focused now then when you first studied chemistry but you most likely have more responsibilities and your time is stretched thinner than before.
Can you translate skills learned in your current career to another? Conducting meetings and public speaking skills may help you to give college lectures.
What life/work balance do you need? Having many personal commitments- taking care of small children or elderly parents for example-may make going back to school or changing to a career that has longer hours difficult and is something to take into account before leaving your job.
What is the job market like for the career you want? You may try to hold onto your current job a little longer and stockpile savings if your new career field is not in high demand or is unstable.
After considering these questions, prepare yourself:
- Get your paperwork in order
- Update your resume to emphasize skills from past jobs that will be applicable in the future. Remove parts of your job description that are no longer relevant.
- Find out the time line for applying to schools. Order transcripts, take entrance exams, and ask for letters of recommendation.
- When trying to move within your company, talk to your current supervisor about your goals and see about getting his or her guidance.
- Connect with schoolmates and friends in this field to learn more and find out about opportunities that are available.
- Utilize technology like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc…
- Utilize the ACS Career Consultants for professional career advice.
- Explore professional contacts. You may need reference letters or they may have heard of a job opening.
- Check out professional organizations, newsletters, or trade journals for information and job openings
- The ACS portal has a lot of information about a variety of careers in chemistry.
- Consider ways to break into this field.
- Work part-time as long as it complies with your current employer’s moonlighting policy. If you are considering working in higher education, look for a part-time faculty position that meets nights or weekends to get experience and to explore this option.
- Volunteer for interdepartmental projects or committees that would give you contact with the department you would like to transfer to.
- Take a deep breath and change your life.
This article was written by Sara Stellfox. After working in contract and pharmaceutical laboratories, Sara changed her career path and is now a free lance writer and chemistry instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago.