What do chemists do?
Chemists study the structure and properties of substances and the interactions between them. They search for new information about materials and for practical uses. They apply scientific principles and techniques using specialized instruments to measure, identify, and evaluate materials. Overall, it is a great career with a lot of opportunities.

Some different types of chemists are:

Organic Chemists work with carbon compounds. They develop many commercial products including drugs, plastics, and fertilizers.

Inorganic Chemists work with compounds of non-carbon structure, including most of the metals and minerals. In the electronics industry, they work on ways to build solid-state electronic components.

Analytical Chemists examine the content of substances and measure the amount of each component present. Analytical Chemists also identify the presence of chemical pollutants in air, soil, and water. One field related to analytical chemistry is that of a forensic scientist. For more information on this exciting field read this article.

Biochemists study the principles of chemistry applied to living systems. A special emphasis is usually placed on studying disease states and searching for new medicines.


What do Southwestern chemistry graduates do?
Below are examples of what recent Southwestern graduates with chemistry and biochemistry degrees have done.

    * University of Kansas Medical School
    * Chemist at Hospira Labs in McPherson
    * University of Nebraska Dental School
    * University of Kansas and Missouri Schools of Pharmacy 
    * Graduate school in Biochemistry at Pennsylvania State Univ.
    * Forensic Scientist for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation
    * Pharmaceutical sales
    * Molecular biologist with Archer Daniels Midland
    * Environmental chemistry
    * UHS osteopathic medicine school



Highest Degree Obtained Median Starting Salary Median Salary
Bachelor’s Degree
Master’s Degree
Doctoral Degree

Source: Salary Survey from the American Chemical society. Chemical and Eng. News Sept. 23, 2013 and June 2, 2014.
The salary of a Chemist depends on experience, educational level, geographical location, and employer. Wages to be higher in private industry, lower in government, and lower still in high schools and colleges. The average starting salary for a college professor with a doctoral degree in 2014 was about $57,000.

Where do chemists work?
More than 60 percent of chemists work for manufacturers. The majority of these work in chemical manufacturing. Chemists also work in industries such as plastics, biotechnology, food, electronics, pharmaceuticals, paints, detergents, and cosmetics.

Academic institutions are the second largest employer of chemists. This ranges from major research universities to small teaching oriented colleges to high schools.

Federal, local, and state governments also hire chemists. Positions include forensic chemists who work for law enforcement agencies analyzing blood, saliva, and other samples; water quality chemists who analyze treated and untreated domestic water supplies; and agricultural chemists who study the chemical interaction of soils, fertilizers, insects, and animals.

Still other chemists work outside of the chemical industry in positions such as sales, patent law, computer programming, technical writing, and medical fields.

Entrance Requirements and Training 
High school students who want to major in chemistry should take high school chemistry, physics, and four years of mathematics. Computer experience is also an asset.

A bachelor’s degree with a major in chemistry is normally the minimum requirement for starting a career as a chemist. A master’s degree is usually required for jobs in applied research and for teaching in two-year colleges. Doctorates are required for many chemists in administrative, managerial, and basic research positions in industry. Chemistry teachers at four-year colleges and universities must have doctorates.


Advancement, Graduate School, and Other Fields 
In private industry, chemists with a bachelor’s degree have the opportunity, with experience and additional training, to advance to more responsible positions. The best opportunity for advancement, though, is through advanced degrees.

Students can obtain advanced degrees in chemistry from most major universities. A master’s degree typically requires two and a half years beyond the bachelor’s degree, while a direct route to a doctorate requires about five years beyond the bachelor’s degree. At most universities graduate students receive a salary of about $21,000 per year, health insurance, and no tuition charge in exchange for being a laboratory instructor for undergraduate courses and working in a research lab. In a typical doctoral program, the student will take advanced courses for the first year or two and then work on a research project for the final 3-4 years. After completion of the research project a thesis describing the work is written.

Chemistry is also a strong major for students interested in pursuing professional schools such as medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy. Many Southwestern graduates with chemistry and biochemistry degrees have gone on to medical and dental school.


Want More Information? 
Feel free to contact the chemistry department at Southwestern by phone (620) 229-6339, by e-mail and look around the website.

More information regarding careers in chemistry can also be found at the American Chemical Society's Career Navigator.