What to do with a degree in chemistry

Helen Sharman, Britain's first cosmonaut, graduated in chemistry. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features

An article by Angela Foster

Britain’s first woman prime minister and the first Briton in space have one thing in common – both studied chemistry at university, proving that it doesn’t have to be all white coats and test tubes.

Oxford graduate Margaret Thatcher was a research chemist, helping devise the process that produces Mr Whippy ice cream. And Helen Sharman, who studied at Sheffield, worked, aptly enough, at Mars confectionary before becoming the UK cosmonaut on the 1991 Soviet space mission Project Juno. For those with less lofty ambitions, it can open doors to a wide variety of careers inside or outside the lab..

What skills have you gained?

Numerical ability, problem-solving, analytical skills, and written and oral communication – all are highly valued by potential employers. The practical skills you have developed from the lab will come in handy. In addition, you will have gained excellent teamwork and time-management skills from planning and carrying out experiments, plus expertise in IT, including processing data and using computer software models.

What jobs can you do?

Just over 40% of chemistry graduates found full-time employment in 2010, with many finding jobs as analytical or development chemists, medical scientists or in scientific research (17.1%).

Margaret Holbrough, careers adviser at Graduate Prospects, says: “Chemistry graduates are sought by many industries, particularly manufacturing (pharmaceuticals, plastics, petrochemicals, agrochemicals, toiletries, food and so on), education and the medical/health sector to work in scientific support, analysis, teaching or research.

“Specific roles include analytical chemist, clinical biochemist, toxicologist, forensic scientist and all specialisations within chemical research. In addition, areas of chemical and process engineering employ chemists, although in many instances a postgraduate engineering qualification will also be required.”

Other suitable roles include science writer, patent agent and environmental consultant.

Graduates also find work in business and finance (8.5%), management (7.4%) and marketing, sales and advertising (3.2%), where their mathematical skills can come to the fore

A bit more here What to do with a degree in chemistry

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