So, You Want to Study Chemistry at University?

Page created by Taaibah Hossain (Chemistry with Industrial Experience, University of Birmingham)

This article is for those of you who are now working on your UCAS applications and are wondering; is chemistry the degree for me? I have just completed my degree; an MSci in Chemistry with an Industrial Experience, and am going to try to give you some insight into what you can expect from a chemistry degree. I will also touch on what your future job prospects may look like, should you choose to proceed with chemistry as your degree discipline.

So first, let us begin with the key features of a BSc chemistry degree. Typically, BSc degrees last for three years. The key features of a BSc chemistry degree include lectures, tutorials, laboratory sessions and group work. The course content that is delivered in lectures is supplemented with tutorials. Tutorials allow you to test how well you understand a topic and are a chance to closely interact with your peers and lecturers while having fun problem solving.

Another key part of a chemistry degree is laboratory (lab) work. You can expect to have couple of lab sessions a week in the first and second years of your degree. Lab sessions can last for up to 4 hours; this is a big change from A-level but is the case so that you have adequate time to complete experiments. Whether or not you have lab sessions in your third year will depend upon what sort of research project you choose: some of them do not require practical lab work as they are based upon theoretical chemistry, computational chemistry or science communication. Labs generally include a pre-lab, where you prepare for the lab experiment; the experiment itself; and a pro- forma, where you answer questions about the lab or give details of your results, such as the yield in a synthesis. Labs are a chance to apply and use your theoretical chemistry knowledge in a practical way.

While a lot of your study will be independent, group work is also a part of the chemistry degree programmes at the University of Birmingham. Group work may include end of topic workshop sessions, designed to help consolidate core principles, or dedicated group work courses. Examples of group work courses that I took part in were an NMR spectroscopy course and a science communication course. During group courses you can expect to spend a few sessions working with your team on a task or set of problems. At the end of the course you will have a chance to present your answers and findings to your peers.

Some universities offer courses which allow you to gain more than a BSc title. Such courses at the University of Birmingham include: the opportunity to obtain a masters degree through an extra year of study, by doing a year in industry, studying abroad for a year or by doing a major/minor degree in business management. During my degree I worked towards a masters and my third year was spent working in the personal care department in a speciality chemicals company. I would highly recommend taking advantage of these opportunities, as they enhance your CV and can be very enjoyable.

There are many skills that you can expect to gain through undertaking a chemistry degree,  including transferable skills and those specific to chemistry. You will gain time management skills, problem solving skills, communication and teamwork skills and the skills needed to work in a laboratory and many other skills.

Job prospects

Chemistry research

 If after your degree you find that you really enjoy researching and pushing the boundaries of current scientific knowledge, you might decide to follow a research career. This could be done at universities as academic research or you could move into industry, where you carry out research for a company. Industries that hire chemists include, but are not limited to, the automotive, engineering, materials, personal care, agrochemicals, pharmaceutical and consumer products industries.

Chemistry related jobs

Another career option is to take up a chemistry related job. Examples of chemistry related jobs are a science teacher, science journalist, patent attorney, a policy advisor, art conservationist or a technology consultant.

Non-chemistry related jobs

You could also go into a career which is not chemistry related, using your transferable skills to achieve success. For example, you could go into management, banking, data science or even start your own business. Essentially, with a chemistry degree you have the ability to pursue many career options: your degree equips you with transferable skills and the ability to learn new concepts and apply your knowledge to unfamiliar situations allowing you to adapt yourself to your career of choice.

Personally, I hope to enter into a career in industrial research, having really enjoyed my industrial placement year, and am currently looking for a job in the West Midlands- my home and a fabulous place to live.

To conclude, if you do not mind getting stuck in and putting in the work, then chemistry is the degree for you! You will be richly rewarded with a degree which employers seek and which can open many doors for you in the future.

If you want to learn more about careers in chemistry do check out the Royal Society of Chemistry Future in Chemistry careers website.


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