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Questions for actual and potential Chemists and Chem Engineers!

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Cross-post from College Forum!


Hello Everyone!

My younger ds has discovered an interest and ability in chemistry! He enjoyed chemistry last year in 10th grade (using DIVE and Apologia) and is thriving in AP Chem (through ChemAdvantage via PA Homeschoolers). He is maintaining approx a 95% average! So, he is thinking that he may be interested in pursuing chemistry or chem engineering in college. He is also, thankfully, likely to advance at least to National Merit Semifinalist based on his PSAT scores. He will need to follow the money in his choice of universities.


So, what we would like to know is: what do professional chemists and chem engineers actually do? What kinds of jobs do they get, where, what kind of working conditions, salaries, job security, etc - really anything you can think of that may be helpful as my ds thinks about career choices. Also, what kinds of other skills are important in these fields? (writing, speaking, etc)

Also, can you point out some good and great schools for these subjects?


Ds is rather eclectic in his interests, and he is also interested in government and might like to work in the Foreign Service like his grandfather. So schools that offer both opportunities (chem and gov't) - odd mix, I know, but that is ds! - would be especially nice! All the better if they offer huge scholarships to MNFs and if there are good places to go birdwatching close by!

Thanks for your help!


April :bigear:

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Well, dh is a professor of chemistry at an oceanographic institute. He does research on ocean acidification, and he also produces batches of artificial seawater that scientific research ships from over twenty different countries use to calibrate their instruments so that everyone's settings are the same before they set out and do the measurements. He teaches graduate classes in chemistry and thermodynamics. He travels a lot: he usually goes to Japan at least once a year, Europe at least once, most years more for both, to collaborate with international science projects. He works with high school students during the summers, introducing them to aspects of marine science.


He has said, and his colleagues -- during years of dinner parties -- have also said repeatedly, that kids interested in chemistry need:

--strong math background

--knowledge of computers

--writing skills (dh spends amazing amounts of time not only writing for publication, but also writing research grant proposals)

--lab skills (and my, how they do go on and on about this one)


These do not all need to be acquired in high school, at least not to the same level. But these are the fundamentals.

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Thanks, KarenAnne!

Your husband's job sounds very interesting! Does he happen to work in CA, by any chance? And thanks for the great information, too!




Yes, he does. Were you curious about or interested in finding out something further about chemistry jobs in CA? I can refer any questions to him if you like.

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Hi KarenAnne! We are in SoCal. Your husband's research sounds interesting and I was wondering what kind of summer opportunities for high school students might exist. Thanks!




There are two ways to go, from what I can tell. The University of California and probably some other campuses host a handful of summer science programs, many of them residential, others for commuters. I've seen programs in physics, engineering, space science, math and science, and oceanography (that one I know is a residential program; kids come from all over the country). I've found out about these just by messing around on the internet -- general googling and looking at a specific university's web pages.


Individual professors, depending on their needs and comfort level with high school students, also can hire kids to work in offices and labs. They usually are looking for kids with computer knowledge and basically sound writing skills. I'm not quite sure what the kids actually DO; I can ask dh and he can ask around colleagues to see what the range is.


Edited to add: I see that I overlooked the part of your original question about salary and job security. Well, suffice it to say that we've had a 10% pay cut with the rest of the University of California, and that my brother-in-law, who works for UPS, makes more than dh does. As for job security, it is, interestingly enough, highly political. Most research scientists are not paid their full salary by the university who hires them, but must constantly write grant proposals for funding for their research. This is where the politics comes in. Certain types of research are faddish and get funded regularly; others fade in and out depending on which political party is in charge in the house and senate -- there are political fallouts to this in grant agencies; some really excellent and worthwhile research doesn't get funded due to all kinds of stuff going on in inner circles. This isn't to scare off you or your son: I don't know of any of dh's colleagues who have not gotten enough research funded to keep their jobs, but it does add a bit of anxiety to things when they have to produce so many proposals to try to make sure something goes through.


On the other hand, there are a lot of perks within the academic system, such as flexibility of hours, opportunities for a lot of travel, working with people from all over the world, a mix of teaching and research of your own choice.

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