Chemistry careers


I’m graduating next year but I’m a little panicked. I’m a chemistry major, and I don’t want to go the traditional path of getting more advanced degrees right out of college. A lot of people think that getting a STEM major means insta-success right out of college, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s tons of work then insta-panic when you graduate. I haven’t really had time to think about my passions, and now I feel like I’m rushing towards the future without knowing what my passions are. Did I make a mistake? Should I have been a chemical engineer? What career options should I be looking in to?

Graduating without knowing what you want to do is a little scary, especially in a field that people expect to be easy. The fact is, most students graduate from college without a job. Recent estimates put it as high as 4 out of 5. You’re in good company. Still, your situation being normal doesn’t make it any easier. So let’s talk about finding a job that suits you.

First, we want to respond to your comment that you are “rushing towards the future without knowing what my passions are.” The truth is that you don’t really have to know what your passions are yet. A recent article in The Atlantic said, “‘Find Your Passion’ is Terrible Advice.” That phrase about finding your passion is typically taken to mean that you should search for what gets you excited, and once you find that, stick to it.

But as the article points out, passions aren’t found, they are developed. Finding your passion should be taken as a directive to cultivate your interests and try out new things, rather than to stumble around hoping to do whatever it is you already like. There is more to the world than you know right now. You have the rest of your life to explore, and graduation is a perfect opportunity to branch out and do something unexpected. All that said, let’s look at some specific fields that approach chemistry in a less typical way.

You might be familiar with the science of forensics from TV shows, but, according to the American Chemical Society, crime labs need people with chemistry backgrounds to solve crimes. They collaborate with local, state, and federal institutions, so you could be working with everybody from the local police officers to the FBI. Museums and auction houses also hire chemists to authenticate and preserve works of art — to prove, for example, that a 16th-century Dutch painting really comes from the 16th century. Chemists also develop makeup used in movies, TV, and theater. Those amazing creatures from 2005’s “The Chronicles of Narnia”? Their fantastical heads were developed in a chemistry lab, then applied to the actors using a special adhesive.

Nutrition and supplementation companies need chemists, so working, for example, for a vitamin manufacturer might be right for you. Vitamin manufacturers such as Makers Nutrition sometimes work on contract for people launching their own product line, so the work would be varied and carry different challenges every day. Furthermore, food suppliers and restaurant chains employ food chemists and food scientists in their test kitchens to develop new products. Fast-food magazine QSR details Wendy’s and Dairy Queen’s efforts to develop new, innovative menu items. These efforts are scientist-led, rather than chef-led; it is a fun field that might match your skills.

Don’t let any of these options restrict you, though. Maybe you want to try being a musician, or a barista, or lead a trek of high-schoolers through Nepal. You have the rest of your life to settle down and find the career that people expect of you. Better yet, don’t do what people expect — live with yourself as the guide.

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