TLDR; Majors: Chemistry

By Shang Chen
July 30, 2020 · 2 minute read

Chemistry

subCapping off the TL;DR Majors series, this week, we're going to be discussing chemistry. Back in high school, chemistry was one of my favorite courses because I was excited about the idea of being able to perform experiments and learning about the elements that made up the world around us. A college-level education in chemistry will include things like hands-on experiments and learning about the different aspects, while also requiring its students to understand and sometimes memorize complex chemical structures and formulas.

What does the average Chemistry course load look like?

The coursework for chemistry majors will vary depending on whether you are looking to go into medicine or planning to continue your education with a master's degree. Still, these are the four pillars of an undergraduate chemistry education:

  1. Chemistry - Most universities/colleges will break up your chemistry coursework into two sections. The first classes you will take are, in general, the more basic and introductory chemistry subjects. Things like understanding basic chemical terms like compounds, exothermic reactions, etc. As you progress, you will reach more advanced chemical topics with classes like Organic Chemistry being one of the more infamous classes (Seriously, ask anybody who majored in chemistry how O. Chem went for them)
  2. Biology - Although chemistry and biology are distinct majors, the reality is you cannot make much headway in learning about one of the subjects without a solid foundation in the other. Most chemistry majors will have to take a few introductory biology courses along with their chemistry coursework. For those looking to go into specific fields of chemistry, namely those looking to go down the pre-med track, biology and chemistry probably go hand-in-hand. Even for those that are looking to go into a more research-oriented job, chances are that if you are going to be working with people or living organisms, a deeper understanding of biology will not hurt.
  3. Mathematics - Although chemistry may not be as heavy on math as things like physics and computer science, an understanding of math concepts up to calculus is pretty much expected nowadays. Concepts like stoichiometry require some pretty good attention to detail as well as careful basic arithmetic.
  4. Research - Pretty much every job you can get with chemistry will require some hands-on projects. Designing experiments, surveying patients, and working in a lab are all essential skills that you should be building as a chemistry major. Some institutes even accept applications for high school students to help work in their labs for a summer. To find out more about some local programs that you can participate in, check out https://sciteens.org/home/programs, or ask your high school guidance counselor for more information.

What jobs can I get with Chemistry?

Here at SciTeens, we believe that you should pursue any field you are passionate about. Still, if the subject you love so also happens to be filled with a bunch of well-paying jobs, what's holding you back! Chemistry is one of those majors that is in the sweet spot of being interesting as well as very competitive. Chemistry is often referred to as the "central science" because it connects the physical, life, and applied sciences. A major in chemistry is extraordinarily diverse and opens up dozens of job fields. In general, you can group the types of jobs you can get after majoring in chemistry into five sectors: industry, academia, government, non-profit, and entrepreneurship. Through these five sectors, you will have access to a very diverse set of jobs, meaning you can do almost anything you want with a major in chemistry.

The Chemistry Experience

You know the drill, we hit up a current undergraduate at universities across the United States to get an in-depth look at what's like to major in a particular field. I hope these interviews were helpful to anybody who wanted to know from a student's perspective what the different majors entailed.

TLDR;

Chemistry is a fantastic major that allows students to prepare for an advanced job in a variety of sectors without necessarily locking them into a particular field. Chemistry majors should have a keen eye for detail and a desire to unravel the building blocks of life. Chemistry students should be prepared to take a mix of both chemistry and biology courses as well as some introductory mathematics courses. After majoring in chemistry, you will be able to tackle a variety of fields with a strong foundation of the "central" science under your belt.

Interview

Ashleigh Teygong - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I'm Ashleigh! I'm from Oklahoma, and I currently attend MIT. I'm studying Chemical Engineering with a minor in Business.

What inspired you to major in chemistry?

I wanted to create cool things like pharmaceuticals and consumer products

What are some of the coolest experiments that you have done in high school or college?

Guess the compound; Chromatography Lab

What has been some of the challenges of being a chemistry major?

The content can be very complex, confusing, and very theoretical at times, but it is still extremely interesting.

What fields or jobs are you looking to go into after majoring in chemistry?

Either pharmaceuticals or consumer products.

What skills would you say are the most important for aspiring chemistry students?

Curiosity for chemicals and how they work together; being attentive to details

What advice/tips would you offer to a high school student who might be interested in chemistry?

Try to get involved in chemistry research! Look and see where chemistry may be happening in your everyday life (for example: your toothpaste!)

Did you enjoy this article?

About The Author

Shang Chen is on the executive team of SciTeens and is studying Data Science and Economics at UC Berkeley. His hobbies include working out, cooking, and being bad at chess. Feel free to reach out to him with comments, questions, and future article recommendations at Shang@SciTeens.org. 

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