Are you thinking of studying Chemistry?

Image shows liquid being dripped into test tubes.
Have you ever dreamed of being at the forefront of scientific research?
Take a degree in Chemistry and one day you might very well be. Summed up in the words of the University of Oxford, “Chemistry is a wide-ranging science concerned with the synthesis, structures, dynamics, properties and transformations of all types of materials – organic, inorganic and biological.” You study this exciting subject through a combination of theoretical understanding and practical experiments, picking up a raft of subject-specific knowledge and transferable skills in the process. This makes it a degree that’s interesting and engaging to study, and one that will prepare you for a diverse array of well-paid careers.

What kind of things can I expect to study?

Image shows rows of test tubes for medical research.
Pharmacology is one of the many aspects of Chemistry.

There’s so much to learn in a Chemistry degree that it’s difficult to provide a simple overview; the subjects you could be studying include things as diverse as pharmacology, atmospheric chemistry, geomorphological processes, biochemical warfare, molecular spectroscopy and much, much more.

Different branches of chemistry

Chemistry degree courses focus primarily on the different areas of chemistry, the main ones being:

  • Organic chemistry: this is the study of organic materials and compounds and their structures, properties and reactivity.
  • Inorganic chemistry: this branch of chemistry looks at inorganic compounds such as metals, and their reactivity, including their electronics and other properties.
  • Physical chemistry: this applies physics to the study of chemistry, and includes, among other things, quantum mechanics; it’s the study of the structures that hold molecules together. Thermodynamics and kinetics are also part of studying this branch of chemistry.

There are many more specific areas of chemistry that you might end up studying too, such as analytical chemistry, chemical engineering, environmental chemistry or food chemistry.

Practicals

The development of hands-on lab skills is an important aspect of a Chemistry degree, so you can expect to spend plenty of time in the lab, exploring the practical applications of what you learn in lectures.

Maths

Image shows a page filled with mathematical formulae.
You will need to be confident in your mathematical ability.

If you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy maths, a Chemistry degree may not be for you: it requires lots of maths, and you will probably find yourself studying even more of it at university. Bad news if you couldn’t wait to give up the subject after GCSE!

What do I need for a Chemistry degree?

Chemistry is an essential A-level for the study of Chemistry at undergraduate level, and Mathematics is highly recommended; an additional science (Physics or Biology) or Further Mathematics is desirable. Some courses may accept you without A-level Maths, but you’ll almost certainly have to do extra maths study at university to make up for it.

What skills will I acquire?

A Chemistry degree, in common with any strong scientific education, teaches you many useful skills in addition to the subject-specific knowledge you acquire. These include strong numerical, research and problem-solving skills, plus the usual teamwork, communication and IT skills that almost all degrees bestow. Data investigation is another more specific scientific skill that you’ll gain from studying Chemistry, and it’s a skill that can be applied in any analytical role in your future career.

Will I get to travel as part of my degree?

With practical experience centred on what you do in the lab, Chemistry isn’t a degree that lends itself particularly well to travel opportunities, but some Chemistry courses are four years with a year spent studying abroad. You may also be able to take a Chemistry degree that involves a year in industry, which is valuable career preparation.

What careers are possible with a Chemistry degree?

Image shows Margaret Thatcher.
Margaret Thatcher studied Chemistry, as did Angela Merkel.

Many students taking Chemistry at undergraduate level continue studying it to gain a PhD, going on to become scientific researchers, or working in research and development. The chemical, pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries are popular destinations with Chemistry graduates, as are related areas such as healthcare or environmental work. One famous Chemistry graduate even went on to be Britain’s first female Prime Minister (Margaret Thatcher). In general, Chemistry teaches excellent problem-solving skills that make graduates of this subject more than capable of handling responsibilities in numerous other sectors, however unrelated to Chemistry they may seem.

Related degrees

There are lots of other degrees you might be interested in if you’re thinking about studying Chemistry; here are a few ideas.

  • Biochemistry – the study of the chemical processes of living organisms; ideal if you lean more towards the biological side of Chemistry.
  • Biomedical Sciences – a good subject to study if you want a career supporting the medical profession with your knowledge of how the human body functions and how diseases can be understood and treated.
  • Biology and Physics – other alternative science subjects you might want to consider; both have major relevance to Chemistry, so if your interests tend more towards organic chemistry or physical chemistry, these are degrees that might also suit you.
  • Materials Science – this involves a lot of Chemistry, as it’s the study of man-made materials and how they can be used to advance the world we live in.
  • Pharmacology – the study of how drugs interact with the human body. The pharmaceutical industry is the UK’s largest research sector, so it’s a degree that will lead to a good job.

A final thought on Chemistry

Image shows an advanced-looking Chemistry lab.
Chemistry graduates are highly sought-after.

Get your head around the complex problems you’ll face as part of this challenging degree and you’ll find that the situations you encounter in your future job don’t seem too daunting. Chemistry degrees are third only to Medicine and Dentistry in the financial return graduates receive over the course of their careers, so it’s a degree that will stand you in good stead for life. Chemists are highly sought-after, as there’s a perceived shortage of Chemistry graduates, so you needn’t be concerned about your job prospects with a degree in Chemistry. Make sure you choose a degree course that’s accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry, as you may have the opportunity to register as a chartered chemist when you graduate (giving you more letters after your name, which always looks impressive to potential employers).







 

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Image credits: banner; test tubes; Maths; Thatcher; laboratory.