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Job opportunities in chemistry, and how long for a PhD?


blackhole123
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I'm a second year chemistry major and I love it, but I had a couple questions that I thought some people here could clear up. A lot of my friends are pharmacy majors. They are going to go to school for 6 years, get a pharm D, and then go out and make $100,000 a year. I'd be a chem major no matter what, but how much does a fresh PhD in chemistry usually make right away if they went into industry? The internet tells me $66,000, is that about right? It just seems like I'm going to have to spend more time dealing with more difficult subject matter and have to write a thesis and everything, and they will make more than me, at least initially.

 

How long does it usually take to get a PhD? 3 years is what most programs are, but I just can't see most people getting a PhD in chemistry after 3 years in grad school. Most of my TAs have already been there for longer than that.

 

I think I like inorganic chemistry. I haven't taken the course yet but the undergrad research I'm doing is all about inorganic synthesis and I really like learning about crystal structures, XRD, etc. But whenever I think of someone having a successful career in chemistry, I think of going to work for a big pharmaceutical company, which would probably be organic. Am I limiting myself by 1) getting a degree in chemistry, not chemical engineering, and 2) not going into organic (which seems to be the main option if you aren't an engineer)? I'd love to do research at a university, but my ultimate goal is to go into industry for a few years and then go back and teach.

 

What exactly do you DO on an average day at work as a chemist? Sit down at a table and start making hypotheses? In the lab most of the time? Thinking about having a job is so intimidating right now. To go back to the pharmacist example, it seems like what they do is pretty prescribed (pun intended). But as a chemist, you actually have to actively contribute to the company and come up with new ideas and stuff! Yikes! I'm sure everyone feels this way at my level, but wow am I scared to have to do that. I'm at the top of all my classes so I'm not worried about being smart enough (well, maybe a little), it just seems like so much would be expected of you. And again, those damn pharmacists (damn them) are going to make so much more than me. I just researched what the average professor makes and its around $40,000! What the hell?! I could make that much being a manager some random store, but instead I need 7 years of education (and not everyone can even do it, the material is hard) to get to that point?

 

I'm going to do what interests me regardless, I'm just curious. It's pretty early to be planning for a PhD and being a professor, but again, I'm just curious.

Edited by blackhole123
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I wouldn't take the $66,000 estimate too seriously. I've seen similar numbers for the average salary of a PhD chemist. However, if you do some digging, I've seen BS level chemistry jobs that offer $70,000. I've also seen senior scientist positions for large companies, like oil companies that start at $250,000. I'm currently considering a civilian job with the US navy (I'll be finished with a bachelor's in chemistry next semester) from what I've seen, the pay for the military science jobs is among the most competitive around. I'd rather not say what the starting salary they offer is, but I'll say you would be pleasantly surprised. Just remember that the high paying gigs are also the most competitive. It's good that you've already begun on some undergraduate research. Come job hunting time, you'll have some nice resume ammunition if you managed to get your name on an abstract.

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