How Can I Become a Chemistry Professor?

Learn about a career as a chemistry professor. Check out the education requirements, work responsibilities, salary and job outlook to see if this career is right for you. Schools offering Science, Technology, and International Security degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Chemistry Professor?

Chemistry professors teach a variety of courses to students enrolled in colleges, universities and other post-secondary institutions. In addition to teaching and mentoring students who aspire to become scientists, chemistry professors typically conduct their own research and publish their results in professional and scientific journals.

Typical duties for a chemistry professor can include assessing student knowledge, developing instructional plans for courses, supervision of graduate students and serving on academic and administrative committees. These professionals often work at academic institutions and are referred to as professors or faculty. Employment for chemistry professors may be as a full time tenured professor, full time, non-tenured professor, or part-time adjunct professor. The type of employment will vary depending on the course, institution and professor experience.

The following chart is an overview of what you need to know about this career.

Education Required Doctoral degree
Key Skills Written and verbal communication, organization and planning, facilitating discussion and inquiry
Job Growth (2014-2024) 13% (for Postsecondary Teachers)*
Median Salary (2015) $75,060*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Degree Paths for Aspiring Chemistry Professors

You'll need a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) to become a chemistry professor at a college or university. This process begins with the completion of a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, a 4-year degree program that consists of a combination of chemistry and lab courses and studies in mathematics and physics. You could also choose a concentration area like biochemistry, forensics, pre-law or business and industry. Undergraduate chemistry courses typically cover these topics:

  • Organic chemistry
  • Qualitative measurements
  • Radical reactions
  • Carbonyl compounds
  • Enzymes
  • Proteins
  • Chemical dynamics

Your next step is to enroll in a Master of Science (M.S.) or Ph.D. program. While some schools admit candidates with bachelor's degrees into Ph.D. programs, others require prospective students to have master's degrees. An M.S. program will take about two years to complete, and it consists of classroom and lab courses, comprehensive examinations and a final thesis project. The intense research studies could prepare you for a rigorous, research-oriented Ph.D. program.

While some Ph.D. programs are offered with the option to choose a concentration, others allow you to formulate your degree program to suit your research interests. Training in research science could prepare you for your work as a chemistry professor, a position that includes not only teaching but also ongoing research activities. Possible areas of study include stereochemistry, carbon groups, biopolymers and macromolecules. You'd use your research studies to write a doctoral dissertation, which involves conducting original research and writing a report on it suitable for publication.

Receiving your Ph.D. is dependent on the quality of your dissertation.

Gain Teaching and Publishing Experience

As a graduate student, you should take advantage of teaching apprenticeships or assistantships, which are offered through both M.S. and Ph.D. programs. You could work as an assistant to a chemistry professor and perform duties like grading papers and preparing study materials. After an observational period, you could teach courses without the presence of a professor. Gaining experience as a lecturer could also prepare you for a teaching position.

After completing your education, you'll want to continue your research activities and work towards getting published in a scientific journal geared towards chemistry. Getting published shows schools that you're committed to your field and capable of contributing to science. Publication also demonstrates your expertise and ability to offer students an education backed by the most recent developments in research.

Search for Jobs

Most colleges and universities advertise openings for professors on their websites, but you could also send resumes to schools that are not currently hiring; your resume could be kept on file and may attract someone's attention in the future. You could also check websites that post jobs exclusively for those who hold Ph.D.s. Becoming a member of a scientific organization could also be helpful during your job search; membership could open the door to networking opportunities at conferences and lectures at schools across the country.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2015, chemistry professors teaching at colleges, universities and professional schools earned an average of $89,510 a year, while those employed by junior colleges took home average incomes of $74,280. States with the top-paying jobs were New York, where chemistry professors earned an average of $98,060, and Texas, where they were paid an average of $81,430.

What are Some Related Alternative Careers?

For those seeking to stay in the education or science realm postsecondary education administrators, sociologists or biochemists could be alternative careers. Biochemists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and use that knowledge to advance scientific practices and gain new insight into life. They require a doctoral degree and have a similar salary range as chemistry professors. Postsecondary education administrators oversee student services, academics and faculty research at academic institutions. In fact many professors often transition into these roles later in their careers. Master's degrees are the minimum required but additional credentials may be required. Finally sociologists study society and social behavior by examining groups, cultures and processes of behavioral interactions. These professionals must also have a master's degree and are along the same salary level as most academic professionals.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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