Organic Chemistry

Get an overview of degree programs and career opportunities in organic chemistry. Find information about job growth and potential earnings for chemists here, and make an informed decision about your education and career.

Is Organic Chemistry for Me?

Career Overview

Organic chemists explore compounds that contain carbon. Besides studying living beings, organic chemists create many of the modern materials that we use everyday, such as plastics, detergents and rubber. Organic chemistry is used in many industries, including pharmaceutical manufacturing, chemical development and architectural engineering.

Job Duties and Skills

As an organic chemist, you'll most likely work standard hours in a laboratory or office setting, conducting experiments, writing reports and analyzing test results. When creating and testing new compounds, it is important to follow safety procedures in order to minimize dangerous hazards. Good communication skills are key, especially since you may have to work on a team with other scientists.

Employment and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that job opportunities for chemists would increase by only 6% between 2012 and 2022, which is slower than the average of all occupations. The fields of biotechnology and pharmaceuticals may offer enhanced opportunities for employment. Potential employers may show a preference for candidates with doctoral degrees and prior experience in the field. The BLS reported in May 2013 that chemists earned an average annual salary of $77,740 (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Work in Organic Chemistry?

Undergraduate Programs

A bachelor's degree in chemistry can be a good start if you are interested in organic chemistry; you can start preparing in high school by taking advanced science and math classes. While most undergraduate degree programs do not offer specializations in organic chemistry, they can provide you with an introduction to the subfields typically associated with chemistry. In addition to organic chemistry, you'll study computer applications for chemistry and quantitative analysis. You might also pursue related coursework in biochemistry and spectrometric and separation methods; opportunities for independent research and special chemistry topics might also be part of the program.

Graduate Programs

A master's degree program in chemistry with a specialization in organic chemistry may qualify you for a position as a research chemist; areas of inquiry can include medicinal chemistry, chemical biology or the synthesization of hydrocarbons. Depending on the curriculum, you may study synthetic organic chemistry or the mechanisms associated with organic reactions. Most master's degree programs typically offer both a thesis and a non-thesis option.

In addition to advanced courses in chemical toxicology and green chemistry, a doctoral program in organic chemistry can provide you with the chance to spend a semester teaching at the college level. You'll also have to pass written and oral exams, conduct independent research and defend your doctoral dissertation.

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