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Chemistry Overview

  Chemistry is the study of materials, their composition and their reactions with other materials. Disciplines within the study of chemistry include inorganic and organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, applied chemistry, biochemistry and physical chemistry, while more specialized disciplines continue to emerge as science advances. The study of chemistry emphasizes identifying and solving problems, making critical observations, designing experiments, developing theories, maintaining precision and accuracy, and requires proficiency in reading, writing and making presentations of your findings. Jobs within chemistry involve qualitative and quantitative chemical analyses and experiments for quality or process control, or to develop new products or knowledge. Because the applications of chemistry affect nearly every aspect of life - the production of food, drugs, plastics, paper, construction materials and maintaining environmental safety – job opportunities within the field are rapidly growing.

Chemistry Career Options

  Hopkins graduates who majored in chemistry have gone on to assume positions of scientific leadership in private industry and academia. Fields of employment include:

  • Medicine
  • Government/Environment
  • Research and Development/Production
  • Sales, Marketing and Technical Service
  • Chemical Patent Law

  For more information on these industries, visit the Career Center’s industry profile section. Below are a few of the positions held by English graduates within these fields:

  • Medicine
    • The chemistry department at Johns Hopkins offers a specific pre-medical curricular track for those students wishing to pursue medical school. With an undergraduate or master’s degree, chemistry graduates can work as with hospitals, research facilities or independent testing labs to perform basic diagnostic procedures on biological samples.
  • Government/Environment
    • Roughly one in every ten chemists works for the government. Major government research centers include the National Institute of Health, the Agricultural Research Service, the National Bureau of Standards, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy Labs where career opportunities range from basic research (similar to what is traditionally performed in an academic setting) to applied research (similar to what is done in private industry). Chemists in regulatory settings such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Food and Drug Administration develop research and analytical methods for the processes and products that the government regulates, while chemists working with enforcement agencies perform analyses and data review to assure compliance with existing regulations and laws.
    • Further opportunities exist through other government agencies and departments in conservation, agriculture and horticulture. While pay in a government position would be substantially lower than a similar position in private industry, employees would be at the forefront of critical decisions being made, including the approval of drugs, the containment of disease and protection against chemical and biological weapons. Additionally, a few years working for the government can lead to even more lucrative opportunities in private industry.
  • Education
    • Academic careers can offer the most independence and flexibility, but positions are extremely competitive and require long hours, as positions within institutions of higher learning require balancing research interests with teaching and administrative duties, nor are they as lucrative as private industry positions.
    • Those primarily interested in teaching should consider positions in secondary education, where they will work most closely with students, while professors and lecturers at the university level are expected to develop vigorous research programs while also teaching and soliciting funding
    • Chemists specifically interested in cutting edge research can consider positions as a lab technologist or instrumentation specialist at a major research university, where they would be responsible for the care, maintenance and operation of highly sophisticated instrumentation used for research. For example, at Johns Hopkins, this might include working with the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Center’s high-field spectrometers. Entry-level positions for recent chemistry graduates are available at academic labs for research assistants and lab technicians.
  • Research and Development/Production
    • Chemical and pharmaceutical companies produce and sell chemical products that are conceived, developed, produced and tested by chemists. At the most basic level, positions in this process include research, where chemists run chemical reactions and solve complex scientific problems, and then report on their findings; development, where chemists supervise technicians, develop assay procedures, find optimum process conditions and scale-up reactions; and production, where chemists work with plant engineers to maximize the design and use of plant equipment, supervise production, ensure quality control and ensure compliance with environmental protection processes. These types of positions within private corporations are extremely lucrative, but also highly competitive.
  • Sales, Marketing and Technical Service
    • Once corporations develop products, they must market, sell and support the products, and to do so, they look for employees with chemical backgrounds who can understand the complex nature of the products while at the same time understanding and excelling at fundamental business processes such as marketing and sales. Another form of support is technical service, where chemists combine laboratory work with customer interaction by developing new applications for products, writing instruction manuals, and troubleshooting for customers with problems and questions. Each of these positions requires some education or experience in business, as well as strong interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Chemical Patent Law
    • A non-traditional, but lucrative field, that combines a law degree with graduate knowledge of science, chemical patent attorneys are responsible for determining whether a new compound or manufacturing process is sufficiently novel to be patentable, and then preparing the patent. They made be employed by corporations directly or as consultants.

  Other career fields within chemistry continue to emerge and grow as the science progresses.

Chemistry Career Prep

  The most important career preparation for chemistry major is a combination of research experience and internships.

  Johns Hopkins is known globally as one of the world’s finest research institutions, and the university’s chemistry department is an excellent example of that tradition – its faculty conducts ongoing research programs in analytical chemistry, atmospheric chemistry, environmental chemistry, bio-organic chemistry, biophysical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, bio-inorganic chemistry, synthetic organic chemistry, organometallic chemistry, physical organic chemistry, physical chemistry, chemical physics, surface chemistry and theoretical chemistry. These studies provide exceptional opportunities for chemistry students to distinguish themselves from their competitors, while at the same time developing their research and laboratory experience. Internships are available within private industry as well.

Large employers within the industry include:

  • Abbott Laboratories
  • Argonne National Laboratory
  • Astra-Zeneca Pharmaceuticals
  • Avon Products
  • Cambridge Environmental
  • Caterpillar
  • Chevron
  • Colgate-Palmolive
  • Dow Chemical Company
  • Estee Lauder
  • Food & Drug Administration
  • General Motors Corporation
  • Goodyear Tire & Rubber
  • Hershey Foods Corporation
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Johnson and Johnson
  • Kraft
  • Merck and Co.
  • Mobil Oil Corporation
  • Nalco Chemical Company
  • Naval Medical Research Center
  • Pfizer
  • Wyeth Pharmaceuticals
  • Shell
  • SRI International

  While work at a large corporation can provide students with invaluable work experience and contacts, internships at smaller firms will likely be more hands-on. Skills employers look for include research and laboratory experience, quantitative skills and attention to detail, effective communication and presentation abilities, ability to apply the scientific method to real world problems, statistical analysis and complex problem solving abilities, use of technical tools, scientific equipment and manual dexterity, and the ability to manipulate numerical data.

  Students interested in careers related to marketing, sales and finance should pursue additional coursework in finance, economics and marketing as well as internship opportunities in those fields. Students potentially interested in government employment should begin to familiarize themselves with federal, state and local job application processes by their junior year, as they are often lengthy and bureaucratic, and require very specific qualifications.

  Because so many laboratory and research positions involve working in teams, leadership positions in campus organizations as well as participation in intramural sports and activities can help to demonstrate teamwork skills.

Chemistry Alumni

  Hopkins Chemistry alumni go into a variety of career fields. Since 2005 the Career Center has surveyed recent graduates about their academic and career plans 6 months after graduation. Here is a summary of their responses.

Listed below are actual job titles that JHU alumni acquired with their degrees in Chemistry:

  • Biochemist
  • Managing Director
  • Medical Technician
  • Physician
  • Professor
  • Product Development Manager
  • Process Research Chemist
  • Research Scientist, Automotive Industry
  • Senior Scientist, Petroleum Company
  • Software Quality Specialist at Unisys
  • Staff Scientist, Food Manufacturer
  • Water Resources Advisor Consultant

Hopkins Alumni with Chemistry majors

Theodore R. Carski- Corporate Medical Director, Becton, Dickinson & Co.Chemistry, Class of 1952, M.D. 1956

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Parental influence (father was a chemist) Entered as pre-med, graduated as pre-med with acceptance to med school.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - Military deferment during school and internship then US Public Health Service for 3 years. Then R&D job with Becton Dickison. Promotions and increasing responsibility over 34 years with same company.
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Medical school immediately after college.
  4. What advice do you have for current students? - Get your parents money's worth. Sit in the front of the classroom. Participate and learn all you can. Get the best grades possible. Might not be fun but it will be worth it in the long run.
  5. What is your typical day like? - No typical day. Variety of domestic and foreign travel, scientific and company meetings, preparation of publications, interface with employees, government authorities and customers.
  6. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? Rewarding: Responsibility for quality of products that improve the health of the world - with income that provided a comfortable life for my family. Challenging: Unsolved medical and scientific problems.
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Stay in school as long as you can. If you must work go to school part time. Get advanced degrees. Always tell the truth.
  8. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Medicine and science are here to stay. Both will continue to provide opportunity and growth.

John DeMaggio- Special Agent in Charge (retired), US Government, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Chemistry, Class of 1975, Master’s in Technology Management, Johns Hopkins, 1994

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Forensic Chemistry, I was interested in Chemistry and Forensic Chemistry is a practical application of this.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - Forensic Science lead to Special Agent. This lead to technical service support, electronic surveillance. I rose through the ranks to become director of Forensic and Technical Services.
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Senior lab Tech for a medical examiner's office doing forensic chemistry and testifying in courts. Retired Special Agent in Charge, Director of Forensic and Technical Services
  4. What advice do you have for current students? - Work through your contacts to get an internship, a job and a career. Also use them to find out what career you want.
  5. What is your typical day like? - In the field, every day was different. You may be installing a covert video one day, a wire tap the next. In Forensic, you may be processing a crime scene one day, doing analysis the next and testifying the next. As a manager fewer chances to deal with the tech, more to deal with budgets, Human resources, policy, etc.
  6. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - It is fun. Never a dull moment. Most challenging, Upper management's lack of understanding and the media projection of unrealistic abilities.
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Bench chemist or basic criminal investigator. Do a good job in the one you are assigned. If you do not, you will never have credibility.
  8. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Government controls increasing, funding decreasing.
  9. What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Internships are the number one way to see what goes on. You may be able to volunteer and get a handle on good non academic lab procedures.
  10. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Two years, working with limited supervision, five years working on your own, ten years, master of a system and mentoring new people.
  11. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - American Academy of Forensic Science, National Technical Investigator's Association.
  12. What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Insurance industries, NTSB, medical fields.

Additional Alumni Profiles

    Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.

    For more information on what you can do with a Cheimstry Major go to What can I do with a major in Chemistry.

    Want to know more? Read our Hopkins Career Profiles on Scientific Research, Pharmaceuticals, Medicine, and Environment. If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.

  LinkedIn.com - a professional networking site where you can identify Hopkins alumni. Join the LinkedIn Johns Hopkins University Alumni Group to add over 4000+ alumni to your network.

Chemistry Grad School

  For information on the top Graduate programs, the best people to talk to are the experts in the field you wish to study such as faculty members and graduate students in that specific discipline. We strongly encourage you to talk with your advisor and/or other faculty members with whom you have a good, working relationship. This will also help when you request letters of recommendation.

  The Career Center is here to help you navigate the graduate school search process. Learn about Graduate and Professional School

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