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What is Chemistry Really?

By Mike Poslusney

In theory what is it?

Depending on what area of chemistry you decide to focus on, this is a multi-faceted question. A common theme is synthesis of new, useful compounds, application(s) of said compounds, isolation of new substances from natural sources, analysis of and elucidation of structures of new substances, physical studies of chemical reactions. A chemistry student should be familiar with all of these processes upon completion of a B.S. Most bachelor's programs are designed not to train extensively in one area, but to give a solid foundation for general industrial work or higher education.

What is it used for?

Chemistry majors enter a surprisingly large number of fields; drug companies have become major employers. A chemist in industry might work on new drugs, do research for any number of different manufacturing operations (paints, carpet, plastics, you name it!), or quality control for any of these companies. Government organizations like the FDA and USDA are always in need of chemists, too. It's hard to say exactly what a chemist might do.

What does the major actually entail - work-wise?

Like most physical science programs, chemistry majors usually follow a hierarchical track of courses, in addition to university-mandated general education classes. General chemistry is first; the rudiments of many different areas are discussed at an elementary level. Generally a lab course is taken, they're pretty boring. Organic is next; unfortunately, this tends to serve as a "weeding out" class. There is little involvement of math proper, but the logic used is pretty complicated. You can't b.s your way through this one. Physical chemistry is next in the sequence. This is perhaps the most dreaded of all, especially for the less mathematically inclined. Most of the focus is on thermodynamics and quantum theory. The lab experiments get pretty complex, and the lab reports are usually quite lengthy. Inorganic is the last required course. Metals, molecular orbital theory, bonding, and coordination chemistry are common topics. Also rather heavy on the math (at times). Aside from these requirements, you can take advanced chem electives; advanced organic synthesis, advanced physical, etc.

What kind of jobs do you get with it?

See above.

What are the fellow students like (personalitywise) in it?

Depends on where you go; a lot of kids are just pre-med majors and don't really give a shit about chemistry, but some are really great and creative.

Common Misconceptions

That all chem majors make crack in their dorms, that we do the crack we make in our dorms, that we sell crack that we make in our dorms, anything related to the making of crack.
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Chemistry Major unemployment rate

_ChemistryAll Majors
Unemployed%4%7
Minimum Wage%5%4
All Others%91%88
More: Unemployment for all Majors *** not counting stay at home parents *** not counting those currently in grad school

Are things going well in Chemistry?

Going Well %84
Not Going Well %16
More: All Majors Satisfaction ??? This is a social "life satisfaction" question. Overall, would people who graduated with a degree in Chemistry say that their life is going well? It could be interpreted in terms of stress, salary, long hours, future prospects, etc. *** not counting those currently in grad school

Graduates who stayed in Chemistry

Still in Field %64
Got out %36
More: All Majors Still in field ??? A high "got out" percentage can be interpreted a couple of ways -- for instance, perhaps the major is a great stepping stone to becoming a totally different career -- like a doctor. Or perhaps the jobs one gets with the major just aren't that great. *** not counting those currently in grad school
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