Information for parents to support their children thinking about a future in chemistry

So you are supporting a child interested in chemistry and you want to help them make the right choices. Here are some pointers.

What is chemistry?

Chemistry itself is the science of matter at the very basic level of molecules and atoms. Chemists study what substances are made of, how they interact and their role in living things.

 It is one of a group of chemical sciences which includes:

  • biological sciences, such as biochemistry, molecular biology and pharmacology.
  • materials chemistry, an interdisciplinary field looking at the chemical structure of materials and how they react with their environment.
  • environmental chemistry, understanding environmental interactions such as climate change, pollution or waste management on a molecular level.

 Chemistry is also the basis of other related disciplines such as chemical engineering.

 What could they be doing?

 Chemists work in almost any field you can think of, including:

  • pharmaceuticals – developing and testing medicines
  • food technology – creating foods and food additives
  • manufacturing – developing and producing all types of materials from solar panels to medicines
  • energy – renewables, oil and gas
  • science communication, journalism and publishing – communicating about science and research in scientific books and journals, magazines and online news publishers
  • forensics – examining evidence after a crime and providing evidence in court
  • teaching or research – in academia or industry.

Have a look around the career options area of the site for more ideas.

Why study chemistry?

A chemistry qualification delivers skills that are valued by employers across a broad range of sectors, including non-scientific fields. Whether or not the person you are supporting goes on to a career in chemistry, they will benefit from skills which include:

  • an ability to research, collate, handle and analyse data
  • written and verbal communication skills by writing scientific reports
  • logical thought processes
  • problem solving
  • exposure to health and safety regulations
  • attention to detail when conducting experiments and observations as well as gaining scientific knowledge of the subject.

Chemistry is a complicated subject, which requires a large body of knowledge. To study it at university a chemistry A-level (or equivalent) is required, which means studying it at GCSE (or equivalent), either alone or as part of science. It’s not a subject a person can pick up. If the child you are supporting doesn’t want to go to university at 18, there are other work-based routes available to pursue a career using chemistry.

Maths is a good subject to study alongside chemistry, as a good understanding of maths will help the study of chemistry. Maths is a requirement for some chemistry degrees.

Where to study?

At School - our guide to chemistry qualifications for post-16 students contains helpful advice and information to help you and the child you support decide which qualifications might suit them best.

If they want to continue to study chemistry beyond school, there are a range of options at 18, such as a degree or work-based studies. Our After School guide will help them explore what’s best. Remember, though, that it is important that they choose the right university or course for them. There is no single ‘best’ course.

To become a Chartered Chemist, they need to take a Royal Society of Chemistry accredited degree. The Royal Society of Chemistry site has a course search, so you can check this out.

In choosing any career, it’s important to take into account the economic trends, in the world, the UK and locally. It’s no good training for something where there’s no demand. We live in a changing world and the child you are supporting may be a few years away from the world of work. Choosing chemistry as a career, though, will stand them in good stead. There will always be a demand for chemical scientists worldwide because chemistry forms the basis of so many materials and processes in the modern world.

Chemistry is also a global field so there will be plenty of opportunities to work abroad.

The Parental Guidance website has useful information on labour market trends. You may want to watch the short video Shift happens, which is a graphic illustration of how the world is changing.

For a glimpse of the jobs of the future take a look at The future of work.

What else can you do to help?

Encourage them to enjoy chemistry outside lessons and exams. Here are some ideas:

School science classroom

Source: Shutterstock

  • get involved with the Chemistry Club at School. If the school doesn’t have one, encourage them to start one. Funds are available through the Royal Society of Chemistry, details here or through STEM clubs (in the UK)
  • attend events such as the Big Bang. If the school doesn’t go along, take the child you support yourself
  • visit a Museum of Science and Technology
  • apply for a chemistry camp
  • try a university summer school, such as those run by the Sutton Trust
  • take a paid placement Year in Industry either before or after university.
  • UCAS (the Universities Admissions Service) has a page for parents and a Parent Guide. In Republic of Ireland the CAO Central Applications Office also has a parent’s guide.
  • BBC Learning has a parents page
  • Parental Guidance from the Careers Writers Association has information and guidance to help you
  • Futuremorph is full of science-related information and activities for parents and young people



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