Information for parents or guardians to support 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.

After School - 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. The Royal Society of Chemistry also accredits university chemistry courses so you can be assured they meet the specific requirements and contain a high level of chemistry. 

Labour market trends

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.

School science classroom

Source: Shutterstock

How can you support them? 

  • Encourage the child to think about their future and talk to them about what they like doing, what’s important to them and how they like to learn.
  • Speak with the child’s school about the careers advice and support they offer. What work experience do they offer? Are there any future careers events or fairs that you could attend together?
  • Do your own research into their study and career options around the subjects they are interested in. Look online for professional bodies for those subjects, as they often provide careers information. 
  • If they are considering further study or an apprenticeship then start your research early as there are a lot of courses on offer. Check the entry requirements for courses and find out when and how to apply.

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

  • 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.
  • 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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