Information about careers in chemistry

Find out what a career in chemistry could mean for a child in your care

What is chemistry?

Chemistry 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. 

The chemical and pharmaceutical industry adds £18 billion of value to the UK economy every year from total annual turnover of £50 billion supporting 500,000 jobs directly and indirectly. For every tonne of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emitted, the chemical industries’ products and technologies save over 2 tonnes of GHG emissions savings (Source). 

 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 and vaccines
  • food technology – creating foods and food additives
  • manufacturing – developing and converting raw materials into usable products from paints to solar panels to clothing
  • 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.

Why study chemistry?

Whatever their plans for the future, having a chemistry qualification could really help. For some careers a chemistry qualification is essential.

A chemistry qualification teaches a wide range of skills that are valued by both scientific and non-scientific employers. These skills include:

  • ability to research, collate, handle and analyse data
  • written and verbal communication skills
  • logical thought processes
  • problem solving
  • team working
  • exposure to health and safety regulations
  • attention to detail when conducting experiments and observations
  • an understanding of how and why things happen

Are chemical scientists in demand?

In choosing any career, it is important to take into account the economic trends across the world, the UK and locally. It is no good training for something where there’s no demand. We live in a changing world and the individual 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, processes and demand for new medicines and medical devices continues to increase. 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.

Where to study? 

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. 

There are various university degrees available so it’s important to explore the different courses available. However, it is important that they choose the right university and course for them. There is no single ‘best’ course. The Royal Society of Chemistry accredits university courses so you can be assured they meet the specific requirements and contain a high level of chemistry. 

If university isn’t suitable there are also work-based options where they can gain workplace experience to kickstart their career in 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 undergraduate chemistry degrees.

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Supporting and inspiring young people

Resources for parents, carers and guardians supporting young people interested in chemistry