RSC - Advancing the Chemical Sciences



FAQs - Careers

Below are answers to common questions about careers in the chemical sciences. More information can also be found on the pages in this section.

What jobs can I do with a qualification in the chemical sciences?

All sorts! A degree in chemistry opens the door to a wide range of careers options, both in and out of the lab, including many you might not have thought about before. Some of these career areas are described in the RSC publication Degrees in Chemistry, available to download from the bottom of this page. You can also read about some of the exciting career opportunities open to chemistry graduates in our career profiles on the Chemical Science Careers page in this section.

If I do a chemistry degree, will I have to work in a lab?

Not if you don't want to -  a chemistry degree opens up a wide range of career options. About a third of chemistry graduates decide to pursue a career in the laboratory, but many do not. A chemistry degree can provide you with a whole range of useful skills that are highly valued by many employers, such team work, problem solving, communication and numeracy skills. You can read about some of the exciting career opportunities open to chemistry graduates in our career profiles on the Chemical Science Careers page in this section.

What could I earn?

Independent research shows that the average chemistry graduate earns substantially more over a lifetime than graduates of many other disciplines. A degree in chemistry could increase your lifetime earnings by 190,000 compared to what you could achieve with two A Levels, and by 60,000 compared to most other graduates.

If you want to find out more about salaries in a particular career area, current job advertisements are a good source of information. Newspapers, career websites and magazines focusing on topics relevant to your area of interest are good places to start. Remember that salaries depend on a large number of factors, including qualifications required, geographical location, experience and age of applicant, size and type of the organisation etc.

How can I become a science teacher?

The most common way to become a science teacher is to do a degree course in a science subject and then a one-year Initial Teacher Training (ITT) course. All ITT courses include the opportunity to spend time in schools to help develop teaching skills.

There are a number of options available, including:

  • Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)
  • Undergraduate degrees with a Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) course
  • Schools Direct
  • School-Centred Initial Teacher Training
  • Teach First  

For more information, visit the National College for Teaching & Leadership website.

How can I become a forensic scientist?

Beware - forensic scientists and scenes of crime officers are not the same. Scenes of crime officers are generally recruited and trained by the police force (although they are civilians, not police officers). You can find out more on the National Policing Improvement Agency website.

Forensic Scientists use their scientific and analytical skills to analyse evidence in the laboratory. This is a competitive field - jobs in forensic science are few and far between. The best route to take is often to do a degree in chemistry, analytical chemistry or biology. These courses give you a firm grounding in laboratory techniques and provide you with the analytical skills required for a career in forensic science. Following a course such as this also keeps many other career options open should you change your mind or find it difficult to become forensic scientist after graduation.

Forensic science degree courses are becoming more common but it is important to check that the course content is appropriate for the kind of career you would like to pursue - for example, does it include enough time in the laboratory to satisfy future employers?

If you are interested in pursuing a career in this area, the Forensic Science Society can provide further useful information. 

Do I need chemistry to... medicine?

An A-level (or equivalent) in chemistry is essential if you want to study medicine. Surprisingly, biology is not required but maths and/or physics often are. Very good grades are certainly needed and relevant work experience will significantly  increase your chances of gaining a place on a medicine degree course. Details of current requirements can be found on the UCAS website. 

...become a dentist?

Normally chemistry and biology at AS Level (or equivalent) are compulsory if you wish to study dentistry. One or both of these subjects are also required at A Level (or equivalent). Details of current course entry requirements can be found on the UCAS website.

...become a vet?

The qualifications needed to become a veterinary surgeon are similar to those for becoming a doctor. Chemistry is required at A-level (or equivalent), along with A-levels in biology, physics or mathematics. Current requirements can be found on the UCAS website.

...become a pharmacist?

Chemistry A-level is an entry requirement for many pharmacy courses, and is preferable for all institutions.

Many people confuse pharmacy with pharmacology. Pharmacists are involved in the dispensing of medicines and learn not only about the effects of different medicines and how they interact, but also about regulations related to dispensing. Pharmacologists study the effects of chemical compounds on humans and animals. They may work in clinical trials but often work as part of a research team in a laboratory.

...become a materials scientist or metallurgist?

These careers are intimately involved with chemistry, physics, and engineering, so A-levels (or equivalent) in chemistry, physics, engineering and mathematics are the best basis for study in this area. Current entry requirements for courses can be found on the UCAS website.

Materials scientists can work in a very wide range of fields, from sports and aerospace applications to medicine and communications. The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining publishes helpful literature on both materials science and metallurgy. 

Where can I get chemistry-related work experience?

Finding a work experience placement can be difficult but companies and universities look very highly on students who have the enthusiasm and independence to hunt for a relevant position. The RSC does not provide work experience for school students, however your RSC Local Section may be able to offer advice on how to find placements in your area.

For more information and advice on work experience, visit the Industry Experience page in this section.

Industrial Experience

Work experience, industrial placements and more

Downloadable Files

The Next Step - chemistry qualifications for post-16 students
Find out what's available if you want to continue to study chemistry after the age of 16, with this handy guide
PDF iconPDF (1067k)  

Degrees in Chemistry
Information on further studies in Chemistry and the Chemical Sciences.
PDF iconPDF (1171k)  

Does a chemical science degree pay off?
Research showing that chemistry graduates earn more than graduates of other disciplines
PDF iconPDF (183k)  

PDF files require Link icon Adobe Acrobat Reader

Related Links

Link icon National College for Teaching & Leadership
Find out more about routes into teaching

Link icon NPIA - National Policing Improvement Agency
Find out what's involved in becoming a crime scene investigator or a fingerprint officer.

Link icon The Forensic Science Society
Find out more about becoming a forensic scientist

Link icon UCAS course search
Search the database of university courses and entry requirements

Link icon Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, careers pages
Information on how materials scientists work in transport, sport, aerospace, communications, medicine and energy, as well as career profiles

External links will open in a new browser window

Contact and Further Information

Education Department
Royal Society of Chemistry, Thomas Graham House, Cambridge Science Park, Milton Road, Cambridge, CB4 0WF
Tel: 01223 432221