Information for parents to support their children thinking about a future in chemistry.
So your child is interested in chemistry? Of course, you want to support him or her in making the right choices. Here are some pointers to help you do your best for your child.
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.
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.
- Petrochemicals – oil, gas and their products.
- Journalism and publishing – scientific books and journals, the popular press, textbooks and general science books.
- Forensics – examining evidence after a crime.
- Teaching or research – in academia or industry.
Have a look around the career options area of the site for more ideas.
Through the Royal Society of Chemistry, chemists can apply to receive professional recognition of their skills and expertise at any stage of their career. If they have undertaken a degree at an accredited university they can apply to become a Chartered Chemist (CChem). This is based on professional training, experience and expertise. It is valued by employers and recognised world-wide. Candidates undergo a Professional Development Programme, often supported by an employer.
Why study chemistry?
If your child wants a career in chemistry, they will have to study it at some level. It’s a complicated subject, which requires a large body of knowledge. If, for example, your child wants to study chemistry at university, they will need chemistry A-level (or equivalent) and for that they will need to study chemistry at GCSE (or equivalent), either alone or part of science. It’s not a subject they can pick up in the first year of a degree course. If your child doesn't want to go to university at 18, there are other vocational routes available to pursue a career using chemistry.
If your child studies chemistry and then decides on a career in another field, they will still benefit from their chemistry studies. They will have, for example:
- collated and analysed data
- written up scientific reports
- used logical thought processes
- applied prior knowledge to solve problems
- paid attention to detail when conducting experiments and observations as well as gaining scientific knowledge of the subject.
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?
Your child can study chemistry at all levels and move into a career by different routes.
Options at 16 - our guide to chemistry qualifications for post-16 students can help you and your child decide which qualifications might suit them best.
If your child wants to continue to study chemistry beyond school, there are a range of options at 18, such as a degree or vocational studies. Our Options at 18+ guide will help your child explore what's best for them. Remember, though, that it is important that your child chooses the right university or course for them. There is no single ‘best’ course.
To become a Chartered Chemist, your child needs 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.
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 your child 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 chemists worldwide because chemistry forms the basis of so many materials and processes in the modern world.
Chemistry is a global field. If your child is interested in working abroad, there will be plenty of opportunities.
It has been estimated that the chemical industry has grown by more than 3% a year since 2000.
For a glimpse of the jobs of the future take a look at The Shape of Jobs to come.
What else can you do to help your child?
Encourage them to enjoy chemistry outside lessons and exams. Here are some ideas:
- Join ChemNet - the Royal Society of Chemistry's membership scheme for 14-18 year olds.
- 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 STEMNET (in the UK).
- Attend events such as the Big Bang. If the School doesn’t go along, take your child 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 ROI the CAO Central Applications Office also has a parent’s guide.
- BBC Learning has a Parents page