Realise it or not, deep down we are all chemists. Every time we light a match, boil an egg or simply breathe in and out, we perform a chemical reaction. Our bodies grow, develop and function entirely as a result of the chemical processes that go on within them. Our clothes and nearly all the objects of our everyday life are manufactured by the chemical transformation of raw materials like oil or iron ore, or by the chemical treatment of natural products like wood or wool.
Most of the food we eat is grown with the help of chemical fertilisers and kept from rotting with chemical preservatives. If we are to protect the planet from the harmful effects of human activity, we need to understand as clearly as possible the complex chemical systems which make up our environment of land, sea and air.
As well as being fundamental in our daily lives, chemistry is a fundamental subject in science. In different areas it overlaps with biology and medicine, with physics and engineering, and with geology and earth science. Thus, while it might be unusual for someone to take a degree in geology and then follow a career in biology, it is commonplace for chemistry graduates to move into these or any other area of science. As a result, many doors are open to chemistry graduates, and career opportunities are very diverse.
Some of the areas where chemists are to be found include:
- All areas of industry, from the oil, chemical and pharmaceutical companies to a host of smaller enterprises producing new and specialist products
- Public health and environmental protection
- Research in universities, government institutes, industry and private agencies
- Teaching at all levels
- Patent agencies, scientific journalism
- Forensic science
- Numerous other occupations which make direct use of their scientific knowledge
However, in following a chemistry degree, students also acquire many other valuable general skills, for example numeracy, data handling, computing and IT, in evaluating written material and in presenting both written and verbal reports of their work. These are precisely the skills required in many areas of managerial and administrative work, in business, commerce, finance, banking or the Civil Service, and many chemists move easily into occupations in these areas.
Thus, a chemistry degree will prepare you for a career in chemistry, if that is what you wish, but it will not restrict you to chemistry and can be a stepping stone to many other opportunities.