Careers in Chemistry | Chemistry and Biochemistry | SIU

Southern Illinois University



College of Agriculture, Life and Physical Sciences

Careers in Chemistry

Chemical manufacturing and the pharmaceutical industry are major employers of chemists, but chemists work in every major industry, from food processing to computer and molecular biology technology. Chemists are to be found in every branch of the federal government - the FBI, the Defense Department, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and many others. The pattern of employment in government is repeated at the state level and, to a lesser degree, at the local level.

Not all chemists end up in the laboratory. A large number find jobs in marketing, personnel, or other areas of management where a chemical background is valuable.


Opportunities in high school and elementary teaching are better than ever. There is an acute shortage of physical science teachers in the nation's schools, which has led to widespread concern and efforts to upgrade salaries and working conditions.

Opportunities for All

Opportunities for women and minorities in chemistry are excellent. There is a need to increase the numbers of these groups in the physical sciences, and special incentives in the way of scholarships or other types of support are often available to those who take up the challenge.

Career Counseling

Because many graduates want to begin careers as soon as they finish their undergraduate degrees, the school has a career counselor who works with students and University Career Services to find the best position for each individual. Companies call the school directly, looking for chemists at all levels.

The employment picture for chemistry graduates, as for those in other fields, fluctuates with the economy. However, chemistry cuts across several disciplines, which improves the odds for chemists. This pattern is expected to continue, partly because the wide range of employment opportunities for chemists in industry, government, and education makes their jobs less susceptible to the employment fluctuations of a particular industry. Currently, about two thirds of chemistry undergraduates move on to graduate school.

Starting salaries for a chemist with a B.S. are around $35,000 (1996) while an individual with an M.S. can expect to start at around $40,000 and one with a Ph.D. at $52,000.

Many of our graduates have gone on to outstanding careers in chemistry and related fields. Professor Fred Basolo of Northwestern University received his undergraduate degree in this school and has been recognized nationally for his outstanding contributions to organic and inorganic chemistry. In 1983 he was elected president of the American Chemical Society (its membership is in excess of 100,000), and he is presently a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Many of our graduates have advanced to high positions in business. Dr. Robert Gower, for instance, is president and chief executive officer of Lyondell Petrochemical.