in a shorter
and a more
industries. Both industries currently represent
relatively strong job markets for chemists.
Check your college’s website to find electives
that might give you a competitive advantage
when applying for jobs in other industries. Also
try to consult with people working in these
industries for advice.
Experienced industrial chemists can also be
helpful sources of advice on which fields can
be useful supplements to your chemical education. Attending ACS local section meetings
enables you to meet these chemists and solicit
their advice. ACS career consultants can also be
helpful. Go to www.acs.org/careers to review
the biographies of the more than 70 ACS career
consultants to choose ones most likely to be helpful to you.
courses. The terminal course in an education minor
is teaching one or more high school science courses
under the supervision of an experienced high school
science teacher and an education professor from
your college or university.
Completing a specialized minor is a major com-
mitment, ironically. Therefore it is important that
you have clear career goals in mind and understand
how you want your specialized minor to help you
achieve these goals. Designing your own specialized
minor can be challenging, since the courses you
want to take may be offered by two or more depart-
ments, not just one. Again, consulting with your fac-
ulty advisor, faculty members in other departments,
and a dean can be very helpful in clarifying your
thoughts and learning what is possible on your campus.
Explore business careers
One or more courses in marketing, sales, and business manage-
ment could be useful in an industrial career outside of R&D.
Combining these electives with foreign lan-
guage courses could help prepare you for a
business career in the global marketplace.
Taking a course in a religion or a foreign
culture could also be useful. An excel-
lent next step could be to spend a
college semester studying abroad in
a country where most people speak
the language you studied.
Go to your faculty advisor and other pro-
fessors for advice on which electives to take. This
can mean going to professors outside your major
field of study for advice. For example, if you are inter-
ested in taking some environmental engineering courses, discuss
your interest with professors in this department.
Look into specialized minors
Specialized minors are a carefully coordinated sequence of courses
designed to provide you with an organized body of knowledge and
set of skills. “Official” minors at a university or college may require
as many as 18–22 credit hours of courses. This might require taking summer classes or an additional semester of undergraduate
study. If you don’t want to do this, consider taking fewer courses—
perhaps a coordinated series of courses totaling 8–12 credit hours.
Even this level of specialized study can be very useful for job hunting and starting your industrial chemistry career. There are many
different specialized minors available at some universities and colleges. Recently, specialized minors in entrepreneurship have been
established on some campuses, for example. Alternatively, you
often can design your own.
One “traditional” minor for chemistry majors is taking the
education and psychology courses needed to obtain a teaching certificate and teach high school chemistry (and often other science)
Fitting courses into your curriculum
You may not have room in your course schedule to take all of the
electives that interest you, so you should try to take electives that
most closely align with your interests and goals. Of course, the earlier in your college career you start choosing electives strategically,
the more flexibility you’ll have in squeezing in useful courses. Fitting electives into your curriculum can be tough, particularly if you
are a junior or senior. Going to summer school at another college to
take electives not offered by your own school is an excellent strategy to squeeze additional elective courses into your curriculum.
Night courses may be another option. I used summer night courses
to squeeze in nine credit hours of courses.
If you are still job hunting after you graduate, taking one or
more additional elective courses can be a useful way to enhance
your professional credentials— particularly if you don’t want to
make the commitment to attend graduate school.
Some schools offer a monthlong period between semesters or
trimesters during which students can take courses to expand their
education. If your school does so, this can be another opportunity
to take electives and broaden your career options. Another strategy
you might try is to take an online course or evening college course
during your summer break. If you do so, check with your faculty
advisor or dean to determine if your college will give you academic
credit for an elective course taken elsewhere. It’s best to do this prior
to paying the tuition fee for the elective, as your college will likely
provide credit for courses taken at some institutions but not others.
These strategies, practiced separately or in combination to suit
your interests and needs, can result in a shorter job hunt and a
more satisfying first job. Your choice of electives can also demonstrate your creativity to potential employers.
John K. Borchardt is an industrial organic chemist, freelance
writer, ACS career consultant, and former high school chemistry
teacher. He holds 30 U.S. and more than 80 international patents, and is the author of more than 120 peer-reviewed technical papers. He was awarded the Henry Hill Award for
his contributions to the chemical profession.