For those newbies just coming out of school into the fabulous world of Big Time Chemistry, you have an interesting time ahead of you. You’ll soon learn that your crisp new diploma is really just a backstage pass down the rabbit hole of The World, Inc.  Your brain is now as sharp as it’ll ever be … well, after some well deserved R&R. Your capacity to spend long hours in the lab will never be greater.  And, your skin has thickened to the abuses from too many years in college. The cleat marks of rabid and unscrupulous profs posturing for tenure will scab over and vanish. Now is your chance to plant your cleats anywhere you please.

For those going into industrial slots, there is yet much to learn. Whereas in school your cohort is confined to a narrow age group, in the world you’ll land in a place filled with workers of all ages. The biggest surprise of all may be the slow realization that perhaps you’re not the only person of Ability in the room. Not all of the really bright people stay in academia or even went to college.

You’ll be able to examine people in various stages of career growth and in various capacities. There is a vast difference in corporate cultures and in time one adapts to the demands of the Machine. This Machine requires much of its people. All company Machines are constructed around a core. This core is the accounting system.  Many people are dedicated to the upkeep of this part of the Machine.  Scientists fresh out of school are often unaware of the critical importance of non-scientist staff pulling the handles and twiddling the knobs of the Machine so it can keep operating.

I happen to think that chemical plants are really fascinating places whose sophstication and importance is frequently misunderstood. Yes, they are often maligned as unattractive blights on the landscape. But from the technology pespective, chemical manufacturing is a rich part of our technological heritage and more of us need to make that point to our communities. 

There are many paths in a good and righteous career in chemistry. Some choose to stay in R&D. Others choose the dark side and enter business development or the even darker side of supply chain management (just kidding, mostly). Many will discover fascinating specialties they never new existed like scale-up, kilo-lab, pilot plant operations, or production support. Then there is quality control, analytical services, technical support, or environmental health and safety.

There are many industry segments that use chemists, so try not to get fixated on just one. It is quite possible to have a good life outside of pharmaceuticals. For students who are interested in grad school, there is polymer chemistry or a variety of material sciences. Polymer science and rheology is fascinating and there is a huge industry out there making polymers. But no matter what you pick, make certain it is something that you really dig. Then it is less of a job and more of a passion.