Career Guide to JMU Majors: Chemistry
American Chemical Society Certified Curriculum
Admission and Progression Standards:
Visit the Major Snapshots site to learn more about the admission and progression standards of this major.
Description of Major
Chemistry is offered as a major and minor at JMU. The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry offers programs designed to provide the student with theoretical and practical instruction in Chemistry and related areas leading to careers in chemistry, biochemistry, medicine, dentistry, paramedical areas, forensic sciences, chemical engineering and other technology based careers. The department offers an American Chemical Society (ACS) Certified Curriculum in 1) Chemistry, 2) Biochemistry, 3) Materials Chemistry and 4) Chemical Education. The General concentration prepares students to go into a variety of teaching, technology or medical based fields. The Chemistry / Business concentration is designed for business oriented Chemistry students preparing for careers in patent law, technical sales or services and other related areas. The department also offers a minor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Materials Science.
Tell me more about this field of study
Chemistry is the science that describes matter, its chemical and physical properties, the chemical and physical changes matter undergoes, and the energy changes that accompany these processes. Chemistry is concerned with studying the composition and structure of matter as well as how composition and structure determine the physical, chemical, and physiological properties of matter. Chemistry is central among the sciences and thus offers excellent opportunities for interdisciplinary interaction with the other sciences.
Chemists rely heavily on advanced instrumental techniques such as chromatography, mass spectrometry, laser spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and surface analysis - all using computers for control and data processing.
Tell me more about specialization
Specialization in Chemistry normally does not occur at the undergraduate major level, but in graduate school. Instead, an undergraduate program in Chemistry provides a thorough preparation in the fundamentals that enable students to pursue a wide variety of specializations and sub-disciplines after undergraduate college.
Traditionally there are five sub disciplines in Chemistry: analytical, inorganic, organic, biochemistry, and physical chemistry, all of which are represented at JMU. Analytical Chemists determine the composition of substances, finding the “what” and “how much” of the substance studied. Inorganic Chemists specialize in taking apart or putting together all molecules except those whose properties are primarily due to containing carbon. Organic Chemists study compounds that contain carbon as the most significant element. Biochemists focus on the chemistry of any compound that is a part of the living world. Physical Chemists explore the role energy plays in chemical reactions.
There are a variety of other specializations within, among, and outside of the traditional five areas such as: polymers, natural products, spectroscopy, materials science, computation chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, and chemical ecology. New areas are continually emerging. For example, chemists are employed in a wide range of industries working on problems such as: making more efficient pain killers and pharmaceuticals; helping to solve problems of industrial waste; finding new sources of energy; understanding what makes a good diet; studying the nutrition of plants; reducing the pollution from automobile exhausts; or developing new materials with desirable properties.
Common majors or minors that complement this major
The most common is perhaps a minor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Other combinations could include: Anthropology, Biology, Computer Science, Criminal Justice, English, Environmental Studies, Geographic Science, Geology, Integrated Science and Technology, Materials Science, Mathematics, Physics, Pre-Dentistry, Pre-Medicine, Pre-Pharmacy, Pre-Physician Assistant, Pre-Veterinary, Psychology or Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication.
In general, the successful Chemistry major must be curious, have good mathematical abilities, and genuinely enjoy science. Often organizational skills, perseverance, judgment, and attitude are as important as intelligence. The amount of time spent with course related activities such as studying and preparing lab reports is usually substantially greater than that required for other majors. This requires considerable dedication when friends are seen participating in other non-academic activities.
Many graduates choose typical career paths associated with this major. However, some graduates choose nontraditional career fields that utilize skills and experiences developed during their years in college. Keep in mind, that some fields will require graduate study or further training. The listing below offers examples of possible career paths and is not meant to be comprehensive.
Who employs graduates?
Biotechnology Firms, Colleges and Universities, Environmental Protection Agencies, Federal, State and Local Governments, such as Centers for Disease Control, FBI, or NASA, Industrial Production and Inspection Agencies, Manufacturing Firms such as, Cosmetics, Textiles, Paint or Food Processors, Pharmaceutical and Medical Research Companies, Research Laboratories and Waste Management Firms.
There is no formal practicum or internship program in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, however; our students have completed summer internships at Merck, Kodak, USGS, IBM, Fleet, NRL, NIST, Oak Ridge, and Brookhaven. Undergraduate research is also strongly recommended. This is one on one faculty student interaction where the student conducts research on a project of mutual interest under the direction of the faculty member. Students are encouraged to begin research during their junior year and continue their work as seniors. The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry employs many students as laboratory assistants. These students progress from preparing equipment and supplies to supervising lab classes with a faculty member. Students could also benefit from getting involved in organizations, such as, the American Chemical Society Student Affiliate Chapter, EARTH, and pre-health career clubs.
What are JMU graduates doing with this major?
A Day in the Life of a Biochemist
A Day in the Life of a Chemist
A Day in the Life of a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep
ACS Chemistry Career Descriptions
ACS Chemistry Career Profiles
Chemists and Material Scientists
Food Safety Specialist
What Does a Chemist Do?
What do Chemical Engineers Do?
A broad range of resources on career fields, internships, and job search information is also available in the Career & Academic Planning Resource Center.
Make an appointment with a CAP career counselor to learn more about this major and your career options.
A few titles from our Resource Center related to this field include:
© Career & Academic Planning, James Madison University, 2013