Career Guide


The Chemistry major is offered through the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry within the College of Science & Mathematics.


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, entrepreneurship, and other related areas. The department also offers minors in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Materials Science.

More About the Field 

Chemistry is the science that describes the composition and structure of matter, how the composition and structure determine the substance's physical, chemical and physiological properties, the chemical and physical changes matter undergoes, and the energy changes that accompany these processes. 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, electron miscroscopy, and surface analysis - all of which use computers for control and data processing.


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, putting together, and studying 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.

Complementary Majors and Minors 

The most common are perhaps minors in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology or Materials Science. Other combinations could include: Anthropology, Biology, Business, Computer Science, Criminal Justice, English, Environmental Studies, Geographic Science, Geology, Integrated Science and Technology, Mathematics, Physics, Pre-Dentistry, Pre-Medicine, Pre-Pharmacy, Pre-Physician Assistant, Pre-Veterinary, Psychology or Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication.

Characteristics of Successful Students

In general, the successful Chemistry major must be curious, have good mathematical abilities, and genuinely enjoy science. Organizational skills, perseverance, judgment, and attitude are also qualities that will help lead toward success in major. 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.

  • Attorney
  • Biochemist
  • Biotechnologist
  • Cancer Researcher
  • Chemical Engineer
  • Chemical Laboratory Chief
  • Chemist
  • Chemistry / Science Educator
  • Computer Analyst
  • Consumer Protection Specialist
  • Crime Lab Analyst
  • Criminologist
  • Environmental Chemist
  • Environmental Compliance Consultant
  • Environmental Health Specialist
  • FDA Inspector
  • Food Scientist / Technologist
  • Forensic Scientist
  • Geneticist
  • Geologist
  • Immunologist
  • Industrial Hygienist
  • Lobbyist
  • Medical Technologist
  • Metallurgist
  • Occupational Safety Specialist
  • Optometrist
  • Patent Examiner
  • Perfumer
  • Pharmaceutical Chemist
  • Pharmaceutical Sales Agent
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Physician
  • Product Tester
  • Production Chemist
  • Public Health Educator
  • Sales Account Executive
  • Science Lab Technician
  • Soil Scientist
  • Systems Analyst
  • Technical Writer
  • Technology Consultant
  • Toxicologist
  • Water Purification Chemist

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.

Internships and Experiential Opportunities 

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 as any point between their first year and their junior year and continue through graduation. 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.

View our list of  internship coordinators for each major.

Career Profiles 

Chemists and Material Scientists
Agricultural and Food Scientists
Occupational Health and Safety Specialists

Additional Resources to Research Careers
  • Handshake: view new internships and jobs that employers are looking to hire JMU students from your major 
  • Career Outcomes: see where alumni worked or studied right after graduating.
  • GoinGlobal: learn more about employment opportunities overseas as well as H1B visa information for international Dukes pursuing jobs in the U.S.
  • O*NET: browse occupational profiles to learn about thousands of different careers, pulling data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 
  • CareerOneStop: explore thousands of different careers by looking at career profiles 
  • Utilize the LinkedIn Alumni tool to see what others have done with their majors and what their career paths look like. Reach out to alumni via LinkedIn and conduct an informational interview.

© University Career Center, James Madison University

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission from the JMU University Career Center. Content for each major has been written/reviewed by faculty in the respective department and is revised each year. Requests to update content can be submitted to

Back to Top