Careers in Chemistry
"Science can take you to any industry and any management level."
UC graduate in Chemistry Bridgette from Chemsafety
Chemists are employed in a multitude of places including the pharmaceutical industry, industry and manufacturing more generally, in government departments dealing with the environment, and in clinical laboratories. Not all chemists wear lab coats and an increasing number are employed in advisory or managerial roles. Chemists have also worked in government departments in key decision-making positions.
New Zealand needs chemists in teaching, industry, health and research. New Zealand’s unique mix of primary and secondary industries provides a wide choice of careers in chemistry. Expanding industries in New Zealand, for example those related to new sources of energy and to the development of forestry and dairy resources, are further increasing the demand for qualified chemists.
Chemistry graduates end up in a wide range of careers. Rather than training for a particular role, Chemistry gives graduates a valuable skill set that can be applied in many ways. UC's own data shows employers' top ten desirable attributes - work ethic, verbal communication, energy and enthusiasm, analytical and critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, interpersonal skills, written communication, self-management and initiative - match closely with the skills identified as outcomes from the Bachelor of Science.
Feedback from Chemistry graduates also shows the relevance of a Chemistry qualification. Asked about their current employment, more than 80 per cent said their first job was either ideal for this stage of their career, or a step in the right direction.
Research and development of new products, monitoring product composition and quality, environmental monitoring and regulation all require the input of chemists.
Chemists are often needed to solve deficiencies in chemical processes. Chemists are skilled at handling information, which leads naturally into the areas of sales and management. A number of our graduates have successfully moved into these areas. UC graduate data shows by far the majority of Chemistry graduates are working in technical, scientific or professional services and enjoying the higher incomes these industries offer.
Hospitals and other health services employ chemists in areas such as biochemical research, medical analysis and toxicology.
A degree in Chemistry is a good start to a teaching career with its emphasis on laboratory work and its relevance to other sciences. Chemistry teachers are currently in high demand and Chemistry is a target subject for TeachNZ scholarships.
Executive principal of Kristen School in Auckland Tim Oughton says he has never stopped teaching Chemistry.
He particularly credits his postgraduate studies with his role in leading learning in the education sector. Tim was the first person to graduate with a Master of Science Education in 2000 after completing a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Chemistry.
"I enjoyed the social atmosphere, the collegiality, the high standard of teaching particularly in Chemistry and plant sciences and the helpfulness of the staff."
He remains an advocate of studying Chemistry.
"There is a world of opportunity."
His favourite phrase for students is "what in the world isn’t Chemistry?"
"It helps make sense of the world and is so relevant and interesting when taught well."
The majority of chemical research in New Zealand is done in universities, the Crown Research Institutes and private laboratories. These institutions provide chemical challenges equal to any in the world. Many graduates have gone on to prestigious positions in universities overseas.
Daniel Packwood is a Principal Investigator at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS) at Kyoto University in Japan.
"My group uses computer simulation and theoretical models to design materials for next-generation electrical devices. iCeMS is an interdisciplinary institute with research ranging from regenerative medicine to porous materials for gas storage. Open discussions between research groups occur frequently, and Chemistry often serves as our common language. During these times, and I very thankful for the broad Chemistry education I received at UC."
Daniel’s postgraduate studies focused on atom scattering from liquid surfaces.
He recommends UC for budding chemists.
"I appreciated the enormous effort that the Chemistry staff put into designing their courses. The topics were introduced in a logical manner and with just the right timing and detail, and were often accompanied by an experiment in the laboratory courses."
He says the most valuable thing he learned was organic reaction mechanisms.
This gave him good intuition for how molecules interact with each other and he says this intuition means you can predict outcomes accurately.
He said regardless of personal interests, students should take courses in organic, inorganic and physical Chemistry right up until final year.
"Once you master these three, the rest of Chemistry can be learned quickly. With computation and big data becoming increasingly mainstream in physical science, you should also take courses in mathematics, statistics, and computer programming. Finally, you should spend time getting to know the international students in your classes, because you will probably be working with people like them in the future."
UC Bachelor of Science graduate Helena Barnes is utilising her physical chemistry and physics background as a new recruit for Canterbury tech firm Syft Technologies.
Helena said the hands-on learning and industry links offered by the College of Science had helped to kickstart her career.
"Many of the courses that I’ve taken throughout my degree are quite practical and teach you skills that you can apply to a large range of different problems – which has become especially useful in a working environment."
Through the Department of Chemistry she was offered a summer internship at Syft Technologies to develop a nebuliser for its current mass spectrometer technology. At the end of the internship she was employed full time in sales and development.
Her future plans include continuing to build her skills at Syft - and a trip to Africa.
She said she particularly appreciated the ability to get to know staff and other students well and found lecturers available and willing to offer one-to-one assistance.
"UC is also special in that the University is its own student hub away from the city centre. This means that there’s always things going on, with something to suit everyone."
Her advice for Chemistry students was to get involved and ask questions.
"Often in Chemistry it can seem like there’s a crazy amount of things that you need to memorise. It becomes a lot easier if you take the time to talk to your lecturers/classmates/flatmates/anyone who will listen to make sure you really understand the underlying concepts and why things behave the way they do. There’s a vast number of resources available at UC that are there to be taken advantage of!"
UC graduate Sam Yu credits his PhD with giving him the ability to cope with an extremely demanding career in tech.
"I was flying 33 weeks per year . . . having survived a PhD definitely made the flying life bearable! After a PhD you can do anything."
Sam's career has taken him in a commercial direction - building businesses, negotiating commercial deals and developing markets.
He has also been involved in developing commercial partnerships for New Zealand industry with overseas corporates and government agencies. One, a commercial agreement with Yili Dairy Company, was signed in front of both China and New Zealand's leaders in 2014.
Sam has also worked with international universities like MIT, Harvard, Boston University, Tsinghua, Xihua University and Hubei University of Science and Technology and says the knowledge and training he gained from UC has held up well against overseas educational institutions.
Good support and mentoring from staff, part-time work in the Chemistry department and a social and friendly environment were also highlights of his time at UC.
Sam is working toward helping some tech entrepreneurs become globally successful and says intending students of Chemistry need to be open-minded about their futures.
"Get good training on the technical aspects but also branch out on your thinking and think about the commercial considerations too. Just because a product is technically good does not mean it will be successful in the marketplace. There are a lot of 'soft' skills and relationship management skills that you need to develop. Having a can-do, problem-solving attitude is important to becoming successful."
Aeroqual research scientist Lita Lee appreciated the supportive staff while she completed her PhD at UC.
"My supervisor, Prof Alison Downard, was very supportive of me studying and working full-time at the same time. I'm also very grateful for the opportunity to study in France for three months and to attend conferences, both locally and internationally."
Lita's work focuses on developing air quality sensors and she says a degree in Chemistry makes anyone highly employable.
"There's a lot of job opportunities out there for people graduating with a Chemistry degree."