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If I work as a Chemistry professor at a college will I be able to teach General Chemistry only or will I have to be able to teach Organic Chemistry as well?

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Rahat’s Answer

Hi Juliana. Thank you for your question. Unlike k-12, in college you can teach the subject that you are knowledgeable in. However, teaching at a university is a different situation. You may need a specific degree in the topic you are teaching.

The best thing to do is, during your undergraduate years, take as many courses in the subject you want. Then attempt to go to a local community college where your chances of getting a job is higher, and then work your way to other colleges.

A quick true story:
My sister was an English major at UCLA and received a masters in Bio-Chemistry and Molecular Biology at UCR. After her masters program, she applied, and accepted, a job at the local community college teaching several courses. She then applied to other colleges and broadened her courses. She taught (1) Organic Chemistry, (2) Bio-Chemistry, (3) Introduction to General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Bio-Chemistry, (4) Cell and Molecular Biology, (5) Human Biology (Environmental Biology), and (6) Human Physiology at three of the local junior colleges and community colleges. Even though her undergrad major had nothing to do with science and her masters is mostly in the biology realm, the hiring committee at each college said that she was qualified to teach all the courses listed above. It took her some time to learn some of the courses to teach, but it is doable. She is now a first year medical student.
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Yasemin’s Answer

Hi Juliana! I hope someone with more experience can answer this but I've had the same professor who taught different courses in Psychology so it is possible. I actually took both General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry but they weren't the same professors. I would just like to add though from my personal experience that most professors do have more of a concentration in one area than the other as well as their research so that could be a differentiating factor in which courses are taught. For example my Inorganic Chemistry professor my final year of college also had taught General Chemistry too, and his Inorganic Chemistry class was based off of that more; it was a detailed General Chemistry class that went into a couple more concepts of Gen. Chem.

I hope this helps!

Best of luck!

Thank you!! Juliana S.

You're welcome! Yasemin G.

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Tenaea A.’s Answer

You can teach whatever subjects that you are knowledgeable. So go to college, study all of the different types of chemistry, conduct research and continue to grind. Make sure that you volunteer as a tutor starting on your undergrad. Try to get a job as a chemistry teacher from k-12 all the way up to higher education in order to strengthen your resume and work experience. Go luck.

Tenaea A. recommends the following next steps:

Finish high school
Go to college and major in Chemistry
Take graduate courses in Chemistry
Tutor and teach students from all levels
Work for a college teaching chemistry

Thanks so much! Already in college majoring in chemistry :) I’ll be sure to take your advice and start tutoring as soon as possible! Juliana S.

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Randall’s Answer

Juliana,

This question is one that has many answers. You might store that statement away for safe keeping as it is often true for such questions!

If you are expecting to teach in a college or university, you will usually be required to have a graduate degree. This means at least a Master’s degree is required, although some will accept experienced single degree candidates for labs and recitations. Ultimately you will end up with a graduate degree with some generalized training but also a major area of concentration. For example, you might have a background in generalized chemistry but a specialty in nucleic acid chemistry, which you will exhibit to the prospective institutions with either a thesis (MS) or dissertation (PhD). They would be most impressed with you if you have successfully published your graduate research in peer reviewed journals.

There is a lot of competition out there so, you will likely find such institutions can be very picky. They might ask for a faculty member who can teach nucleic acid chemistry and you would in like gold! Remember many research institutions would expect you to maintain a research program as well. I found that to be tricky. But if you have a good graduate program and a proper network of professional contacts, you can work that out as well.

Smaller, or “teaching” institutions would not be so narrowly focused. Indeed you would do better as a generalist. In this case, often general chemistry is the lion’s share of what they require and you may find yourself locked in teaching general chemistry. Note: I said “locked in." There is a reason for that. As your career progresses and the years go by, you may find you are in need of new challenges. It can get stale! You might keep your feelers out for opportunities for other courses such as forensic chemistry, environmental chemistry, analytical chemistry. chemistry seminars, etc. Indeed you may find students in “general” chemistry have little interest in the actual material, but only to finish a laboratory core requirement. You may long for students who are more engaged with the subject. I am suggesting you might be better off, professionally, if you kept the door open to teach other, narrower subject programs as well.
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