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Career choices for chemistry

I am a high school senior and did the Johnson O'Connor assessments for careers. My results show that I should do something in chemistry or biology, preferably a job where I work more independently and that requires advanced education beyond a bachelor's. I do love chemistry/bio and have done very well in school (4.0 gpa, 35 ACT) but I have no idea exactly what careers I could do (current plan is to major in Biochemistry) . I often read now that a bachelor's in biology or chemistry is useless unless you are going into medical school or plan to pursue some sort of graduate degree in another medical field (physical therapy, etc). Otherwise salaries are very low for graduates who just work in a lab. With the cost of college being so high I want to know all my options. Thanks for any advice!
#biology #chemistry #college

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Fred’s Answer

Hi - I think any advice/source that frames biology or chemistry backgrounds as "useless" w/out med school is very misguided. I work for a Life Sciences company where many people ... from the scientists in R&D, to the sales people in the field ... have this background. Biotechnology is a huge, fast growing, and dynamic sector with tons of opportunity!

https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/biotechnology-market
Thank you comment icon Appreciate this suggestion! Jillie M.
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Robert’s Answer

First and foremost: do not put too much stock in career assessments! Aptitude tests like the Johnson O'Connor assessments tell you what you will be good at, but most don't take into account whether you will like it. A long time ago, I took a similar assessment and it told me I "should be" a chemical engineer, so I pursued that. Indeed, I found I was very, very good at it, at least academically. I got great grades, scholarships, and internships, which kept me from switching majors even though I didn't really like it. I graduated and got great job offers...but I didn't like the work: being on call all the time, working for big, profit-driven companies, and no work-life balance. I didn't want to do it, and it was a challenge to shift into something I enjoyed more when I finally decided I'd had enough. Mind you, aptitude *is* important: a college roommate of mine loved physics, but found the math exceedingly difficult. He had to switch majors because he didn't have the requisite aptitude. A good career is something you both like and are good at, at least in decent proportions of each: ideally, a lot of each. It can be hard to find, and often it is worthwhile exploring in college (and/or even changing majors) to find it. (It only gets harder to change directions after that.) It can be hard to really explore in high school, because many subjects (like biochemistry) are barely touched on there, if you have any exposure to them at all, but it is the most freedom and time to do so you will ever have. In high school, focus on doing well in all your subjects, and explore with your electives: don't groom yourself for specific college major.
Second: You can end up working independently as a scientist with or without an advanced degree, but an advanced degree grooms you for it. Without one, you'll usually start out doing work under supervision, and will have to prove yourself to get independence. Ironically, the same thing happens in graduate school, so whether you get to independent work sooner with one path or the other is rather a toss-up.
Third: See my answer to a related question, here: https://www.careervillage.org/questions/209973/what-is-the-hardest-part-about-having-a-career-in-a-stem-field It sounds like you are on the path to "in demand," so what you need to be more wary of is finding a career you will like.
Finally: You didn't ask this, but sound like like the kind of person who needs to hear it...don't assume that if you "just get through this big challenge" (ACT, high school, college, finding a job, etc.) in life, you will have earned sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns forever. Hard work begets more hard work, so it is really important that you guide your ship toward hard work you love, or at least like.
Oh, p.s. There are more jobs under the sun than you can possibly imagine. Some you pretty much have to bumble into, and can't possibly train for explicitly: like coming up with names for patent drugs.

Robert recommends the following next steps:

Look at the top 5 or 10 general areas Johnson O'Connor says you have aptitude for. Cross off the ones you know you dislike. Circle the ones you know you like, or think you might like.
Try to do an informational interview or job shadowing with people in or adjacent to some of the careers you circled. Ask them if they are happy. You'll get better insights by talking to older people, who have been working for a long time. (Most new employees are enthusiastic...at first!)
Don't assume you know what you'll end up doing, just take it as a starting point. STAY FLEXIBLE. You will learn more about yourself, and grow, in high school and college (and beyond). What is "right" may change; don't run or hide from that reality!
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Joseph’s Answer

There's lots of careers in chemisty and biology outside of medicine. You do have a point that most operational jobs in routine sample analysis labs are not well paid (Like many scientists, my first job was in a lab like that) - but there's far more to chemistry and biology than analytical labs.

One of the biggest areas for chemists I know of is in the energy industry - there's some serious large-scale chemistry in oil and gas processing, and that can be quite well paid. Also within energy is my field of nuclear - there's a lot of chemists working there. Particularly around your area there's a few nuclear companies that were set up to deal with decommissioning the Rocky Flats plant, and I'm sure they regularly need chemists. Leaning a bit of the biology side as well as chemistry, many of those companies are looking at broader environmental protection now.
There's also many other areas of chemistry - particularly process chemistry and chem engineering if you want to totally avoid both medicine and analytical labs.

For biology, various fields of medicine are common paths yes, but there's plenty of other areas where biological science is applied - including food, cosmetics, agriculture, fisheries and more. Even within medicine, there's plenty of paths for biologists that are not about med school and becoming doctors - there's many different non-doctor academic and research fields like drug development, immunotechnology and many more - these are the sort of areas you need the advanced education you mentioned - masters degrees, PhDs, postdocs etc.
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