A glut of chemists with bachelor’s degrees as well?

This past November, C&EN ran a cover story on the employment outlook for chemists.

The coverage consisted of several simultaneously published stories regarding various aspects of the employment outlook. The main focus shared by many of these stories was on chemists already in the workforce, and the effects that recent or impending layoffs have had on their lives. I offered a few thoughts on the topic as it stirred up fresh memories of having gone through similar experiences myself.

The bleak employment outlook for recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry was also described, but in less detail than given for experienced workers. Those details, plus profiles of some recent graduates, were provided earlier this week, in “New Bachelor-Level Chemists Face Grim Job Market,” an excellent article by C&EN Senior Editor Susan J. Ainsworth. Some thoughtful comments on this story have been provided by Chemjobber this week.

The first paragraph of the C&EN article sets the tone for what is to follow:

The inhospitable employment climate has not spared anyone in the chemical sciences, but many who have recently earned a bachelor’s degree may be in for a particularly tough fight.

Some survey data was provided to accompany the previous qualitative assessment:

In the most recent American Chemical Society survey of new graduates in chemistry and related fields, in 2011, 14% of recent bachelor’s degree recipients reported that they didn’t have a job but were seeking one, up from 12% in 2010 (C&EN, June 4, 2012, page 36). In contrast, 9% of new Ph.D. grads said they were seeking employment in 2011, up from 6% in 2010.

With such limited employment prospects for new graduates, it stands to reason that the bar would be set high to be considered for those opportunities that do exist.

However, even as an incremental number of jobs open for new B.S. grads, competition for those opportunities remains fierce. To stand out in a sea of applicants, candidates need to cultivate skills and experience to make their résumés sparkle.

Often, it’s not enough to have been an exemplary student or perform undergraduate research:

Recruiters also covet students who have exhibited “thought leadership,” which involves more than just serving as president of an on-campus organization, Simpson says. Instead, such students “have taken ownership of a project or come up with a new solution to a problem,” she explains.

Several success stories are highlighted—chemists who have gone the extra mile to become attractive candidates for employment and have been rewarded with positions from which to embark upon their careers. The article then returns to those who haven’t been as fortunate, and who are now struggling to land their first job after receiving their bachelor’s degree.

Even while many freshly minted bachelor-level chemical professionals are finding stimulating jobs, many of their peers—grads of big universities as well as small colleges—are still trying to launch their careers.

The lack of employment opportunities for new chemistry graduates has been discussed broadly in recent months, but the focus has been primarily on those completing their PhDs.

With the likelihood of employment within their discipline fading, many BS/BA chemists have opted to continue their education—often outside of science altogether, let alone chemistry. Some popular choices: law school and MBA programs.

So. They’re seeking a career change. Before their careers have even begun.

I’m sad that this decision has been forced upon them, but I certainly wish them all well.



Author: Glen Ernst

Chemistry and pharma researcher and manager. Lifelong passion for science, the arts and language. Blogger for CENtral Science, also blogging as The Scientist Next Door. LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/glenernst

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1 Comment

  1. How was this decision forced upon them? Could they not of left the country to find a chemistry job somewhere in the world? Nothing was forced on them, they just decided they wanted more convenience. Nobody cuffed them and dragged them to go to school to get their MBA.