Monday, 7 February 2011

What Do Chemistry Graduates Do? -- Part 1

According to HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency), the number of students completing chemistry first degrees in the UK has risen from 2275 to 2655 in the four years to 2009. With a weak economy and an absence of recruitment campaigns from the traditional chemistry giants, where do these graduates end up?

Fortunately, HESA also surveys graduates to find out what they’re doing 6 months after they leave university, and Prospects – the commercial arm of HECSU (Higher Education Careers Service Unit) – collates these statistics into a digestible annual report. From the chemistry alumni of 2009, a representative 2270 responses were received. The full report, published 3 months ago and containing analysis across all degree subjects, can be found here.

It comes as no surprise that around 30% of chemistry graduates continue studying in the UK for a higher degree. For those hoping to pursue a career in scientific research, a PhD will clearly command both a higher salary and entry level – which would likely take significantly longer than 3-4 years to achieve as a graduate. Current stipends are a tax-free ~£14k per year (equivalent to ~£21k in real money), with project sponsorship and undergraduate teaching potentially adding another £5k plus beer money. However, if the appeal for doing a PhD is to ride out a tough job market for a few years, seriously consider what options may be available at the end of it, and the risk of becoming overqualified.

Continuing the study theme, 1 in 200 chemistry graduates choose to undergo further study or training overseas. With prestigious colleges and a common language, the US is a popular destination. Postgraduate degrees tend to be longer, at 4-6 years, with typical stipends of $25k plus fellowships from industrial sponsors.

A sizeable 1 in 20 new chemists go on to study in the UK for a teaching qualification. An array of routes exist to gain qualified teacher status depending on your personal circumstances – including full or part time study and within a school or a higher education establishment. More information can be found at the Training and Development Agency website. As there continues to be a shortage of chemistry teachers (supported by the number of jobs advertised), a tax-free bursary of £9k is still being offered to chemists, subject to eligibility. Newly qualified teachers can expect to earn £21.6k (or £27k in Inner London).

As a proportion of the 62% of graduates that escape the confines of education, two-thirds enter UK employment, almost a tenth choose to both work and study, and 1 in 7 are believed to be unemployed. The graduate chemist unemployment rate of 8.7% is close to the graduate average (8.9%), and fares well against peers in physics (11.7%), biology (10.0%) and environmental sciences (8.3%). Further afield, graduates particularly suffering are those studying IT & computing (16.3%), engineering subjects (11-13%) and maths (10.3%); but those bringing down the average are law (6.2%), sports science (6.9%) and foundation degrees (2.7%).

Next time: For the one thousand chemistry graduates that responded to the survey saying they’d entered employment, what type of work did they do? Clue: scientific research was top, but maybe not by as much as you think.


  1. Do you really think a PhD can over-qualify you for a graduate job? I would be surprised if that were the case. I've certainly learnt more about time-management, presentation and writing skills than I ever did as an undergraduate, even without the increase in scientific knowledge.

  2. I think those additional skills are part of the issue - graduates and PhDs are recruited for different reasons. One is a fully independent researcher, the other has less responsibility and is correspondingly paid less.

    If a PhD were recruited for a graduate role, they'd either have to be paid more than the advertised rate for the position, or work for far less than market value; and would likely find the lack of independence restrictive - both of which would mean they probably wouldn't hang around for too long.

  3. A well paid job at graduate level can often out-pay a PhD level job at a crappy CRO.

    I think Evotec entry level salary for a PhD qualified chemist (and to them that includes anyone with postdoctoral experience) is £23k.

    Maybe thats gone up a bit since when I heard that, but I suspect that is less than a new graduate level hire at even a small biotech gets these days.


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