If you would like to become a chemist, you will need to have a good academic background. The exact entry requirements for university courses depend on the institution, but most will require you to have good grades in English and math, in addition to, of course, science. This may seem counter-intuitive, but good English skills are essential for clear communication, and a solid grounding in math indicates that you have the critical thinking and analytic skills required to work in the sciences.
Naturally, a good knowledge of chemistry is important. If you have the opportunity to study separate sciences at school instead of a single, generic “science” course, then you should take it. The general science courses offer a decent foundation, but you will learn more fundamentals, and more “hard science” in the named courses. You should also pursue a mathematics course that covers algebra, calculus and statistics as well as applied mathematics.
Computing courses are valuable for people in all walks of life, and are becoming increasingly important for chemists. Knowledge of how to build spreadsheets and work with common scripting languages will prove important when it comes to modelling experiments.
Chemists are frequently required to work in teams, and must always pay attention to details. Failure to record experiments accurately or pay attention to every last detail in the lab could have disastrous consequences. Chemists often handle hazardous materials, and the smallest mistake could put someone in danger. Even if no one is harmed by a mistake, there is always the chance of that mistake affecting the outcome of an experiment and ruining all of the work that you and your colleagues have done.
Chemists work in several different specializations. When you are first studying to become a chemist you will get a grounding in the discipline as a whole. Later, you will be allowed to specialize. Common specializations include organic chemistry, biochemistry, analytic chemistry, and environmental chemistry. If you choose to pursue a specialism then you may need to have a background in another science, such as biology.
Chemists do valuable work that affects the day to day lives of everyone in the world. For example, biochemists work with living organisms, and have made discoveries that have advanced the fields of medicine and even food production. Organic chemists also help with the development of medicines and food supplements. The work that environmental chemists do helps to find ways to stop pollution and undo some of the damage that we have done to the environment.
It can take four or more years to become a qualified chemist, but it is well worth the effort. While you are studying for your master’s degree you will most likely be required to take up an internship or spend a year working in your chosen field so that you can see how chemistry is done in a real world environment. Studying at university gives you the theoretical skills you need, but having experience with applying them is a different matter entirely.
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