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What can I do with a Chemistry degree?

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Published: 29 January 2020

Picture a chemist – what do you see? You’re likely imagining a scientist wearing a white coat, standing in a lab mixing chemicals together – maybe there’s even a small explosion and a puff of smoke! In reality, chemists work across a range of fields in a variety of settings, including hospitals, universities and in large-scale industries such as pharmaceuticals, agriculture, food and cosmetics. Chemistry is all around us and, indeed, within us – after all, our bodies are made up of chemicals that are reacting to one another all of the time. We need chemists with expertise in all aspects of our world so we can understand it better and to make our lives easier.

We offer a range of chemistry-based courses here at the University of Sunderland, including BSc (Hons) Biopharmaceutical Science, BSc (Hons) Biochemistry and BSc (Hons) Medicinal Chemistry, which can all lead onto excellent career prospects. We encourage you to apply to undertake a 48-week placement between your second and final year, which is a great opportunity to put your learning into practice and understand the context for your new knowledge. Current BSc (Hons) Biopharmaceutical Science student Jack Bannister recently obtained a competitive placement at GSK (GlaxoSmithKline).

Read on to find out more about what sort of jobs are available to you if you study a chemistry-based degree:


The pharmaceutical industry

Pharmaceutical companies are looking for ‘industry-ready’ graduates who can slot straight into employment from university with all of the necessary skills required to work in the field. Luckily, there is a strong ‘applied’ nature to our BSc (Hons) Biopharmaceutical Science course, which means our students are taught processes involved in major company, large-scale drug development and use industry-standard kit right from the start of their degree. By studying BSc (Hons) Biopharmaceutical Science at Sunderland, you will learn about drug discovery and development, the processes involved in producing large amounts of drugs and the regulations and laws around pharmaceuticals. Upon graduation, you can expect to find roles in research and development, quality control/quality assurance, sales and marketing, and much more.

Female student writing a report in analytical lab

The big questions

How does the brain work? Why do we breathe oxygen? How do we fight off infections? Why do cells become cancerous? If you’re interested in the big questions, a career in biochemistry might be for you.

Biochemistry is the study of the molecular basis of life and is a major branch of ‘basic’ science, learning global scientific concepts. As such, our BSc (Hons) Biochemistry course can take you into a wide range of careers and industries, such as:

  • Hospitals, eg body fluid analysis to diagnose disease
  • Agriculture, eg pesticides, herbicides, genetic engineering, animal/plant cross-mating patterns (genetics)
  • Food institutes, eg food spoiling, preservatives, enhancers, fermentation, yeast, baking, brewing
  • Cosmetics, eg effects of a new product on skin biochemistry
  • Forensic crime research, eg analysis of DNA, blood, hair, saliva, genetics
  • Universities, eg biochemistry research
  • Drug discovery and development, eg pharmaceuticals

Essentially, biochemistry has enormous application as it looks at the chemical reactions in living organisms (humans, animals, insects, plants, yeast, bacteria and viruses) and therefore the job opportunities are endless.

Medicinal Chemistry student working in lab

“I heart Chemistry”

For ‘pure’ chemistry fans, medicinal chemistry is the area for you. Medicinal chemistry is the study of small-molecule drug discovery and design and, in a nutshell, involves more advanced organic chemical synthesis. Studying BSc (Hons) Medicinal Chemistry at Sunderland will prepare you to work in fields such as the pharmaceutical industry or research institutes, developing the next generation of therapeutic molecules. You will learn how small-molecule drugs are designed, extracted, modified, synthesised and characterised to generate new therapeutic agents. You will also explore how these molecules interact with their biological targets.

Essentially, medicinal chemists are qualified to work in any role that requires expert knowledge of chemicals, including:

  • Quality control/quality assurance roles in the pharmaceutical industry
  • Drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry
  • Toxicology posts/clinical trials
  • Pure chemistry research in universities
  • Chemical engineering – catalyst chemistry
  • Molecular modelling jobs (IT based)
  • Industrial research and development of chemicals including the paint sector, oil/gas industry, polymers and scientific sales of specialist chemicals

What else?

Other career options you could explore with a chemistry-based degree include roles in science communication and publishing, regulatory affairs and science policy, and technical sales and marketing. You may also wish to pursue an academic career, engaging in further study or pursue a teaching career by undertaking a PGCE in Secondary Education.

Learn more about our Pharmaceutical Sciences courses at the University of Sunderland.

3 female students working in the analytical lab